Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best/Worst Beers of 2011

2011 has been a huge year for me as far as trying new beers is concerned. I was able to tick off 33 of beeradvocate's Top 100 Beers, tried hundreds of great new beers (and some not so great ones), and discovered some fantastic new breweries. So for my look back on 2011, here are the 5 best and worst beers I tried in 2011. So that this entry isn't just a rehashing of the Top 100 Beers list, these beers will all be beers that are not found on the list.

Best Beers of 2011

5. Brasserie Cantillon - Cantillon Rosé De Gambrinus

I'd heard a ton of good things about Cantillon and finally got to try my first one this year. Their raspberry lambic, Rosé De Gambrinus, absolutely lived up to the hype. I can't imagine a fruit beer smelling better than this one. Huge aromas of raspberry and red currant with just the right amount of funk. An absolutely fantastic beer.

4. Avery Brewing Company - Rumpkin

When I heard about this beer, I was convinced that it was going to be a mess. After all, a nearly 16% pumpkin beer aged in rum barrels couldn't taste good, right? As it turns out, I was way wrong. I loved everything about Rumpkin. The rum turned out to be the perfect complement to the sweetness of the pumpkin and pumpkin pie flavors. The high alcohol was evident, but worked beautifully in the beer. This one was a keeper. I'm definitely hoping to get more next year.

3. Great Lakes Brewing Company - Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

I'm usually not a huge fan of porters. There are a few great ones out there, but I thought that the style wasn't really my thing. That is, until I went to Cincinnati earlier this year and got the chance to try Great Lakes' Edmund Fitzgerald Porter. Holy God, what a beer. I usually don't like smoke flavors in beer, but the smokiness in this beer was just fantastic. This remains my favorite porter ever and one I really want to try again soon.

2. Bell's Brewery, Inc. - Bell's Expedition Stout

I was able to get two 2008 bottles of Bell's Expedition Stout this year. Best...idea...ever. Apparently this beer isn't fantastic fresh, but holy crap is it good with three years under it. Smooth, full bodied and full of rich flavors, this beer has everything I could possibly hope for in a stout. I just wish I had more of it.

1. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery - Miles Davis' Bitches Brew

I reviewed this beer way at the beginning of the year, but it remains way up there on the list of beers I tried in 2011. Part Russian Imperial Stout, part Ethiopian honey beer, Bitches Brew was one incredible beer. Chocolate, coffee, earth and honey flavors coupled with a velvety-smooth mouthfeel to create a beer that is very tough to top.

Before I move on to the Worst of 2011 List, I want to note that the title may be a little misleading. I'm only including beers that I reviewed on this blog. I try to not buy/review crappy beer. Therefore, you won't find beers like Bud Light, Mickey's or Miller High Life on this list, even though I had them this past year and they were far worse than almost anything on this list. Most of these beers would not make the list if I included every beer I've tasted over the past year. Moving on...

Worst Beers of 2011

5. Steinhaus Brewing Co. - Jumping Cow Amber Ale

I'll admit it, Jumping Cow is far from being the worst beer out there. It's been a staple in the Trader Joes' beer section for longer than I've been with the company. My beef with this beer (no pun intended) is more that it's taking up space that should be taken by much better beer. The flavors are inoffensive, they're just so faint that it's tough to pick anything up. It's the quintessential "meh" beer: Not awful, not good, not...much of anything.

4. Stone Brewing Co. - Stone Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout

Ok, so I didn't do a full review on this one, but I mentioned it when I was reviewing it's much tastier cousin and I just have to include it here. I'm all for a brewery coming up with new variations on a good beer, but sometimes they're going to backfire, and this experiment did just that. The anise was literally all I could taste in this beer. It was gross. But not as gross as the next three beers, which would have made the "Worst Beers of 2011" list even if I had included beers like Mickey's and Bud Light.

The Bottom of the Barrel

3. Federal Jack's Brewpub - Kennebunkport Winter Ale

So many good winter ales out there, and I had to decide to try this one. Kennebunkport Winter Ale looked harmless enough after I poured it, but it got really, really ugly from there. I've never thrown together descriptions like "buttered popcorn," "metal" and "cardboard" when talking about one beer. The best part of this beer was when it was over. But it still wasn't as bad as the next two beers.

2. Pizza Beer Company - Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer

I tried this with my friend Beau a few months back and we both had similar reactions to it. Pizza Beer is, without a doubt, one of the worst beers in existence. It smells and tastes like week old pizza (and pizza box) that's been fermenting in Bud Light. I can't imagine finishing a bottle of this unless it was part of a dare with the prospect of a very, very big reward.

1. Federal Jack's Brewpub - Kennebunkport IPA

This may be a touch predictable based on how much I badmouth this beer, but it remains the worst beer I've had this year. Not only does Kennebunkport IPA not taste like an IPA, it tastes like a mixture of goat piss and rusty nails. I don't really know what else to say about it that I didn't already say in my review. Somehow I doubt that this is truly the worst beer out there, so I'm making it a goal in 2012 to find a beer that is worse than this.

Have a safe and happy New Years and get ready for some big reviews to open up 2012.


Top 100 Beers Tasted: 33

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Federal Jack's Brewpub - Kennebunkport Winter Ale

I don't think it should come as much of a surprise when I say that I'm not a huge fan of Kennebunkport beers. Of the 5 beers I had tried from them going into last night, only one was mediocre (Kennebunkport Porter) and the rest are awful. And for me, their IPA remains the standard by which I judge all bad beers by. So when a new Kennebunkport beer hit the shelves of Trader Joes a few days ago, I definitely was hesitant to give it a try. My curiosity finally got the best of me though and I gave it a shot last night. Why I do these things to myself, I really don't know.

Kennebunkport Winter Ale pours a deep reddish brown color with a thin caramel-colored head. The beer seemed harmless enough until I held it up to my nose and took a whiff. In a word: unpleasant. The smell has a lot going on, but none of it is good. There's a strange bready malt smell along with a ton of butter, yeast, butterscotch, a bit of booze and some cardboard. I don't know if I've ever been so ready to pour a beer down the drain without taking a sip.

By the time I readied myself to take a sip of this beast, there was only one question in my mind: Could it be worse than Kennebunkport IPA? The smell made the prospect of drinking this beer about as appealing as French kissing an electrical socket, but it still couldn't be worse than the IPA, right? Right???

The taste leads off with something I didn't expect: roasted malt. This wouldn't be bad, except that the roasted malt flavors are quickly replaced by notes of buttered popcorn and metal. The finish has a bit of nuttiness alongside some yeasty/bready notes and some baby aspirin. I tried to finish this, but I just couldn't. My sink got the rest of it. Sorry, sink.

Overall, this was another incredibly bad beer from Kennebunkport. It's on a very short list of the worst beers I've ever had. But was it worse than Kennebunkport IPA? No. It was awful, but not THAT awful. Nothing is worse than Kennebunkport IPA.

Final Grade: F

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 33

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Oakshire Brewing - Overcast Espresso Stout

I absolutely love trying beer from breweries that don't normally distribute to California. Getting the beer is always tricky, but there's something kind of cool about trying something that most people in your area don't get to try. A few days ago, I got just that chance when I tried Oakshire Brewing's Overcast Espresso Stout, courtesy of my friend, Beau, who just moved to Portland. Thanks for a great trade, Beau!

I'm not normally a coffee drinker, but I absolutely love coffee flavors in stouts. Some of my favorite beers out there (Victory at Sea, Kentucky Breakfast Stout and Speedway Stout to name a few) have huge coffee notes that really make the beer. So I was pretty excited when Beau told me he was including a locally brewed espresso stout as part of our trade. Let's see how it turned out.

Overcast Espresso Stout pours a black color with a very thin mocha colored head. I was looking for a lot of coffee in the nose, but only found a bit alongside big notes of roasted malt and chocolate and some faint hints of red berries. Not exactly what I was expecting, but still pretty intriguing.

