Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company - Torpedo Extra IPA

I was looking through my fridge yesterday and stumbled upon a bottle of Sierra Nevada's Torpedo. I had gotten a few bottles a while ago and apparently forgotten to drink one of them. Somehow, I had also forgotten to review one of the other bottles, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to review this one.

First, a little back story on this beer. Torpedo (great name) Extra IPA is named after a process that is entirely unique to the Sierra Nevada Brewery. Looking for a better way to dry-hop their beers, Sierra Nevada developed a machine called the Torpedo that injects whole hop cones into the batch and capture all of that wonderful hop flavor.

Torpedo pours pretty dark for an IPA. The color is a slightly reddish deep golden color with a massive three fingered eggshell colored head. I got the usual Sierra Nevada floral hops in the smell but the beer also had some unexpected elements. I picked up a hint of funk and wet hay and even some marzipan. Not your average IPA smells.

The taste is solid IPA taste without being overpoweringly bitter. In other words, a great IPA. The taste starts with some piney hops and then moves on to a peppery bite with a little grapefruit. The finish hints at that sort of funkiness that I picked up in the smell and is full of hop resins, more citrus hops and a little bit of smoke. All in all, this is yet another great beer from Sierra Nevada and one that's worth picking up if you love IPAs.

Final Grade: A-

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Great Divide Brewing Company - Old Ruffian Barley Wine

So, the other night I had a strange dream. A beer dream. I was in some restaurant and they happened to have a beer I've been wanting to try for a while, Great Divide's "Yeti Stout", on tap and I tried it and it was delicious. I could taste very nuance of flavor and even remember thinking to myself that the beer was better than The Abyss. I know- blasphemy. And while dreaming about beer may be bad news for my future sobriety, I think it signals a change for me in that beer has become more than a hobby. They say that the best way to know you're really picking up a new language is that you start to dream in it so maybe the same goes for beer. So could this possibly signify the shift of beer in my psyche from "interest" to "passion"? I don't know. But it made me really want to try Yeti.

So what does this have to do with a beer called Old Ruffian? Great Divide, the brewery that makes Yeti, also makes a barleywine called Old Ruffian. We happened to be in North Park for Brian's birthday the other night and the place we were at had this one on tap so I decided to give it a try. Barleywines aren't typically beers that I try a lot, but I was pretty curious about this one.

Old Ruffian pours a deep ruby and chestnut color with a few specks of foam on the top. The smells are dominated by malts but hint at some hops as well.

Malts dominate the flavor, but again, the hops add a nice touch. Flavor-wise, this beer reminded me of a much, much better Arrogant Bastard. There was some nice caramel sweetness from the malts and the hops that Great Divide used had some nice pine flavor. This beer was incredibly balanced and helped to keep the 10% alcohol in check. Next on the list: Yeti.

Final Grade: A

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Lost Abbey - The Angel's Share (Brandy Barrel Aged)

As you may remember, The Lost Abbey is the brewery that makes good vs. evil beers. One of their "good" beers is one called Angel's Share. As you may or may not know (I didn't until my friend Brian told me), the "Angel's Share" is a term given to the alcohol that evaporates through barrels during the fermenting process. What I didn't know until doing a little research is that the average barrel of fermenting alcohol loses 2% of it's alcohol each year. This particular beer is a hefty 12% and classified as an American Strong Ale. It's usually pretty hard to find, but Toronados happened to have it on tap this weekend. Score!

The beer pours a flat looking black color with milk chocolate colored tinges on the edges. The smell was all raisins and pretty overpowering. As the beer warmed a little, I could definitely detect some brandy and maybe even a little bourbon.

While the smell is a tad one dimensional, the taste of this beer is not. There is a lot of raisin here, but it's paired with some dark fruits (fig and plum) and there are also hints of toffee and leather. There's also a hint of carbonation that keeps the beer from being too syrupy. In the end, it was still a little too syrupy for my taste, but the end result was a pretty well balanced beer. I'm definitely looking forward to enjoying more of The Lost Abbey's beers in the near future.

Final Grade: B+

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Goose Island Beer Company - Bourbon County Brand Stout

For a while now, I've been wanting to try a beer from Chicago's Goose Island Beer Company. They make quite a few beers that make their way our here (Matilda, Sofie, Demolition) and a few with names that make me wish they made it out here (Goose Appeal, Foxxy, Bourbon Barrel Aged Extra Naughty Goose). One that I had heard a lot about was their Bourbon County Stout, a bourbon barrel aged double stout weighing in at a hefty 13% ABV. Finally, I picked up a couple to try- one for now and one for a little down the line.

