Friday, September 28, 2012

Anchorage Brewing Company - Bitter Monk

When most people think of Alaskan beer, they think of the beers from Juneau's Alaskan Brewing Company. While there's nothing wrong with Alaskan, I would argue that there are much better beers being made right now about 800 miles away in Anchorage. It's there that you'll find Midnight Sun and Anchorage Brewing Company. The latter is the spawn of one of Midnight Sun's former brewmasters, Gabe Fletcher. Anchorage Brewing Company may be young, but in their short existence, they've churned out some absolutely incredible beer. I was able to find their Double IPA, Bitter Monk on a recent trip to Bottlecraft.

Just like all of their other beers, Bitter Monk is barrel aged with Brettanomyces. The process to make this beer is pretty extensive. First, the beer is fermented with a Belgian yeast strain, then fermented again in French Chardonnay barrels and then fermented again in the bottle. During the aging process, it's dry hopped with my favorite hop variety, Citra. I've never really had an oak aged IPA that I liked, to the point that I've made a point not to buy them, but because of my positive experience with Anchorage in the past, I decided to give this one a try anyways.

Bitter Monk pours a hazy apricot color with a huge and fluffy white head. The color of this beer was absolutely awesome and the head left loads of lacing down the glass. I picked up a huge citrus hop aroma as soon as I poured this one, with notes of vanilla, lemon and grapefruit as I leaned in closer for a smell. Deeper down, I picked up some Nilla Wafer, just a touch of Brett and a bit of oak.

I'm a huge fan of Citra hops, so I was pretty happy that the first thing I picked up when I took my first sip of this was a huge blast of Citra-y goodness. Along with the Citra were big notes of mango, white grape and pink grapefruit. The middle sweetened up with some honey and caramel malt before a finish of peppery and earthy hops. The finish brought just a bit of oak and a bit of Chardonnay-like dryness. Off the top of my head, it's hard to come up with a beer with a more complex taste than this one has.

You can really taste everything that went into this beer and, despite everything fighting for attention in here, it all works really, really well. The aspect of this I was most worried about was the oak, as most of the oak aged IPAs I've had were completely dominated by the oak. This one used the oak brilliantly. It was an afterthought in the taste without being completely forgotten. Another fantastic beer from Anchorage. I'm very excited for whatever they come up with next.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Browar Staropolski - Zorg

In life, you run into warning signs everyday. You go to pet a friendly looking cat and they rear back and hiss at you? Warning sign! You're about to eat a bowl of cereal when you notice the milk looks chunkier than normal? Warning sign! You're thinking about dating a girl when she mentions that her name is Lindsay Lohan? Warning sign! So what do warning signs have to do with beer? I'm going to let a recent experience I had at a liquor store answer that question.

A few weeks ago, I stopped by a local liquor store to see what new beers they had in stock. Right away, a huge plastic bottle with a flip top cap near the beer shelves caught my eye. At first I thought it was some kind of drink mix, but as I got closer, I made out the word "Lager" on the bottle. I picked it up and gave it a look over. The name on the plastic label said "Zorg," which immediately made me think of Buzz Lightyear's nemesis from "Toy Story." (Author's note: I now realize the name was "Zurg" and not "Zorg." My bad. Sorry, Buzz.) I turned the bottle around and noticed that the beer was Polish and clocked in at a whopping 8%. I know 8% may not seem crazy high, but it is when you consider that there are 51 ounces of 8% lager in a Zorg bottle. At the $3.99 the liquor store was charging, that works out to less than $0.08 per ounce! To give you some idea how cheap that is, Ballast Point's Sculpin runs around $0.36 per ounce and Westvleteren 12 ran me about $3.33 per ounce. I don't know what possessed me, but I had to have this beer.

Alright, let's run this one back. How many warning signs did I miss here?

1: Plastic bottle, flip top cap- This is almost worth double points. A plastic bottle alone should tell you "stay away." Try to class that up with a flip top cap, and you've basically created the mullet of beer bottles. Warning sign!

2: You mistake the bottle for something other than beer- If you think a bottle of lambic is a wine bottle, that's definitely acceptable. If you think a bottle of lager is a drink mix? Warning sign.