I started to get the coffee a bit more in this once I took a sip. The taste leads off with some nice notes of roasted malt and day-old coffee. These flavors were followed by some dark chocolate, licorice and hints of smoke and charred malt. Pretty good stuff! My one complaint about this beer has to be the thin mouthfeel. Even though the ABV is low, I was hoping the mouthfeel would be helped by the oats used in the brewing process. Despite the oats, the beer still felt way thin and the mouthfeel just didn't do the flavors in the beer justice. Still, a solid beer and one I'm really glad to have gotten the chance to try.

Final Grade: B+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

Friday, December 16, 2011

Lagunitas Brewing Company - Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale

I'll admit it: Lagunitas is not my favorite brewery. Like REALLY not my favorite brewery. In fact, going into last night I had yet to like any of Lagunitas' offerings (at least the ones I'd tried). However, I'd been hearing a ton of good things about this beer, so I decided to give it a shot.

The story behind the beer's name has to do with this beer replacing the holiday ale that Lagunitas has been brewing for years- Brown Shugga'. This year, Lagunitas realized that they didn't have the brewing capacity to brew Brown Shugga' along with all the other beers they were already committed to. So they decided to brew a beer to replace Brown Shugga' that wouldn't take as long to brew and gave it a name that made fun of their screw up. Definitely gotta love their sense of humor.

Lagunitas Sucks pours a deep golden color with a thin off-white head. Big citrus and pine hop notes waft from the glass along with some big notes of overripe mango. I was a little skeptical going into this one, but the smell definitely intrigued me.

The taste starts with some nice sharp pine hop flavors and then progresses to some faint biscuity malt. The finish brings some huge fruit sweetness with notes of mango, peach and apricot. Overall, I was really impressed by this beer. I don't know if it's the beer to end all beers like some people have been saying, but it's a great addition to the lineup of holiday beers out there. Maybe Lagunitas doesn't suck so much after all.

Final Grade: A-

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Lexington Brewing Co. - Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale

Aging beer in bourbon barrels has become quite a phenomenon in the craft beer industry. Almost everyone seems to be getting in on the act, including bigger breweries like Budweiser. But making a good bourbon barrel-aged beer isn't as easy as just throwing a crappy beer in bourbon barrels (as Budweiser found out. They recently retired their bourbon-barrel aged beer). As a brewer, you have to know a lot to pull a bourbon barrel aged beer off: which styles of beer will work with the bourbon barrel-aging, how long to age the beer in the barrels, how much bourbon flavor is too much...etc. It's not easy to pull off but if you do, aging a beer in bourbon barrels can add a great new dimension to the beer.

A few weeks ago, a friend from Cincinnati sent me a bourbon barrel-aged beer from Kentucky. Can there be a better place to make these beers than Kentucky? This beer's a little different than your average bourbon barrel-aged stout. It's a "Kentucky" Ale, meaning it's a blend of an Irish Red and an English Pale Ale that is then aged in bourbon barrels. Sounds strange, but also tasty! I paired this with some of Cincinnati's famous Skyline Chili. So good!

It's easy for bourbon to become the only thing you smell in a beer like this, but I was pleasantly surprised to find some notes of vanilla, golden raisin and brandy-soaked apricots alongside the great bourbon smell.

A little bourbon flavor can go a long way in a beer like this, but this beer seems to have pulled it off remarkably well. The bourbon flavor is definitely the star here, but it's subdued enough that it doesn't overpower everything else the beer has to offer. I didn't get a lot of elements from the red or pale ales here, but a nice bready malt backbone held the bourbon in check while allowing some notes of vanilla and charred oak from the bourbon to shine. This beer is a pretty great example of what bourbon can do for a beer and I'm really glad I got the chance to try this. Thanks, Eileen!

Final Grade: A-

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

5-Way Skyline Chili: Spaghetti noodles, Skyline Chili, beans, diced onions and a ludicrous amount of shredded cheese. This needs to become a thing in San Diego because I don't know how much longer I can go without Skyline Chili in my life on a regular basis.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Anchor Brewing Company - Our Special Ale 2011 (Anchor Christmas Ale)

It's hard to believe, but December is already upon us. But rather than sit and sulk, wondering where the year went, let's celebrate the return of winter beers! And what better way to kick the winter beer season off than with the return on one of my favorites: Anchor's Christmas Ale. Similar to the Trader Joes Vintage Ales, Anchor's Our Special Ale series is released near the end of November every year and is slightly different from year to year. However, unlike the Trader Joes Vintage Ale series, every Our Special Ale I've had to date has been remarkably tasty. Let's see how this year's turned out.

Anchor's Our Special Ale pours a deep brownish red color with a creamy caramel colored head. The nose started a little faint, but as the beer warmed, I picked up some nice malt toastiness, pine, raisin, caramel and some faint chocolate.

At only 5.50% ABV, this Winter Warmer won't warm you up too quickly, but the taste more than makes up for the modest ABV. There's a great spiciness throughout the taste along with notes of pine, dark fruit, raisin, roasted malt and a bit of charred malt on the finish. The flavors aren't huge, but they blend really well together and only get more complex as the beer warms. This is another great Christmas beer from Anchor and definitely worth seeking out.

Final Grade: A-

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

Monday, November 28, 2011

Trader Joe's Brewing Company - Trader Joe's 2011 Vintage Ale

Every year, Trader Joes releases the newest release in their Vintage Ale series. I liked the first few years I tried (2006-2007), wasn't a huge fan of the 2008 edition and absolutely hated the 2009. But the 2010 edition was much better and gave me hope that things were back on the right track. Hoping that was the case, I bought a bottle of the newest edition and tried it a few nights ago.

Trader Joe's 2011 Vintage Ale pours a nearly black color with a one-finger tan head. The aroma is full of spiciness with a good kick of Unibroue's signature sweet yeast smell. I also picked up some notes of clove, banana, burnt brown sugar and some cola nut.

The taste had a good deal of spiciness as well alongside some faint dark fruit, cola nut, prune and a bit of booze. Still, at 9%, it hides its alcohol pretty well. Overall, it was a pretty tasty beer and a good addition to the Vintage Ale lineup. My one complaint would be that it was way too similar to the 2010 edition and, up to this point, there had been a pretty noticeable difference between the vintages. Hopefully Trader Joes decides to spice things up a little more with the next edition.

Final Grade: B

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mythbusters: San Diego Beer Week Edition

As you may or may not know, November 4-13 was San Diego Beer week. I went into this week thinking that I knew a pretty good amount about beer and San Diego breweries. As it turned out, I learned more during San Diego Beer Week than I could have ever imagined. So rather than do a bunch of write ups on every beer I tried during Beer Week (there were a lot), I'm going to do this post on the beers that changed my perception about either San Diego breweries or beer in general. So here's what I learned.

Myth 1: Green Flash doesn't make a bad IPA

The Place: Churchill's Pub in San Marcos
The Beer: Green Flash Brewing Co.- Green Bullet (9th Anniversary)

I have always loved Green Flash's IPAs. I may not have tried all of the IPAs that they make, but I really like their West Coast IPA, Hop Head Red (a red IPA) and their Imperial IPA. I've also heard great things about their Palate Wrecker Double IPA. So when I heard that their 9th Anniversary beer was a Triple IPA, I knew I had to give it a try. I got the chance at Churchills on the second night of beer week, which also happened to be my birthday.

The beer looked good enough, but the smell was where it started to get weird. I picked up a bit of citrus hops at first. But then I started to smell an overwhelming amount of cantaloupe and melon.

Unfortunately, the taste didn't get much better. A small amount of citrus hop flavor was quickly run out of the picture by a ton of melon and sweet malt flavor. Green Flash makes some great IPAs and I hope they continue to try and make new ones but, sadly, this one should be chalked up as a big miss.

Final Grade: C

Myth 2: I only like "big" stouts

The Place: O'Brien's Pub
The Beer: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

I'm an absolute sucker for a good stout and things have been that way for a while. But as I've tried more and more stouts, I've been finding that thinner stouts just don't do it for me anymore. Or so I thought. Then I met Dogfish Head's Chicory Stout.