Bourbon County Stout pours like motor oil. No matter how aggressively I poured, there was no head to be found. A few milk chocolate colored bubbles make their way onto the slick black surface but quickly disappear. This beer is intimidating to look at. Just a thick mess of black in a glass. The smell of it just about knocked me out. I made the mistake of taking a pretty big whiff and it was pretty much the equivalent to taking a big whiff of Jim Beam. For at least the first 15 minutes after the beer was poured, the only smell I could pick up was pure bourbon. As it warmed there were hints of fig and raisin, but they were pretty faint. The smell reminded me way more of Old Ales like Adam and Coton than a stout.

I was glad when I took my first sip that the beer didn't just taste like bourbon. In fact, the taste was remarkably complex. The bourbon is definitely there, but it's mellowed a lot by notes of milk and dark chocolate, molasses, and some vanilla. The alcohol is definitely evident and makes it hard to do much but sip this beer. The finish leaves that dry and heavy bourbon flavor on the tip of your tongue. The consistency is probably closer to honey than to a lot of beer and it works well with the flavor profile. I'm really excited to see how the other bottle of this one ages and I'm thinking that the bourbon won't be as harsh in about a year or so.

Final Grade: A

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Kiuchi Brewery - Hitachino Nest Extra High (XH)

Last night, I cracked open a bottle of Hitachino Nest Extra High (XH). This was my second experience with Kiuchi Brewery, having tried their Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale a few months back. As with the Red Rice Ale, this beer has one of the better labels I've ever seen, adorned with their trademarked chubby owl that looks like he's had a few Red Rice Ales too many. The profile of this beer is totally different than the Red Rice Ale. This one is a Belgian Strong Dark Ale that is aged in sake barrels. Needless to say, this one should taste like nothing I've ever tasted before.

As soon as I popped the bottle, foam came gushing out and it was tough to control. After pouring, the head continued to rise and by the time the whole beer was in the tulip, the head was still out of the glass. The coloring was a light reddish brown with an enormous tan head that took about 5 minutes to settle to a light cap. The smells in this one are really interesting. I picked up some oak from the sake barrels, some sake, a little spiciness, cinnamon and some nuttiness as well. Nice.

The tastes in this beer are as unique as the smells. The beer is surprisingly sour and has hints of apple cider vinegar and tart green apple. There's a little sweetness upfront, but the finish is dry and tart with some sake flavor thrown in. I read one review that said that this beer tastes like a "beginners sour beer" and I think that's pretty accurate. The beer isn't full on sour, but it has hints of brett and a nice tartness to it that borders on sour. This is a really fantastic beer and maybe the best Japanese beer I've ever had.

Final Grade: A

North Coast Brewing Company - Brother Thelonious

One of my favorite breweries in California (outside of San Diego) is North Coast. Makers of beers like Old Rasputin, Scrimshaw, Red Seal and Blackhart, North Coast has a pretty solid lineup. One of their beers that I had yet to try was one called Brother Thelonious- a Belgian Strong Dark Ale named after jazz musician Thelonious Monk himself. A portion of the proceeds go towards the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and I'm all for beer with a cause, so this one was intriguing. Brother Thelonious is done in the same style as beers like Chimay and the Trader Joes Vintage Ale, so I'm expecting to see a nice yeast profile and spiciness in this one.

The beer pours a dark brown color and ruby color with almost no head. The smells of this one definitely piqued my interest- some nice malt smells, brown sugar and maple.

Just as I was hoping, the yeast is one of the strongest elements of this beer. It gives the beer a creamy mouthfeel that worked well with the malt sweetness. I didn't catch a lot of the maple or brown sugar that I picked up in the smell, but the malt sweetness was enough to make this one enjoyable and keep it from being one dimensional. The only thing that bothered me a bit with this one was that I felt like the alcohol was a little too present. At 9%, this isn't a weak beer, but it burned going down like something much stronger than what it was. Still, another good beer from North Coast, albeit not their best.

Final Grade: B+

Friday, January 14, 2011

Stone Brewing Company - Lukcy Basartd

First of all, no, that's not a massive typo there in the title. That's just Stone being Stone. For a while now, Stone's ad campaign has focused on telling people that they're wusses and there's no way they'll be able to handle a Stone beer. Whether that's true or not is a different story, but Lukcy Basartd is another beer from Stone that uses the "You're not worthy" slogan. This beer is a once a year brew that is a blend of three of Stone's better known beers- Arrogant Bastard, Oaked Arrogant Bastard and Double Bastard. Going into this, I had no idea how this was going to taste. Three strong ales mixed into one?

