Thursday, February 24, 2011

Port Brewing Company - Mongo

When it comes to IPAs, San Diego knows how to do things right. Yet another example is Pizza Port's Mongo. This Double IPA is about as good as they come. Named after a rambunctious kitten that liked to hang around the brewery that the brewers nicknamed "Mongo," this beer weighs in at over 8% but feels nothing like it. As far as labels go, Mongo is tough to beat- a gray cat in boardshorts dropping in on a 30 foot bomb while other surfers look on in awe.

Mongo pours a slightly hazy, honey color with a good sized head that drops quickly but leaves great lacing down the glass. The smells coming off of this one are incredible- fresh citrus hops, grapefruit, pineapple, mango and juicy tangerine. I absolutely love the way this beer smells.

Taste-wise, the beer was no worse than the smell. A hard peppery citrus hop bite at the start was followed by some subtle malts which balanced the hops nicely. Mixed in with the hops was a hint of pineapple, which gave the beer a nice tropical flavor. Having tried Port's Hop 15 and High Tide IPAs, I can definitely say that Mongo stands out from the rest.

Final Grade: A

Friday, February 18, 2011

Brouwerij St. Bernardus NV - St. Bernardus Abt. 12

As you may already know, the Belgians have a reputation for making good beer. Having unintentionally ignored anything coming out of Belgium in this blog for a good few months, I felt it was time to venture back to it. While in the store, I saw one I've been wanting to try for a while, St. Bernardus' Abt. 12, and picked it up.

First of all, some notes on this beer. It's brewed at an abbey in Belgium in a town called Watou. Abt. 12 is their take on the Quadrupel (Quad) style meaning that is the strongest beer traditionally brewed in Belgium (higher in alcohol than both the Dubbel and Trippel). The "Abt." in the title (according to the Alstrom Brothers of Beeradvocate) means that this beer is the highest rank the brewery makes. In addition, beeradvocate says that St. Bernardus uses the same water and hops as another famous brewery in Begium, Westvleteren (makers of the #1 rated beer in the world, Westvleteren 12). Since Westvleteren 12 is impossibly hard to come by, this may be the closest I get to trying the best beer in the world for now.

St. Bernardus Abt. 12 pours a deep, dark brown color with a ton of haze. The head is big and tan and foams up in the glass nicely before settling down to a nice foam cap. Earthy malts dominate the smell, but there are a ton of more subtle smells to this beer as well. I picked up hints of brown sugar, cinnamon, bubblegum, yeast and a little marzipan.

The taste is also malt-dominated, but a ton of spices make the flavor really pop. There's just enough carbonation in this beer to complement the range of flavors. There's just the slightest hint of hops, which helps to balance the malts. The aftertaste is smooth and bready and the mouthfeel is creamy and unbelievably smooth. This is an incredible beer and way too easy to drink at 10%. I feel like I could drink this all day, but I know that probably wouldn't be a great idea.

Final Grade: A+

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales - Bam Noire

After being impressed by Jolly Pumpkin's collaboration beer with Nøgne Ø and Stone, I made a mental note to try some of Jolly Pumpkin's beers in the near future. The first one I tried was one called Bam Noire. Bam Noire is labeled a "dark farmhouse ale," which basically means it's a new take on the saison style.

The beer pours a deep, dark brown and garnet color with a head that balloons up in the glass as soon as it's poured. Every good saison I've ever had has had a huge head, so I was kind of glad to see this. The head on this one didn't take as long as some saisons to go down, but it stayed at about 3/4 of an inch and gave the beer a nice appearance. The beer may not have as much funk to it as some, but the funk was there in the smell along with some hints of spicy yeast, some brown sugar and something that smells a bit like chlorine.

Surprisingly, this beer tasted a little sour, which I was not expecting. This wasn't a straight sour beer by any means though. The beer had a nice yeast profile with some cherries and a bit of vinegar in the taste. There's something a bit woody in the aftertaste as well. Overall, this is a good take on the style and this beer had a very original taste. Not the best saison I've ever had, but a pretty good beer. I'm going to have to try a few more from Jolly Pumpkin.