Chicory Stout pours black with a 1/2 finger tan head and leaves some great lacing down the glass. I picked up roasted malt, a slight bit of nuttiness, wet earth and some coffee in the aroma.

At 5.2%, this is not a big stout by any means. But somehow, the flavor feels big. I picked up a slight chocolate sweetness upfront followed by some chicory, roasted malt and espresso. The mouthfeel was noticeably thin but there was a creaminess to it that really kept the flavors of the beer from feeling thin. I have a new favorite "small" stout.

Final Grade: A

Myth 3: I'm not a fan of geuzes

The Place: Ballast Point Brewery

The Beer: Ballast Point Brewing Company - Beachwood Blend (Hout Series)

A few weeks ago, I tried my first geuze: Drie Fonteinen's Oude Geuze. It wasn't a bad beer by any means, but it had an aroma of cheese that I couldn't get by. I didn't write off the style completely, but I assumed (as Drie Fonteinen's Oude Geuze is one of the best in the style) that the geuze style just wasn't for me. Then I was lucky enough to try Ballast Point's Beachwood Blend.

Beachwood Blend pours a hazy amber color with a thin white head. The aroma is big and sour with some nice blackberry and currant notes. As the beer warmed, the barrel aging began to come through more and I started to get notes of freshly cut cedar.

The taste was incredible. Lots of dark cherries, red currants and vanilla work perfectly with the perfect amount of carbonation to make this a tasty, tasty beer. I didn't think a sour beer would be my favorite beer at Ballast's Barrel Aged Day, but this was by far the best thing they had on tap that day.

Final Grade: A

Myth 4: Beer for breakfast is a bad idea

The Place: Toronados

The Beer: Alpine Beer Company - Bourbon Barrel Aged Token

We went to Toronados last Saturday for the release of a beer I've been wanting to try for a long time: Lost Abbey's Cable Car. As it turned out, the beer was only available for sale by the bottle and it was running $50 per bottle. So we decided to get some food and see what else they had on tap. As it turned out, they had an awesome lineup that was too good to pass up, even if it wasn't yet noon. The first beer I had was a bourbon barrel aged version of Alpine's Token Porter.

Bourbon Barrel Aged Token pours a very dark brown color with a thin tan head and some pretty nice lacing. Sometimes aging a beer in bourbon barrels can result in a beer that smells like nothing but bourbon. This beer didn't have that problem. The bourbon was there, but it was tucked away behind some notes of toffee, chocolate and some toffee.

The bourbon led off the flavor, but wasn't overpowering at all, allowing some lighter notes of coffee, toffee, and roasted malt to really come through. The mouthfeel was a bit too light for me, but this was one of the better barrel aged beers I've had.

Final Grade: A-

Myth 5: Beer + Rum = Gross

The Place: Pizza Port Carlsbad

The Beer: Avery Brewing Company - Rumpkin

On the last day of Beer Week, we went to Pizza Port and I spotted Avery's Rumpkin, a 15.9% pumpkin ale aged in rum barrels. I'd never seen a beer aged in rum barrels before, but something told me that there was no way this could work. Pumpkin beers are delicious but my experience with them has been that if the beer is high in alcohol, any pumpkin flavor gets wiped out. Still, I wanted to give this beer a fair shot.

Rumpkin pours a dark honey color with almost no head whatsoever. I picked up notes of rum, pumpkin pie spice, pumpkin, vanilla, golden raisin and caramel. Maybe this beer wasn't going to be so bad after all.

Even though the high alcohol was evident, this beer was amazing. The sweetness of the pumpkin paired perfectly with the sweetness from the rum and there was a nice subtle spiciness to the beer as well. The heat from the alcohol almost made it feel like you were eating a warm piece of pumpkin pie. This beer was a complete surprise and the perfect way to end Beer Week.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 33

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery - World Wide Stout

Beer review time! As you probably know if you've been reading this blog for a while (I'm talking to you, Grandma!), I'm a big fan of Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery. They have a reputation for being one of the more innovative breweries in the business and always seem to be looking to push the boundaries of beermaking. One area they seem to exceed in is making beers that are high in alcohol. To my knowledge, they make 4 beers that are 15% ABV or higher: Fort, 120 Minute IPA, Olde School Barleywine and World Wide Stout. These beers aren't easy to find around here but I was able to get a 2009 bottle of World Wide Stout a few months ago and decided to open it for a tasting this past weekend.

Clocking in at 18% ABV, World Wide Stout is the strongest beer I've ever tried. It pours a motor oil black color and doesn't produce much of a head, so you're left with what looks like a glass of tar. Just the way I like it!

I thought that after two years of aging, this beer would have mellowed out a lot, but the smell suggested otherwise. I got some big notes of jerky, soy sauce, wet earth, dark chocolate covered raisins, prunes and black licorice. Something about the smell told me that I'm glad I decided to share the bottle instead of taking it down alone.

The taste was really sweet and really syrupy. I read a few reviews that compared it to drinking cough syrup and I can't say I'd disagree. The taste started with a harsh note that tasted a bit like soy sauce and then moved on to a flavor I can only compare to the darkest rye bread ever baked. Lots of molasses, prune and raisin skins came in on the finish along with a good deal of warmness. What a beast!

Overall, I'd be lying if I said I "liked" this beer, but I'm definitely glad I got to try it. Another crazy beer from Dogfish Head.

Final Grade: B

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

P.S. If you are able to find this beer, do not underestimate it. It's an absolute beast. A big thanks to my friends Ryan, Luke, Grace, Renee and Jen for helping me put this bad boy down.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pumpkin Beers!

I'm a pretty big fan of pumpkin things in general: Pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, the pumpkin milk that I bought from Target last night (don't judge, it was delicious). So I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that I'm a pretty big fan of pumpkin beers. Over the past few years, I've had some good ones (Dogfish Head's Punk'in Ale and Midnight Sun's T.R.E.A.T. come to mind immediately). But as pumpkin ale season rolled around this year, I realized that there were a ton that I had never tried before. So I went about getting and tasting as many pumpkin beers as I could possibly find. I'm sure there are a lot that I wasn't able to find, but here are the ones I did.

Kern River Brewing Company - Pumpkin Ale

I haven't had a ton of Kern River's beers as most of them don't make it down this way. From what I can tell, though, they know how to make damn good beer. I have yet to be let down by them. Beau was able to find their Pumpkin Ale and brought it to a tasting about a month ago.

Kern River's Pumpkin Ale pours a slightly hazy golden color with a very thin tan head. Usually with pumpkin beers, the first thing you smell is pumpkin, but this one was different. I picked up some pale malts and floral hops first with just a faint hint of pumpkin and nutmeg underneath. It almost smelled like a pumpkin pale ale.

The floral hops and pale malts hit first in the taste as well and made up the body of the flavor with some very subtle hints of butternut squash, pumpkin and bready malts underneath. I do wish that this beer had been a little more pumpkin forward, but it was kind of a nice change of pace to find a pumpkin beer whose taste didn't just whack you over the head with pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice.

Final Grade: B

Shipyard Brewing Co. - Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin (Pugsley's Signature Series)

I'd seen this beer for the past few years, but the price always scared me away. But Beau and I were having a tasting so, in the name of science, I sucked it up and brought this beer to try.

Shipyard's Smashed Pumpkin pours a clear copper color with a half inch tan head. The smell was, well, different. I probably spent twenty minutes trying to figure out what I was smelling in this beer and the only thing I could think of was: pumpkin bubblegum. The pumpkin was there, but it smelled almost candied and artificial. I also picked up some raisin and something that smelled like Banana Laffy Taffy. Weird.

If you hadn't told me this was a pumpkin ale, I would have assumed from taste that it was either a barleywine or a grand cru. It's a big, boozy mother with notes of candi sugar, big sweet malts, a ton of raisin and booze. I didn't get any pumpkin in the taste at all. I think that all the big flavors and alcohol in this one (it clocks in at 9%) overwhelmed the pumpkin. I wasn't a huge fan of this one.