Lukcy Basartd pours a deep reddish brown color with a slightly off-white head. Looks-wise, this looks very similar to Arrogant Bastard. The smell is similar as well, with a strong hop smell that is uniquely Stone and some bready malts along with some citrus that I thought smelled a lot like tangerine.

As far as taste goes, Stone might be on the nose with their "Hated by many, loved by few" slogan. This is a tough beer to "like," but it's still well made. There are some strong pine hops and a thick, chewy malt backbone with a finish that tastes like aspirin. I can't say I was a huge fan of this one as the taste was a little too one dimensional on the bitterness side. It's still a good beer, but I'm afraid I may still be too "wussy" to meet Stone's standards on this one.

Final Grade: C+

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery - Miles Davis' Bitches Brew

If you've been watching the show, "Brewmasters," you already know a thing or two about Bitches Brew. In case you've missed the show, here's a little about this fantastic beer.

Bitches Brew was brewed as a collaboration with Sony Music's re-release of Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" album for the album's 40th anniversary. The idea behind the beer was to create a beer that both honored and represented the album. To do this, Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head, had the idea to blend a traditional imperial stout with an African honey wine called tej. So as to not let the sweetness of the tej overpower the beer itself, the beer is brewed with three parts imperial stout and one part tej and then blended to create the finished product.

Bitches Brew pours an impossibly dark color (dare I say Abyss-like?) with a sizeable mocha colored head that showed good retention and left some nice lacing down the glass.

As far as smells go, I don't know if I've ever smelled a beer as good as Bitches Brew. There's a pretty good trace of honey upfront with a deep, dark earthy smell following. Hints of coffee and molasses are definitely also present in the smell.

After smelling this beer, I was pretty excited to finally try it and the first taste didn't disappoint. The beer shows some nice milk chocolate sweetness upfront and then hits you with coffee, dark chocolate and roasted malt. The thickness isn't quite up to Abyss standards, but it definitely isn't thin. The beer leaves a velvety coating over your mouth and is an absolute joy to drink. There's a fantastic complexity to it and a very earthy feel to it that works perfectly with all of the flavors. The honey wasn't as present in the taste as in the smell, but the beer was plenty sweet enough without the honey flavors. Overall, this is one of the best beers I've ever had. If they ever brew this again, I have to get more.

Final Grade: A+

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company - Northern Hemisphere Harvest Wet Hop Ale

I'm fortunate enough to live in a state where good beer is in abundance. With so many great breweries in California, the liquor stores and markets are flooded with great beer. In San Diego alone, I'm within a 30 minute drive of Stone, Alesmith, Lost Abbey, Pizza Port, Ballast Point, Green Flash and a few others as well as within an hour of The Bruery and Alpine. Not bad. In addition, the stores down here get a lot of beers that most people can't find. One of the best breweries in California (even though it's way more than an hour's drive away) has to be Sierra Nevada. It's rare that they make a beer that I'm not fond of, so I was quick to try one of their beers I had never seen before- their Northern Hemisphere Harvest Wet Hop Ale.

First of all, what the heck is wet hopping? Here's the best description I could find (from

"Hops is harvested in early September. It is usually dried in kilns and often pressed into pellets to prevent it from spoiling soon after harvest. But for some lucky brewers who are close enough to the hops fields, fresh, or wet, hops can be used to brew a very special beer."

So by using these fresh hops instead of the pellets you can find in a brewing supply store, you can craft a beer that is going to have more hop aroma and flavor. If nothing else, a wet hopped beer is a test of how much hops you can handle.

Northern Hemisphere pours a deep bronze color with a massive foamy white head and ridiculous lacing as the level in the glass drops. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen a beer leave this much lacing. When I smelled the beer, I was blown away by the smell. The hops were enormous and had that nice, characteristic Sierra Nevada floral characteristic that you can find in a lot of their beer.

As far as taste goes, this beer didn't disappoint. The hops were obviously the star of the show, but there was a nice malt backbone that held up to the hops. The taste starts with some huge grapefruit-like hop flavors and then fades in the middle to give way to some of the malt flavor. Not to be outdone though, the hops return in the finish and the last taste the beer leaves is pure hop resin. If don't love hops, I can't say I'd recommend this beer. But if you do, Northern Hemisphere is a must try.

Final Grade: A

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Full Sail Brewing Company - Full Sail Amber

I've been a little slow about trying all of the beers at Trader Joes. I think this has happened for a few reasons. One reason is that I've been busy trying a lot of other beers that I'm really excited about. But I think the bigger reason has been that it's been rare that I've found really good beer at Trader Joes (with the exception of the few Unibroue's that wander into our store periodically). Still, I felt it was my duty to know more about our selection so I picked up one I hadn't tried, Full Sail Amber.