3. You find yourself saying "No way can it be that cheap!"- It is that cheap and it's for a reason. Back away slowly. This beer in particular was imported from Poland but was somehow cheaper than water. Warning sign!

4. The beer comes in a 51 oz. bottle- Ummmm, I really don't think I need to say anything more about this one. Warning sign!

Alright, I think that's enough. Needless to say, I got what I deserved on this one. Let's move on to the beer itself.

Zorg pours a milky brownish green color with all the visible carbonation of tap water. When swirled around a bit, there was a lot of visible muck circling the glass. It looked like a stool sample from the Creature from the Black Lagoon. This was going to be bad. Epically bad.

I wish there was a way I could accurately put how bad this concoction smelled into words. The truth is that no words can do Zorg justice, but I'll try my best. This beer smells sweet. Like sickeningly sweet. I picked up an awful mix of honey soaked in stagnant water and a heavy note of malt syrup. Behind all of that sweetness, I picked up some artificial hazelnut and rotten apple flavors. I literally cringed every time I got near this beer to take a sip. Not that I lasted too many sips.

The taste opens with a crippling wave of sweet flavors that are almost mouth-numbing. Massive blows of malt syrup, fermented honey, watered down barley and something I can only describe as honey-soaked sewage beat your palate into submission with every sip. I tried this beer with a few friends and no one could put down more than a few sips of the Zorg. Eventually, we bypassed the traditional sink drainpour and sent the remaining Zorg down the toilet where it belonged. I really, really wish I had heeded the warning signs on this one. There's a new king in Worst Beer Ever Land. All hail the Zorg.

Final Grade: F

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 39

Friday, September 21, 2012

Yuengling Brewery - Yuengling Traditional Lager

Pop Quiz time! What is America's oldest brewery? If you live on the East Coast, you probably already know the answer-Yuengling Brewery. Founded by David Yuengling in 1829 in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, Yuengling Brewery has been an East Coast favorite for a long, long time. The fact that they've survived as long as they have is a testament to their innovation as they were able to survive Prohibition by producing "near beer" and even opened a dairy farm to help stay afloat. Since Prohibition, Yuengling has maintained a steadily growing loyal following and has been expanding production to meet the high demand for their beer. Despite the growth in production, Yuengling remains a strictly East Coast beer.

When my girlfriend and I went to Boston and New York this spring, I had a short list of beers I absolutely had to try. Yuengling was one of the beers on the list, and the one that I knew I'd be able to find the easiest. I figured I'd be able to get one at the airport bar as soon as we landed and check one beer off the list right away. Only the airport bar didn't serve Yuengling, and neither did any other bar we visited in Boston. We hit New York a few days later and I was sure I'd find it there, only to be let down again as none of the bars we hit in New York were serving Yuengling either. What the hell was going on??? I returned from the trip pleased with all the beers I had tried, but a little bummed that I still hadn't gotten that elusive Yuengling. My discouragement reached epic proportions a week later when my girlfriend, on a trip to Washington D.C., texted me a picture of the Yuengling she was enjoying at a restaurant. She had beaten me to it! Damn! My hope to ever try a Yuengling was fading until one day at work, when my friend Dan told me that he was going to be getting some from the East Coast and he'd bring me a bottle.

Yuengling Traditional Lager pours a clear amber color with a 1/2 finger cream colored head. Most lagers out there don't have fantastic retention, but this one seemed to hold pretty well. The smell was a mix of faint grassy hops, lemon, lime, a hint of green apple, some bready malt and just a touch of skunk. Definitely not bad.

The taste opened with a mix of mild grassy and citrus hops with slight touch of skunk. The finish brought some smooth bready malt notes with a touch of sweetness. The taste is nothing mindblowing, but it's noticeably better than most of the other lagers on the market. The mouthfeel was very crisp, making this beer incredibly drinkable. I can definitely see putting quite a few of these down on a hot day. I'm really glad to have finally gotten the chance to try this one. A huge thanks to Dan.