Final Grade: C

New Belgium Brewing - Lips of Faith Kick

You might recognize the name "New Belgium" as the guys that make Fat Tire, but what a lot of people don't know is that they also make one of the more interesting series of experimental beers out there: Lips of Faith. This series has been going for a few years and has featured some incredible beers. For this one, they collaborated with Elysian Brewing and made a sour beer using pumpkin and cranberry juice.

Kick poured a hazy burnt orange color with some small patches of cream colored head. The sourness was pretty evident in the smell with a big hit of brett upfront followed by apple cider vinegar, apricot, caramel, orange rind, white wine and some cranberry. No pumpkin though. Hmmm...

The cranberry flavors totally took over in the taste with some faint malt and lemon in the back. The sourness wasn't quite as big as I like, but it was pretty sufficient. Overall, I liked that it was a sour, but I really wanted to smell or taste the pumpkin. A little bit of a disappointment for a pumpkin beer, but still a good beer.

Final Grade: B

Bootlegger's Brewery - Pumpkin Ale

Bootlegger's Brewery is an up and coming brewery that I've just started to see on shelves within the last few months. Some of their beers look pretty interesting, so definitely look for more from them in the future. I didn't even know that they made a pumpkin ale until it showed up at Texas Liquor a few weeks ago.

Bootlegger's Pumpkin Ale pours a slightly hazy orange/amber color with a very thin cream colored head. The smell was full of pumpkin flesh, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and some brown sugar. This was definitely more along the lines of what I've come to expect from a good pumpkin beer.

There's a really nice blend of spices in the flavor to complement a healthy dose of pumpkin along with a hint of grain and molasses on the finish. A lot of pumpkin beers out now have a very artificial pumpkin flavor, but this one definitely did not. I wasn't expecting much from this one, but it ended up easily being the best pumpkin beer I had this year. Well done, Bootlegger's.

Final Grade: A

Uinta Brewing Company - Punk'n Ale

I've been wanting to try a beer from Uinta for a while. Something definitely seems strange about the idea of good beer coming from Utah, but I had heard good things about this brewery, so I was willing to give them a try. I was able to find a bottle of their pumpkin ale at Total Wine in Redondo Beach.

Uinta's Punk'n Ale pours a reddish orange color with a thin cream colored head. The smell had a pretty pleasant dose of pumpkin along with the familiar pumpkin pie spice aromas (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and clove). There was a hint a hazelnut in there as well.

The taste started off with some bready malts and baking spices and then progressed to hints of grain. I didn't get much pumpkin until the finish. Then I caught a bit of pumpkin and cinnamon, but they were pretty subtle. The smell definitely got my attention, but the taste kind of lost me.

Final Grade: B-

Stone Brewing Company - La Citrueille Celeste De Citricado

When I heard that Stone and The Bruery were doing a collaboration, I got pretty excted. When I found out that their collaboration was brewed with pumpkin...oh, man. Let me just read off the ingredient list for this puppy: pumpkins grown on stone's own farms, rye, yams, toasted fenugreek, birch bark and lemon verbena. Pretty crazy stuff.

La Citrueille Celeste De Citracado pours a dark brown color with a very thin light brown head that showed pretty good retention. The smell was full of a lot of spices that I couldn't even begin to distinguish as well as roasted yam, rye bread and something that smelled a bit like curry (which I'm pretty sure was the fenugreek).

The taste had a lot of the yam and fenugreek, but not lots of pumpkin. I also picked up some floral and lemon flavors towards the finish which I think came from the lemon verbena. Overall, this beer was a completely original take on the style. And while I'm not sure how it worked as a pumpkin beer, it may have been my favorite of the Stone collaborations to date.

Final Grade: A-

Anheuser-Busch, Inc. - Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat

I tried going into this one with an open mind. I really did. As much as I dislike Anheuser-Busch and everything they stand for, I couldn't overlook the fact that they had tried to make a pumpkin beer. After tracking down a single bottle, I decided it was worth a shot.

Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat pours a slightly hazy burnt orange color with a fairly nice looking cream colored head and some spotty lacing. I smelled some of the wheat upfront along with some overripe banana and pumpkin with some cinnamon and nutmeg.

The taste starts with a little pumpkin upfront. Then the taste becomes pretty watery and changes to sort of a wet wheat flavor. The finish brings some familiar wheat flavors of banana and bubblegum, but the carbonation and sweetness are so overdone that the beer almost tastes more like a pumpkin-wheat soda than a beer. Still, this was better than I expected.

Final Grade: C

Federal Jack's Brewpub - Kennebunkport Pumpkin Ale

I know I said I wasn't going to review any beers that I've reviewed in the past, but I just had to give this one another show. It couldn't be as bad as I remember it being, could it?

Kennebunkport Pumpkin Ale pours a clear golden color with a thin head that fades pretty quickly. The smell started off pretty well with a rich smell of pumpkin bread. But as the beer warmed, that smell quickly changed to a nasty bready yeast smell.

While the smell started off nice enough, the taste never came close. The beer is thin and watery with a hint of artificial pumpkin along with a gross buttery yeast flavor that I've come to expect from anything from Kennebunkport. The beer behind the yeast flavor tasted like Keystone Light. Gross.

Final Grade: D

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel - Route Des Épices (Ale Rousse Au Poivre)

Originally, I wasn't going to do a review of Route Des Épices. I buy a lot of beers to try and only a few that I buy with the real intent to review, and this fell into the former category. However, it was such an unusual beer that it may have just worked its way into the latter.

Route Des Épices ("Spice Route" in French) is a rye beer brewed by Dieu Du Ciel in Montreal. You may remember that name from a review I did a few weeks back of their most famous beer, Peche Mortel. The more I try from this brewery, the more I want to try. They make a ton of different beers (only a few of which actually make it to San Diego), all of which I would call unique. Route Des Épices is no different. Not only is it a pretty hard to find style (rye beer) but it's brewed with both green and black peppercorns. Very interesting stuff.

Route Des Épices pours a dark amber color with a thin, cream colored head. The smell was full of the rye and I picked up a lot of what smelled like fresh rye bread, along with some caramel, a bit of wet blanket and a hint of the black peppercorns.

The taste opens with some nice caramel malt flavors and a slight hint of rye bread. Then come the peppercorns. While I was expecting a strange flavor from the peppercorns, what I wasn't expecting was the heat that came with it. It was like biting into a fresh peppercorn. I wouldn't say that this beer was my cup of tea, but it really showed that Dieu Du Ciel isn't afraid to take risks. I'm really excited to try more from this brewery. In fact, I have two more of their beers in the fridge as we speak. Stay tuned...

Final Grade: B

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Porterhouse Brewing Company - Oyster Stout

A few months ago, I noticed The Porterhouse Brewing Company's Oyster Stout on the shelves of Texas Liquor. And just to clear up any confusion- yes, the beer is brewed with real oysters. While my curiosity always told me yes, my stomach always said no. I've let my curiosity get the better of me in the past when it comes to beer buying decisions (see: Beer, Pizza) so I kept overlooking the beer in favor of other, albeit slightly less exciting, choices. Finally, I could ignore my curiosity no longer and I picked up a bottle to bring to a tasting with my friends Beau (his final tasting before moving to Portland) and Justin.

Oyster Stout pours a dark brown color with a one finger tan head. I was a little hesitant to give this one a smell, but it actually didn't smell that bad. The first thing I picked up was completely unexpected: peaches. The peach smell was quickly replaced by some more familiar stout smells of roasted malt and day old coffee.

Despite not smelling bad, I was expecting a lot of funkiness in the taste. After a deep breath, I took a sip and waited. But the oysters never showed. I got some brief brine flavors off the bat followed by a lot of roasted malt and stale coffee. A slight bit of saltiness showed up again on the finish, but other than that, no sign of the oysters. In fact, the beer was downright drinkable and borderline good. The saltiness was subdued and added a nice layer of flavor that went pretty well with the other more traditional Irish Dry Stout flavors. So as it turns out, curiosity isn't always the worst idea.