The beer pours a dark amber color with a thin, sudsy white head. The smells coming off of this beer were pretty faint, but I could pick out a little caramel malt and some lemon.

As far as taste goes, this beer may be the perfect microcosm of Trader Joes beer selection- good but not great; tasty but not memorable. The taste starts with some strong malts and then fades into a gentle floral hop finish. There's a bit of caramel sweetness at the start and a bit of citrus on the finish, but I couldn't help but want more from this beer. There's nothing particularly "wrong" with this beer. It's well balanced and it has some good elements. But as far as standing out from any other amber out there, it just doesn't cut it.

Final Grade: B-

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Nøgne Ø/Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales/Stone Brewing Company - Special Holiday Ale

Two years ago, a collaboration between Stone (located nearby in Escondido), Jolly Pumpkin (located in Dexter, Michigan) and Nøgne Ø (located in Grimstad, Norway) was released. Unfortunately, I was not aware of anything going on in the beer world at that time and missed out. This year, the beer was re-released by Nøgne Ø (the first batch was brewed by Stone). Theoretically, this beer should taste identical to the Stone release because all of the base ingredients were the same. As part of the collaborative process, all of the breweries submitted local ingredients to be used as part of the beer. So this beer includes chestnuts from Michigan, juniper berries from Norway and white sage from San Diego. Pretty good lineup, no?

The beer pours a dark brown color with a slight tan head that holds up well enough. The smells coming off of this one after I poured it were pretty wild. It seemed like the nose changed every ten seconds. What I could pick out was a lot of spiciness, some juniper and sage, and a lot of sweetness that reminded me of marzipan and milk chocolate. What a mix!

The taste wasn't nearly as interesting as the smells, but it was still pretty tasty. I was a little surprised to find that this beer tasted more like a Belgian beer than anything else. The strongest flavor was a spicy and sweet Belgian yeast that reminded me a little of Chimay. There's a nuttiness behind the yeast that I can only assume is brought on by the Michigan chestnuts and it added a nice complexity. The finish brings some herbal bitterness that I found to be a little out of place after so much sweetness. Still, I liked this beer a lot.

Rumor has it that Jolly Pumpkin is about to release their version of this beer in the next few weeks. It has the same ingredients, but with a twist. The beer is aged in oak barrels and soured. Yes, please!

Final Grade: B+

Monday, January 3, 2011

Alpine Brewing Company - Ichabod

A few weeks ago, I stepped into one of the better liquor stores in San Diego, Beverages 4 Less and saw that they had one of Alpine Brewing Company's harder to find beers, Ichabod. When I asked the manager about it, the following interaction happened.

Me: So, how is this one?

Freddie (the manager): Sour, man.

Me: How sour are we talking?

Freddie: It will give you lockjaw.

Me: (thinking for a second) In a good way?

Freddie: (smiling) Yeah.

Two seconds later, I was driving home with huge expectations for my new purchase. After reading up on the beer a little more, I got even more excited. Ichabod is technically a Wild Ale (one of my favorite styles) brewed with pumpkin, nutmeg and cinnamon. To get that sourness that so many beer lovers crave, the beer is aged in red and white wine barrels for over a year. So, yeah, I was a little excited about this one. On a side note, Ichabod has one of the best labels I've ever seen: a picture of Ichabod (the protagonist of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow") and the Headless Horseman clinking mugs of beer.

Ichabod pours a deep brown and ruby color with absolutely no head at all. With any other style of beer, this might bother me, but I have had a few sours that I loved that didn't have heads so I wasn't too worried. The smells coming off this beer were pretty fantastic. Right away, there was a huge sour/tart smell with a little brett funkiness. I spent a while with this one trying to find a hint of the pumpkin and spices in the nose, but couldn't find much. As the beer warmed, I could pick out a little bit of cinnamon and nutmeg hidden in the back of the tartness.

How do I describe the taste of this beer? I would leave it at "amazing," but I don't know how much that would help anyone to get a real sense of this beer. The taste starts with a nice tartness that reminded me of a cross between a sour green apple and black cherries. In fact, it reminded me of another great sour beer that's brewed with cherries- Russian River's "Supplication." Right after the initial tartness, the beer absolutely clocks you in the mouth with a huge hit of sourness that lasts all the way through the finish. The beer is completely devoid of carbonation (which explains why there's no head), but the lack of carbonation helps the sourness shine through in the taste even more. If you like sour beers, this is one you have to try.

Though I didn't catch a lot of the pumpkin, this beer was so good that I didn't really care. So if you're looking to mix things up a little bit, give this one a try. Just be warned: Ichabod is one sour mother.

Final Grade: A