Final Grade: B

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 39

Friday, September 14, 2012

New Belgium Brewing - Lips of Faith-Peach Porch Lounger

New Belgium has been doing the Lips of Faith series for a few years now and some pretty amazing beers have come out of it. La Folie and Le Terroir are two of the best sours I've ever had and a few of the other beers in the series (especially Fresh Hop India Pale Ale) knocked it out of the park. There have, however, also been some misses along the way. Tart Lychee was a bit of a letdown as were Super Cru and Clutch. So it's always hard to tell if the next Lips of Faith is going to be amazing or a bit of a letdown. But the ideas New Belgium comes up with for the Lips of Faith beers are so original that I always have a hard time passing them up. The newest Lips of Faith beer, Peach Porch Lounger, just hit stores recently, so I decided to give it a shot.

Peach Porch Lounger is a collaboration with musician G.Love that features a pretty interesting list of ingredients. Listed as a saison, this beer features peach juice, molasses, hominy grits, lemon peel and Brettanomyces. Not a bad lineup at all. Now let's see how it works.

Peach Porch Lounger pours a glowing orange color with a one-finger foamy white head. The head showed pretty nice retention and left patchy rings of lace down the glass. I'm a pretty big fan of everything peach, so I really dug the smell, which was mostly an intriguing blend of earthy Belgian yeast and peach puree. I also picked up some faint traces of vanilla bean, lemon peel and banana bread. I really couldn't wait to try this beer.

...and then came the letdown. Expecting loads of ripe peach flavor, I was instead met with dense waves of Belgian yeast and an off putting metallic flavor. Clove, lemon seed and peach pit make a bit of an appearance towards the end, but they're held down by a mouthfeel better suited to a barleywine. The truth is, this just seems like too big of a beer for the ingredients. A peach saison sounds delicious, but when the alcohol is bumped up to ungodly heights (9.4% for a saison???) it creates a strange franken-brew that's borderline undrinkable. It's a shame, but I will have to file this one in the "miss" box. I'm still looking forward to the next Lips of Faith beer, though.

Final Grade: C-

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 39

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Brasseri Dieu Du Ciel - Aphrodite

Recently, I realized that my trips to bottleshops were taking way too long. What should have been a quick 10-15 minute perusal of a shop's offerings nearly always turned into a 30 minute+ studying of every label (often checking the scores of multiple beers on on my phone as well). So to limit my time, I came up with a classification system for breweries.

Category 1: Breweries That Can't Miss- These select few breweries are breweries that I've yet to be disappointed by. I'm a fan of 99% of the offerings I've tried. If I see a new beer in the shop from one of these breweries, chances are I'm walking out the door with that bottle. This category would include breweries like Deschutes, Alpine, Alesmith and of course Cantillon.

Category 2: Breweries That Can Miss, But Usually Don't- If I don't see a new Category 1 beer on the shelves, I'm looking for something from this group of breweries. They consistently put out decent beers, make a few outstanding ones, and put out the occasional stinker. For me, this category would include Ballast Point, Bear Republic, Stone (especially their collaborations) and Sierra Nevada.

Category 3: Breweries That Usually Miss, But Occasionally Hit The Mark- In general, I'm avoiding beer from these breweries. I've tried a few of their beers and wasn't really a fan. However, they have surprised me with at least one "Wow" beer in the past, so I'm at least checking out the label if I see a new beer from them. This category would include Firestone Walker (their barrel aged beers are fantastic, but their year round beers just aren't my thing), Rogue, Mikkeller and BrewDog.

Category 4: Breweries That Are Never Close- Staying away. Staying far, far away. Breweries include Budweiser, Miller, Coors and Pizza Beer Company.

Category 5: New To Me- These are breweries I've never seen before. To me, these beers are always worth a look and often worth a try.

It's not easy to consistently put out amazing beer, so there are very few breweries that I would consider Category 1 breweries. One brewery that, for me at least, is a no-doubter is Dieu Du Ciel.

As I've mentioned in my previous Dieu Du Ciel posts, this Quebec-based brewery puts out some amazing beers, but they are not always easy to find. I've been on a mission to try every beer that they distribute this way for a while now and there was one beer that always seemed to elude me: Aphrodite (AKA: Aphrodisiaque). Péché Mortel may be the beer that Dieu Du Ciel is best known for, but Aphrodite never seems to be far behind in the conversation. It's a stout brewed with cocoa and vanilla beans, and one that I absolutely had to try. After striking out at multiple places that carry Dieu Du Ciel's other offerings, I finally found a bottle at Bottlecraft. The hunt was over!