Final Grade: A-

Friday, February 11, 2011

Russian River Brewing Company - Pliny The Younger

Yesterday, I woke up and went to work with two possible outcomes for the day in my mind. It was either going to be the best day ever or the worst day ever. You see, two major things were happening: the Lakers were playing the Celtics in Boston and Pliny The Younger was coming to a bar down here. The bar that was going to have it, Toronados, was opening at 10am. The problem? I wasn't getting off work until 2pm. For most beers, this wouldn't be a problem. But Pliny The Younger isn't most beers. It's a triple (that's right, triple!) IPA made by the same guys that make Pliny The Elder, Russian River Brewing Company. The beer is only released once a year and is generally regarded as one of the hardest beers to get your hands on. It's on draft only, so if you are a day late (or in some cases an hour late) to a bar that gets it, it's better luck next year. Last year, one bar down here was out of it in 45 minutes. In my mind, the day was going one of two ways.

Outcome 1: I was going to get off work at 2, drive like I had a mother about to give birth in the car (running red lights, pretending the freeway was the Audobon, etc.) to the bar only to find that the beer was gone. Then, I would trudge home and watch the Lakers get blown out by Boston.

Outcome 2: I would get out of work, drive like I had a mother about to give birth in the car (same as above) to the bar and the beer would be there! After enjoying one of the best beers of my life, I would come home and watch the Lakers win.

In my mind, there was no middle ground. There was no way I was getting the beer and the Lakers were losing or not getting the beer and the Lakers would win. Somewhere, these two things were intertwined and any hope the Lakers had against Boston lay in me getting my hands on that beer.

At 1:15 I made a phone call to the bar. A man picked up and the bar sounded busy.


"Hi," I said nervously, "do you have any Pliny left?"

"Yeah, we've still got it. It's flying out of here though."

"Any chance there will be some left in an hour?"

He took about 2 seconds to answer, but it seemed a lot longer.

"Not really sure."

Great. Still, there was hope. The beer was still there.

After 45 of the longest minutes of my life, work was done and I was speeding to Toronados. I got in the bar and looked at the beer list. After a few seconds of frantic searching, I saw it- "Pliny The Younger." I wasn't too late! I ordered and took the beer to the nearest table for a taste.

Pliny The Younger is a beautiful clear, golden color with about one finger of foamy head that fades pretty quickly. Similar to Pliny The Elder, it's a beer you can smell from about ten feet away. The hops coming off of it are unreal. However, the fresh pine hop scent is where the similarities with the Elder end as far as smell goes. Pliny The Younger smells a lot more tropical than it's cousin with some nice scents of pineapple, apricot and mango. As the beer warms, these smells fade a bit and are replaced with some wet hay and hop resin smells.

Before we go onto the taste, here are some things you need to know about Pliny The Younger. It's categorized as a Triple IPA, which means that it has three times as much malt and hops as a standard IPA (and Russian River's standard IPA is not short on hops). It's also dry hopped four different times during the brewing process, which is ridiculous. The result of hopping the beer this much should pretty much be an undrinkable, hop-juicy mess...but it's not.

Because this beer is hopped so much more than Pliny The Elder, I expected the taste to be much, much bigger. But it wasn't "bigger," just better. The taste starts with a lot of citrus hops and grapefruit and a sharp, peppery bite. Pretty much as you would expect from a beer with this many hops added. But then, instead of turning completely and unpleasantly bitter, the malts come into play and smooth out the taste all the way through a crisp and perfectly bitter finish. You can tell that there are a ton of hops in this beer, but the balance is so perfect that they aren't allowed to overwhelm the rest of the flavors this beer offers. In fact, I would bet that someone who isn't a hophead would enjoy Pliny The Younger much more than Pliny The Elder.

I left the bar with a huge smile on my face and a huge check off of my beer bucket list.

And later that night, of course, the Lakers beat the Celtics.

Final Grade: A+

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mikkeller - I Beat U

So here's what you need to know about Mikkeller. First of all, they're not an actual brewery in the traditional way of looking at things. They're a nomadic brewery, so they rent out space in other breweries to brew their beers. Most of their beers (including I Beat U) are brewed at De Proefbrouwerij in Belgium, but they've done a few in Scotland at Brewdog. Even though, they're an extremely young brewery (they were only founded in 2006), they are known as one of the best breweries in the world and have a reputation for pushing the limits of nearly every style they take on. In their first year in business, they were named the best brewery in Denmark and the fifth best brewery in the world. So that's a little about Mikkeller. I Beat U is their take on the American Imperial IPA.