Final Grade: B+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

Friday, October 14, 2011

De Struise Brouwers - Outblack

A few days ago, I noticed that I was approaching the 400 review mark on beeradvocate. I completely forgot to get something special for the 300 mark and went with Dogfish Head's Festina Peche. Not a terrible selection (and way better than the beer I had for the 250 mark: Kennebunkport Blueberry), but nothing out of the ordinary. For my 400th review, I decided to go with a beer I bought on a whim a few months ago: De Struise's Outblack. I've had a few of De Struise's beers before, including one of my favorite Belgian beers out there, Pannepot. This one definitely intrigued me with it's label. De Struise claims this beer is a blend of two very different styles: a Belgian Strong Dark Ale and a Black IPA. I couldn't really imagine those two styles going together, but I've tried stranger beers that have worked, so I picked up a bottle.

Outblack pours a nearly black murky dark brown color with a huge tan head that took a full 10 minutes to settle. At first, I picked up a hint of citrus hops in the smell, but these faded quickly and gave way to smells of freshly baked whole wheat bread, dark fruit, chocolate, bananas, figs and a slight touch of booze. To tell the truth, a lot of these smells reminded me more of a quadrupel than a belgian strong dark ale or a black IPA. Whatever style it actually was, it smelled good.

The taste started with a lot of dark fruit and roasted malt along with some yeast, bread and some subdued hop resin and charred grain on the finish. While I didn't get anything in the taste that would lead me to think that any part of this beer was an IPA, it was still a pretty delicious beer.

Final Grade: A-

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company - Estate Homegrown Wet Hop Ale

Every October, the hop crop is finally ready for harvest. It's one of the best time of year for beer geeks because it's pretty much the only time of year that you're going to get wet hopped beers. Basically, all this means is that instead of using dried hop pellets (which are used for most beers), the brewers are able to use whole hops that are coming in fresh from the field. Sierra Nevada is pretty big on wet hopped beers and they bottle a few of these. Estate Homegrown Wet Hop Ale is different in that it's the only one in which they use hops and barley that are grown on land owned by Sierra Nevada. This is the first organic wet hopped beer I've ever tried.

Estate Homegrown Wet Hopped Ale pours a dark copper color with a huge foamy tan head. The smell was full of dank floral hops, sweet malts and some honey. A touch of overripe mango hangs around in the background.

This beer had a lot of hop flavor, but it wasn't as potent as I was hoping for. Grapefruit pith and caramel malts come in around the middle of the beer and some good hop resin comes into play on the finish. Overall, I was hoping for a little more from this one, but it's still a decent IPA. On a side note, I really liked that they chose to wax dip the bottle. I'm a total sucker for wax dipped bottles.

Final Grade: B

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

HaandBryggeriet - Dark Force

It's not often that you find a beer that claims to be a new style, so the label of HaandBryggeriet's (don't ask me how you pronounce that one) Dark Force caught me off guard a bit when it claimed to be a brand new take on a stout. Most stouts are brewed with roasted malt and barley, which helps them to get that great black color. This one is brewed with wheat malt and dark roasted malt and is labeled by the brewery as an "imperial wheat stout." I'm always up for a new take on a style, especially a stout, so I decided to see how this idea played out.

Dark Force pours a thick looking black color with a nice and creamy mocha colored head. I didn't really pick up any wheat in the smell, but I got some great aromas of dark chocolate covered cherries, wet earth, milk chocolate, espresso beans and a hint of wet wood. While wheat didn't seem to be a huge element in the smell, I got a bit of a tartness in the background that might have come from the wheat.

The taste starts with a powdery dark chocolate flavor and then progresses into flavors of dark chocolate, black cherries, lots of roasted malt and coffee and then dives towards a hard bittersweet chocolate finish. Again, the wheat didn't seem too present in the taste, but the mouthfeel was smooth and creamy like a lot of the great wheat beers out there. If you can't handle some seriously bitter dark chocolate flavor, then this may not be the beer for you. But if you're sick of all the sweet stouts out there, I'd highly recommend seeking out Dark Force.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

Monday, October 3, 2011

Kern River Brewing Company - Citra DIPA

When I was starting on my quest to try all of the Top 100 Beers, I looked through the list and made a note of all the beers on the list that are made in California. As it turns out, there are quite a few. "Perfect," I thought, "those are gonna be a piece of cake to check off the list." As it turns out, I was wrong. Granted, I'm going to have an easier time getting most of the California beers on the list than someone across the country, but some of these are tough to find. One in particular was Kern River's Citra Double IPA.

Kern River beers aren't the easiest to find in San Diego, but if you know where to look, they can be found. Because of that, I figured it was only a matter of time before Citra showed up in San Diego. Then, I found out that Citra was a seasonal release that could be found only at the brewery. I was pretty bummed until I spotted a post on beeradvocate announcing that Citra was finally going to be bottled. I went to liquor store after liquor store looking for it and finally landed a bottle at Mesa Liquor. A few days later, I finally got to try it. At #12 on the Top 100 list: Citra.

Citra pours a slightly hazy golden color with an extremely thin cream colored head. While the appearance didn't really blow me away, the smell did. Huge citrus hops, mango, grapefruit, and a ton of pine waft from the glass and can be smelled from a distance. Second to the Plinys, this may be the best smelling DIPA out there.

The taste starts with some fresh and peppery pine hops along with some flavors of mango and grapefruit juice. Some caramel malts smooth out the middle of the taste and the finish is full of pine hop resin. This was definitely worth the trouble to get and I highly recommend seeking it out if they decide to bottle it again. Let's hope that's in the very near future.

On a side note, Citra just took home a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival over the weekend in the Imperial India Pale Ale category. Well done, Kern River!

Final Grade: A+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 33

Monday, September 26, 2011

Alpine Brewing Company - Hoppy Birthday

I'm lucky enough to live in a place where beer from Alpine Brewing Company is pretty easy to find. That said, a few of their offerings that don't make it to bottles have been eluding me for a while. I finally got to check a big one off the list last weekend when I found their highly touted pale ale, Hoppy Birthday on tap at Toronados. Sitting at #35 on the Top 100 List, Hoppy Birthday is the highest rated of the 5 beers (5!) that Alpine makes that are currently in the Top 100.

Hoppy Birthday pours a clear golden color with a thin, foamy cream colored head. The smell is absolutely incredible. Huge citrus hop aromas waft from the glass along with big smells of candied grapefruit, mango and honey. I've had a lot of pale ales before, but nothing that smelled anywhere near as good as this one did.

The taste was a brilliant blend of citrus and pine hops and caramel malts. The taste began with mango and some big citrus hops, then moved towards more of a pine hop flavor. Some caramel malts evened out the flavor before a nice dash of hop resin on the finish. This was an amazing pale ale and I'm seriously hoping that the rumors that Alpine may bottle this one are true.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 33

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Bruery Provisions

If you're not familiar with The Bruery by now, you should be. They make some of the best and most interesting beers in all of California and are never afraid to try some really different recipes. Most of the beers made by The Bruery are traditional Belgian-style beers with a twist, such as their Trade Winds Triple- A traditional Belgian-style Tripel that uses rice and Thai basil. I've been wanting to make a trip up to The Bruery for a while now and I finally got to go with some friends this past weekend.

The tasting room for The Bruery is unique in that it isn't actually located at the brewery itself, but at a building that The Bruery uses as its bottleshop- The Bruery Provisions. Along with bottles from The Bruery, Provisions has an extensive collection of hard to find beers from other breweries on sale. Lineups of beers from The Bruery and from other breweries around the world are offered at reasonable prices (most lineups of five beers go for around $5) and go great with the meat and cheese plates that are also offered. I went with The Bruery Special Flight of beers along with the Picante Meat Plate (best choice ever). Here are the beers I got to try.


714 is a Belgian Pale Ale that is draft only. It poured a pale golden color with a thin head and notes of Belgian yeast, bready malts, a slight bit of earth and some leather.

Taste-wise, this one was a bit dull with the majority of the flavor consisting of some faint earthy hops and a bit of lemon zest. It wasn't a terrible beer, but it was probably my least favorite of the day.

Final Grade: B-

Run B.M.C.

Without a doubt, this was the best name of the day. In case you're not familiar, "B.M.C." refers to the beer behemoths of Budweiser, Miller and Coors. Craft breweries and craft beer lovers hate these companies and often lump them together as "BMC."

The beer itself is an intensely hopped pilsner that poured a pale gold color with a 1/2 finger cream colored head. For me, the smell was a bit off what a pilsner typically smells like. I picked up corn tortilla, lemon, lime, malt, guava and a slight soapy smell.

While the taste was infinitely better than anything made by "BMC," it failed to impress me. There was a heavy grain flavor alongside some earthy hops, white pepper and a dash of funk. I probably wouldn't go out of my way to look for this one.

Final Grade: B

Saison Rue

Saison Rue is part of the yearly lineup that The Bruery bottles and distributes pretty widely. I had never tried it, so I decided to give it a shot. The color was a dark gold and the beer smelled of rye, some faint earth, caramel and a touch of oak.

I've had some great saisons before and, unfortunately, this can't touch any of them. I didn't get much from the flavor to let me know I was drinking a saison or any type of farmhouse ale. Instead, I got a lot of grain, a slight bit of funk, belgian yeast, earthy hops and some rye. I definitely prefer their Saison de Lente over this one.

Final Grade: B

Autumn Maple

Of all the beers on tap at Provisions, I was probably the most excited to try this one. Autumn Maple is The Bruery's take on the traditional pumpkin beers that lots of breweries put out in the fall. The Bruery decided to go a slightly different direction and use a crapload of yams, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla, molasses and Belgian yeast. How could this not be good?

Autumn Maple poured a glowing amber color with a thin soapy head. I got smells of candied yams, pumpkin pie, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange peel. The yams weren't as intense as I was hoping for, but this beer definitely smelled like fall.

The taste starts with some notes of brown sugar and sweet potato followed by some freshly baked cinnamon bread. A slight hint of hops and Belgian yeast finished the taste off. I wanted the smell and the flavor to be a little more intense, but this was definitely one of the better beers we sampled.

Final Grade: B+


"Run B.M.C." is a tough name to top, but Snicklefritz has to come close. According to, "snicklefritz" can either refer to a low-potency strain of pot or a word that the Pennsylvania Dutch use to describe a kid who talks too much. I'm not sure The Bruery was going for either of those, but doesn't "snicklefritz" seem like the perfect replacement for a swear word? For example: "Dude, I just got back from vacation and my cat took a snicklefritz in my shower while I was gone!" Anyway, on to the beer itself.

Snicklefritz is categorized as a Belgian Strong Pale Ale and pours a deep golden color with a thin tan head. The smell is sweet and heavy and reminded me of Werthers Original butterscotch candies. The butterscotch smell was really intense, but there were also some faint notes of Belgian yeast and wet hay.

The taste was a little more diverse than I was expecting after smelling this one. I got notes of caramel malt, muted peppery hops, lots of butterscotch, freshly baked bread and a hint of oak on the finish. As intense as the butterscotch flavor was, it kind of worked for this beer.

Final Grade: B+


I went to The Bruery hoping to try their 3rd anniversary beer, Cuir. When we got there, they told us that they had tapped out of Cuir, but had replaced it with a new raspberry sour beer- BeRazzled. At first I was a little disappointed, but then I tried the beer.

BeRazzled pours a beautiful light ruby color with a thin pink head. The smell instantly took me back to my experience with Cantillon's Rosé de Gambrinus. Huge, perfume-like aromas of raspberries and cranberries wafted out of the glass. It didn't have that awesome funk that Rosé de Gambrinus has, but this was still incredible.

The taste didn't disappoint at all with huge flavors of fresh raspberries, cranberries and red currants with a slight kiss of brett. The light mouthfeel and prickly carbonation worked perfectly with the flavors. This was a beer that I could drink all day. I seriously hope they have plans to make more of this. Behind Rosé de Gambrinus, the was the best raspberry beer I've ever had.

Final Grade: A

Overall, it was a successful trip up to The Bruery and I really hope to make it up there again in the near future. It's located very close to Angel Stadium, so if you have plans to go watch the Angels try to chase down a playoff spot, I highly recommend heading to The Bruery Provisions first.

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 32

Monday, September 12, 2011

Russian River Brewing Company - Rejection

In case you're not familiar with Russian River Brewing Company, they like to make really good beers with names that end in "tion." A few in the "tion" series are sours (Supplication, Temptation, etc.), but a few are not. I happened to be in Pizza Port with my girlfriend yesterday when I noticed a "tion" beer on their lineup that I had yet to try: Rejection. Rejection is classified as a Belgian Dark Ale and I heard a rumor that it was brewed for Valentine's Day. Nice.

Rejection poured a much darker color than I expected: a dark brown color similar to dark maple syrup. The nose surprised me as well, with some big roasted malt and coffee aromas, floral hops and some faint Belgian yeast with a touch of dark fruit.

The taste started with some floral hops alongside some day-old roasted coffee flavor. Some roasted malt, dark chocolate and anise followed, but the finish was a bit weak. Overall, this may have been my least favorite of the "tion" beers I've tried (in Rejection's defense, the other "tion" beers are a tough act to follow). Because this beer is classified as a Belgian Dark Ale, I expected something, well, Belgian in the taste. A bit of Belgian yeast could have added another dimension to the flavor. As it was, it wasn't a bad beer, but it left me a little disappointed.

Final Grade: B-

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 32

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Brasserie Dieu du Ciel - Péché Mortel (Imperial Stout Au Cafe)

It's pretty tough to find beers from Montreal's Dieu du Ciel Brewery here in San Diego. Every once in a while, one of their beers would pop up, but it wasn't the one I was really looking for. Their imperial stout brewed with coffee has been hovering around the middle of the Top 100 List for a while now and is currently sitting at #50. I'm a big fan of beers brewed with coffee, so I really wanted to try this one. Finally, I found a bottle on the shelves of Texas Liquor.

Péché Mortel pours a black and oily color with a thin but creamy tan head. The aroma has a huge roasted element with big notes of both roasted malt and dark roasted coffee. The smell of the coffee was really intense. With the exception of Founder's Kentucky Breakfast Stout, this is the most coffee I've ever smelled in a beer. Underneath the coffee and roasted malt were some notes of wet earth and espresso.

The taste was big and roasty with a ton of dark roasted coffee and dark chocolate. For me, the dark roasted coffee was a bit too much because it brought so much acidity with it. It's a great stout, but something tells me it would be much better if I let one mellow for a year or two.

Final Grade: A-

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 31

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

De Struise Brouwers - Pannepot

A few months ago, I tried the #1 beer in the world according to's Top 100 List- Westvleteren 12. While it may not have been my favorite beer (it was close, though), the smell was what really separated it from any other beer I've had. In my mind, no other beer could come close to the smell of the Westvleteren 12. It was that good. Then, I came across De Struise's Pannepot.

Looking back, maybe I shouldn't have been surprised that the smell of Pannepot approached that of Westvleteren 12. After all, the beers are the same style (quadrupel) and the breweries are located about 2 miles away from each other in Belgium, which likely means they use a lot of the same ingredients, including the same water. Still, I didn't expect this. At #83 on the Top 100 List- Pannepot.

Pannepot pours a very dark brown color with a thin but slightly creamy head. The aroma is huge and complex with notes of banana, molasses, dark fruit, freshly baked rye bread and brown sugar. Everything about the smell of this beer blew me away and brought back memories of the smell of the Westvleteren 12.