I Beat U pours a deep orange color with a ton of haze in it and a one finger tan head. The smells coming off of this one were pretty wild. I got a lot of citrusy hops, a ton of maltiness, a little wet blanket funk and something I can only describe as "vet's office." Even though that may sound gross, it wasn't a total turn off. I just had no idea what this thing was going to taste like.

Even though this beer has a ton of both malt and hops, it managed to find a good balance. The hops in the taste were much more on the pine side of the spectrum than the smell suggested and they were joined by tastes of biscuit, tropical fruit and some earthy funk. The "vet's office" smell didn't join the taste party, but it added some character to this beer. This was definitely like no IPA I had ever tried before and I don't know that it's the first one on the shelf I would go for next time, but it was worth a try.

Final Grade: B+

Steinhaus Brewing Company - Jumping Cow Amber Ale

A few weeks ago, I realized that there were still a few beers on the Trader Joes shelves that I had yet to try. I wasn't super pumped after my experience with most of the beer there so far, but I picked up a few still left on my list and hoped for the best. The first was Jumping Cow.

Jumping Cow pours a dark orange color with a thin head that fades pretty quickly. The smells are mostly malt with a little caramel sweetness and a hint of floral hops as the beer warms.

Taste-wise, there really just wasn't much to this one. On my first sip, I got a little bite from the carbonation at first and then...nothing. As the beer warmed a bit, I could taste some slight bready malts and a little bit of hops on a finish that lengthened a bit as the beer got warmer. Even as it warmed though, there was just nothing to this one. In my notes, I wrote: "Maybe the most tasteless beer (short of Budweiser 55) I've ever had." Ouch.

Final Grade: D

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Terrapin Beer Company/ De Proefbrouwerij (bvba Andelot) - Monstre Rouge

On Saturday night, we ended up near a pub in San Marcos called Churchill's and decided to go check it out. Their tap list turned out to be huge and they had a beer that I have been wanting to try for a while- Monstre Rouge. This beer is a collaboration between Belgium's famed De Proef Brewery and Georgia's Terrapin Beer Company and done in the style of a Flanders Red Ale, a style I have absolutely no experience with. To tell the truth, the name was enough to get me on this one. It's just a great name.

Monstre Rouge pours a dark brown color with a nice reddish hue. It had an impressive creamy head that reminded me a lot of a Guinness from Ireland (not the crap we get here). The smell was dominated by some nice caramel malts, some citrusy hops and a little bit of bourbon. On a side note, a big thanks to Mike Campbell for helping me with the smells of this one. I had a bit of a cold going so my sense of smell wasn't fantastic that night. Thanks, Mike.

The taste has a lot of that malt sweetness upfront along with a bit of bourbon, some milk chocolate, red delicious apples and some soy sauce. It was a bit of a strange combination all at once, but it worked well enough. The finish strayed from the sweeter tastes that the beer showed at first and turned straight bitter. Lots of citrus hops came out of nowhere and formed a prolonged acrid finish. Overall, this beer was good and I'm glad I got to try it. Still, the finish was a bit too one dimensional for a beer that started off so complex.

Final Grade: B

Russian River Brewing Company - Compunction

Over the last year of reviewing beer, I've gotten to try some beers brewed with some strange things. Mate, coconut, habanero, raisins, and a lot more. One ingredient I would never think to put in a beer would be a pluot (a cross between a plum and an apricot). However, that's exactly what Russian River just did. I was lucky enough to try this on tap at O'Brien's the other day.

Compunction (defined as a "pricking of the conscience"), is another sour beer from Russian River. The beer pours a light brown and orange color with a little bit of haze to it and, just like their other sours, not much of a head. A few white spots of foam appear on the surface, but that's about it. The smell is pretty spot on with what I feel a good sour should smell like. I picked up some apricots, lemon, cherries, honey and, of course, some brett.

The taste starts with a blast of sourness, but this beer isn't by any means one dimensional. There's a hint of malt in the sourness and a touch of carbonation that keeps the sourness from being overwhelming. I wasn't picking up a lot of the plum element from the pluots, but apricot was definitely there along with some lemon on the long finish. Compared to some of their other sours, this one is much lighter and I think I like their heavier ones a little better. Still, I can only hope that Russian River continues to make more of these sours, because they're amazing.

Final Grade: B+