The taste was nearly as rich as the smell with big flavors of molasses, raisin skins, brown sugar, banana, baking spices and chocolate with just a hint of booze on the finish. Taste-wise, this was incredible but not quite as incredible as the Westy 12. In this battle, the Westy 12 wins by a whisker. Pannepot definitely deserves to be higher on the list, though.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 30

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Russian River Brewing Company - Temptation

As anyone who loves sour beers already knows, Russian River makes some amazing sours. Their year round (or semi-year round) sour lineup consists of three beers that are aged in wine barrels: Supplication (a sour that uses cherries and is aged in Pinot Noir Barrels), Consecration (a sour that uses currants and is aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels) and Temptation (a sour that is aged in Chardonnay barrels). All three of these beers crack the Top 100 List with Supplication clocking in at #19, Consecration coming in at #58 and Temptation at #45. I had tried and loved the others, but hadn't had the chance to try Temptation until Stone's Anniversary Celebration last weekend.

Temptation pours a pale yellow color with a thin, off-white head. The base beer for Temptation is a blonde ale, which I think was probably the best choice to age in chardonnay barrels. Blonde ales are traditionally a lot lighter than the base beers used for Supplication and Consecration and this would enable the beer to pick up the lighter flavors in the Chardonnay barrel during the aging process. The chardonnay comes across nicely in the smell alongside some wood, lemon and a touch of white vinegar.

The flavors in Temptation may be a little lighter and more subtle than a beer like Supplication, but the beer still packs one hell of a sour punch. Ripe green apples and chardonnay lead off the flavor and are quickly overcome by a huge blast of sour/bretty goodness. A little apple cider vinegar and lemon come into play on the finish. This was easily one of the best sours I've ever had. The light base beer really showcases the barrel aging and shows off some fantastic delicate flavors without sacrificing that great sourness that Russian Rivers sours are famous for. This is an absolute must-try if you love sour beer.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 29

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Bruery - Humulus Lager

In the beer community, "lager" has become sort of a dirty word. The lager style has been around for a long, long time, but the word lager seems to always show up alongside another dirty word: "adjunct." An adjunct lager (for example: Bud Light, Miller Light, Coors Light, etc.) is a lager that is brewed using ingredients like corn and rice in place of barley. The result is a beer that often smells and tastes like horse piss. So you can imagine my surprise when I was looking through the Top 100 List and saw a beer with the word "lager" in the name. I finally got the chance to try it last weekend at Stone's 15th Anniversary Celebration. At #70 on the Top 100 List: Humulus Lager.

Humulus Lager pours a clear golden color with a thin, cream colored head. The aroma is amazing and completely unexpected for a lager with big, fresh floral and earthy hops alongside some pine and lemon.

The taste is everything I wish other lagers could be. Some soft malts give way to some nice pine and peppery hops and the beer finishes with a juicy grapefruit flavor. The balance is impeccable. Other breweries have experimented with different styles of lagers before (including one of my favorite Ballast Point beers- Fathom India Pale Lager), but I don't think any of them can touch this one. A worthy addition to the Top 100.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 28

Friday, August 26, 2011

Firestone Walker Brewing Company - Parabola

I was never a big fan of Firestone Walker beers until I tried their barleywine, Abacus. It was unlike any beer I had ever tried up to that point and remains the best barleywine I've ever had. Abacus is part of Firestone's Reserve Series, which consists of Abacus, Double Jack (which I wasn't a fan of), Firestone's Anniversary Ales (which I have yet to try), Walker's Reserve Porter (which I was inclined to like because of the name but didn't because of the taste) and a Russian Imperial Stout called Parabola which sits at #25 on the Top 100 list. So out of the five beers of the Reserve Series, I had tried three and liked one. Not a good sign. Still, a lot of people had told me that Parabola was better than Abacus, so I figured it was worth a shot. I opened it alongside a few other great beers at a tasting with Beau and our friend, Krank.

Parabola pours a jet black color with a 1/2 finger tan head. The smell took me straight back to the smell of Abacus with huge notes of chocolate, toasted coconut, oak and port. Beau described the smell pretty accurately as a "dark chocolate Mounds bar." I absolutely love Mounds bars, so this beer obviously gets high marks from me in the smell department.

The taste was everything I could hope for in a stout: rich, deep and complex. I picked up notes of roasted malt, tootsie roll, milk chocolate, dark chocolate covered raisins, leather and mocha with a slight smokiness on the finish. Everything about this beer made me want it to never end. From the complex flavors to the rich and chewy mouthfeel, this beer is definitely Top 100 worthy. One of the better stouts I've had. Now that's what I'm talking about, Firestone! Make more beers like this!

Final Grade: A+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 27

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Brasserie Cantillon - Rosé de Gambrinus

I've been wanting to try a beer from Cantillon for a very, very long time. They have a reputation of being one of the best breweries in the world and the standard when it comes to geuzes and lambics. There's only one problem: People know that their beers are bomb so everyone snatches them up the second they hit shelves. I started asking around and finally found a bottle at Texas Liquor, right down the street from where I live. I didn't know a ton about the bottle he had, but I knew it was a Cantillon, so that was more than enough to convince me to buy it. Yesterday, I tried it with Beau.

Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus pours an incredible dark pink color (likely from all the raspberries used during fermentation) with a foamy light pink head that settles to a modest cap over the beer. The smell is absolutely incredible: Huge notes of sour raspberry and red currant with a healthy dose of funk/wet horse blanket and a hint of oak. Funk is an easy smell to overdo, but this one had just enough.

The taste was, well, amazing. I expected good things from this beer, but nothing like this. There's a big hit of sourness and tartness that hits the second you take a sip, followed by some nice funk. A bit of the raspberry flavor pokes it's head through towards the finish alongside a bit of red wine vinegar. The mouthfeel is nice and light, making this beer very, very drinkable. On a hot day, I can't think of a better beer to have. Hopefully I'll be able to find more of this. Very, very soon.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 26

Just a heads up on what to expect in the very near future. The next five (5!) reviews on this blog will be Top 100 Beers. it!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Stone 15th Anniversary Celebration

You can tell a lot about a person by the clothes they choose to wear, especially at a beer event. On Saturday, I attended my first beer event: Stone's 15th Anniversary Celebration. I was pretty excited for the beer (over 40 breweries showed up with over 100 different beers), but one of the more interesting side plots had to be the people who show up to these events and the clothes they chose to wear, right? Right? Maybe I'm the only one.

The day before the event, I began planning what I was going to wear (trust me, that's rare for me). As this was my first beer event, I had no idea what appropriate attire would be. Would it be sacrilege to wear another brewery's shirt to a party thrown by Stone? Would I look like a twit if I wore sandals? I had no idea. In the end, I opted for comfort and dressed for the weather, going with a polo shirt, shorts and shoes. My girlfriend and our friend, Brian, attended the event with me and chose pretty much the same path. Nothing too fancy, but something that would keep us cool if the weather got as hot as some were expecting.

The event was held on the campus of Cal State San Marcos and sprawled the length of their grassy quad. Breweries were given individual stations where people could visit for tasters of their beer. Most of the breweries were either local or from other parts of California, but a few breweries from other states and even out of the country showed up, including Belgium's Urthel and Duvel. There was even cider and mead at the event, with a wide selection from Julian Hard Cider, Wandering Aengus, Crispin and Redstone Meadery. As it turned out, the fashion of the beer lovers in attendance was just as varied as the choices of beverage. I've been thinking a lot over the past few days, and I can now definitively break those in attendance down into the following categories.

1. The Beer Geeks: I know what you're saying: "It's a beer event. Wasn't everyone there a beer geek?" No, and I'll get to that later. The beer geeks at this event typically wore shirts from breweries in the area (The Bruery shirts were all over the place) and could be seen jotting down notes left and right.

2. The Beer Nerds: There's a difference! Beer nerds think they're way more into brewing than beer geeks and like to wear shirts from obscure breweries that don't distribute to California. Their shirts are automatic conversation pieces for other beer nerds and they are commonly seen pointing out each others shirts and whiffing on high fives.

3. The Straight-Up Nerds: I didn't see many at this event, but one stood out. He was wearing a Utili-kilt (a modern day kilt company. The company's slogan is: "Call it a skirt and ye'll feel the back of my hand) and a shirt that said: "The liver must be punished!" I loved this guy.

4: The Die-Hard Stone Fans: There were a fair amount of true Stone fans at the event, most of them wearing shirts from previous Stone Anniversary celebrations. Interestingly enough, almost none of these people were seen getting their tasters filled at the Stone tents.

5: The Beer Lovers: This was effectively everyone else (and probably 80% of people there) at the event. I'm grouping everyone else, including me, in this class. The beer lovers in attendance weren't wearing things that clearly distinguished them as that, but I figure that you have to love beer to a certain degree to want to pay to attend an event like this.

While cliques usually emerge in events (ie. the beer nerds only hanging out with beer nerds), it was nice to see everyone getting along and enjoying good beer. Die-Hard Stone Fans were talking to Beer Nerds and Beer Geeks were talking to Beer Lovers. It was a great event, and one that I definitely plan on attending again next year. I may even go to the next one in Beer Geek attire.

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 26

Note: Two of the beers I tasted at the even were in the Top 100. Reviews on those to come soon.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Stone Brewing Company - Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA

I'll admit it, it's been a while since I had a beer from Stone that really impressed me. Stone has lost my favor for a few reasons.

1: Their year round line up isn't anything I would order on tap unless the other choices consisted of Coors Light and Bud 55.

2: Their recent collaborations had intriguing ideas, but didn't really come through for me. And finally...

3. Their whole "You're a sissy if you can't handle our beer and we didn't want your business anyways" approach feels like it's been going on for a few years too long.

That said, Stone's 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA is one of the best beers I've had all year. I didn't expect this beer to suck (it's rare that a beer from Stone is truly terrible, with the exception of their Belgo Anise Russian Imperial Stout), but I didn't see a beer from Stone ever blowing my mind like this one did.

Stone's 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA pours a jet black color with the consistency of motor oil. I've had a few black IPAs in the past and almost all of them were way too thin. I could tell this one wouldn't have that problem the second the beer left the bottle.

At first, this beer smells like an IPA, with some lush aromas of citrus hops and some pine in the background. But as you spend a little more time with the beer, hints of earth, roasted malt and leather creep in. I'm not ashamed to admit that I probably spent more time smelling this beer than I did drinking it (and I didn't drink it quickly).

The taste starts with some dark roasted malt flavors, then moves into more familiar IPA territory with some fresh pine hops. The finish brings in some dark roasted coffee and a bit of tobacco. To me, this may have been a bit more like a very hoppy stout than a black IPA, but that worked for me because I love stouts. The mouthfeel was rich and velvety with just the right amount of carbonation to keep the beer from being too syrupy. At nearly 11% ABV, this beer is one you should spend a little time finishing. So sip it, enjoy the intricate blend of styles, and get some more before it's gone.

Final Grade: A+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 26

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Midnight Sun Brewing Company - TREAT (Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter)

About a year ago, I heard about Midnight Sun's TREAT. All I needed to hear were the words "chocolate" and "pumpkin" together and I knew I had to try this beer. After trying to obtain it for a while down in San Diego, I learned that Midnight Sun doesn't really distribute to California. Disappointed, I started looking into other ways to get the beer and finally found it online. It had been sitting in the house for almost a year until this past weekend.

TREAT pours a midnight black color with a half-finger tan head. The smell was incredible. I've had my fair share of pumpkin beers, but I've never come across one with a smell this intense. It smelled like someone baked a pumpkin pie inside the bottle. Huge aromas of canned pumpkin, nutmeg and chocolate rose from the glass. This beer was definitely a keeper.

Sometimes a beer will come along and really intrigue me with the smell, but when I take a sip, I'm totally let down. Luckily, this was not one of those beers. I picked up rich flavors of pumpkin, nutmeg, cinnamon and clove along with a big chocolate flavor. I definitely wish I had picked up more than one bottle of this one.

Final Grade: A+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 26

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Brasserie Fantôme - Fantôme Saison

My sister was in town this weekend, so I thought it would be fun for her to take part in a little beer tasting. What started as a few bottles turned into, well, a lot. Here's a picture of the lineup for the night.

The lineup was (in order shown): The Bruery's Orchard White, Magic Hat's #9, Alesmith's Yulesmith Summer, Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada's Life and Limb, Drei Fonteinen's Oude Geuze, Great Divide's Rumble (which is the only beer we didn't get to), Pretty Things' Jack D'Or, Hair of the Dog's Blue Dot, Midnight Sun's T.R.E.A.T., Dogfish Head's Theobroma, Fantôme's Fantôme Saison, and Sierra Nevada's Torpedo (not shown). Needless to say, it was a very fun night. Over the next few days, I'll be reviewing some of the beers we tasted, starting with today's review of #80 on the Top 100 - Fantôme Saison.

I first heard about Fantôme Saison while reading through beeradvocate's Top 100 list about a year ago. It definitely caught me eye if for no other reason than it has an awesome label. I made it a point to look through every beer on the list and try to remember the names in case I ever stumbled upon them in a bottle shop. Many times, I found beers by Brasserie Fantôme, but never the saison. When asked about the saison, a lot of shop owners told me that they were trying to get it, but it was kind of a rare find. Finally, a year later, I found it at the Pizza Port bottle shop (on the day of the tasting, no less). Figuring it was fate, I picked up the bottle and opened it that night.

Fantôme Saison pours a hazy golden color with a one finger eggshell-colored head. I got some aromas of apple cider, vanilla, lemon and a touch of barnyard funk. The "funk factor" wasn't as high in this as a saison like Dupont's, but this had just enough to let you know it was a proper saison.

The taste definitely didn't disappoint, but it also didn't impress me as much as I was hoping it might. I picked up some lemon, pear, fermented apple, champagne yeast and a nice dose of funk. The champagne yeast flavor dried out the beer a lot and left nothing but a bit of funk on the finish. The mouthfeel was way light for a beer packing 8% ABV, so it's definitely one that has the potential to sneak up on you. Overall, it was a great saison, but the Saison Dupont may still be the king of saisons for me.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 26

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Deschutes Brewery - The Abyss

I'll admit it, I was a little apprehensive going into this tasting. I had been craving for more of The Abyss ever since I tried it for the first time over a year ago. But something in me was worried that it wouldn't be as good the second time around. And I didn't know if I wanted to mess with the greatest memory I have of drinking a beer. Absolutely everything about the Abyss the first time around blew me away. Was it really possible for a beer to do that twice? Unfortunately not.

I opened a bottle of 2010 Abyss last week with Beau and another coworker who had never tried the beer before. Beau tried it on tap for the first time a few weeks back while he was in Portland and wasn't impressed, so I was determined to blow his mind with the bottled version. After battling with the wax seal for a little too long, we opened the bottle and poured. A viscous-looking mass poured out and brought up a one finger light brown head. The color of the head was different than I remembered, but other than that, things were still going well. Then I took a whiff and it smelled like a different beer.

This time around, I picked up a lot of oak right away- a smell I don't remember encountering at all before. Behind the oak were some rich aromas of raisin, dark chocolate, vanilla, burnt brown sugar and leather. Some of these were familiar smells, some were not. The smell was fantastic and had incredible depth, but it didn't quite move me like the first time around.

The taste was a bit thinner than the 2009 version, but had some great flavors of molasses and dark chocolate upfront, followed by a heavy roasted flavor, some smoke, a bit of bourbon and wet earth. The finish is slightly roasted and acidic. Overall, it was still a fantastic beer, but I was a little let down. Maybe it's a product of me trying so many beers in the past year that it's gotten very difficult to impress me. Or maybe this bottle just needed some more time to age (luckily I have one more tucked away for later). Either way, The Abyss is still my favorite beer, although now I wonder if it's grip on first place has been loosened a bit. I guess it's true that you can only fall in love for the first time once and, Abyss, you'll always be my first.

Final Grade: A+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 25