Aphrodite pours a thick looking black color with a thin brown head that disappears relatively quickly. For a beer that's only 6.5% ABV, I was really surprised by how dense it looked. The smell was pure dessert, with huge notes of vanilla and milk chocolate. Some subtle hints of roasted malt and anise lurked in the background.

After the massive amounts of sweetness in the smell, I was pretty surprised by all of the darker flavors in here. The first thing I picked up was a lot of roasted malt intertwined with notes of vanilla, the roast clearing having the upper hand. Later, I picked up chocolate, but it's a much darker chocolate than the smell would suggest. The finish brought some notes of charred wood and even a touch of rye. The mouthfeel was noticeably lighter than a beer like Péché Mortel, but I really didn't feel like that hurt this beer at all. Aphrodite has more than enough flavor to make up for a lighter mouthfeel. A very interesting brew and, again, another fantastic Dieu Du Ciel beer. For me, they are definitely worthy of Category 1 status.

Final Grade: A-

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 39

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hess Brewing Company - Torulus (Blended)

Never heard of Hess Brewing Company? Don't worry, you're not alone- you probably just don't live in San Diego. Opened 2 years ago in a space smaller than many one bedroom apartments, Hess Brewing Company is San Diego's first nano-brewery. To give you an idea of how small Hess is, think about this: Ballast Point (one of the largest breweries in San Diego, but still a microbrewery) just added two 200 barrel tanks to their production facility (each barrel is just over 30 gallons). Hess makes all of their beer on a 1.6 barrel system.

Here's something else you should know about Hess: Their beer is really, really good. From the robust Brunus Induresco (a porter that they "dry-bean" with whole coffee beans, creating the most coffee flavor I think I've ever tasted in a beer), to Amplus Acerba (a "San Diego Pale Ale" that is an absolute toad at over 11% ABV while remaining drinkable) to Venator (their fantastic new Imperial Red Ale), Hess' lineup is one of the best in San Diego. While all of the beers I just mentioned are really, really tasty, my favorite has to be Ex Umbris, a Rye Imperial Stout that's sex in a glass (or growler). It's that good. Recently Hess decided to give Ex Umbris the bourbon barrel treatment. After the aging was done, they blended a portion of the contents to make 600 bottles of Torulus (Blended). The rest of the beer was left to age a bit longer and was turned into 48 bottles of Torulus (Straight). I was able to nab a bottle of each and just tried the blended version.

Similar to Ex Umbris, Torulus is intimidating just to look at. It pours an oily black color with a thin, foamy tan head that barely conceals the beast beneath. The aroma is full of roasted malt with a lot of dark chocolate and molasses. I've smelled toasted coconut in a lot of the barrel aged beers I've tried recently and this beer was no different, hiding just a touch of coconut and bourbon behind all the roasted malt.

After tons of roast and bitterness in the smell, the last thing I expected was sweetness in the flavor, but the first thing I tasted was milk chocolate. However, order was soon restored as huge waves of roasted malt, rye, powdery dark chocolate and char came marching across the palate, annihilating any sweetness. The bourbon is noticeably restrained, but adds a nice dimension on the finish. This may not be as bourbon-y as some might be used to, but this beer has tremendous depth without resorting to using the bourbon to supply all of the flavor.

As far as trying this beer, your chances probably aren't good. But all is not lost. As far as I know, this release was a success so I can only imagine that they will be barrel aging Ex Umbris again soon. Hess is also planning on moving into a new facility in North Park in the very near future and they've purchased a canning line- hopefully a sign that they're going to start producing more beer in the very near future.  So if you still haven't heard of Hess, fear not. You will soon.

Final Grade: A

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 39

Thursday, September 6, 2012

High Water Brewing - Campfire Stout

I tend to go into bottleshops a lot. I don't always come away with something fantastic, but there's always that chance that the day you go in will be the day that they get something amazing in. However, a lot of times, that amazing beer you're hoping for isn't there. So what then? I always find myself asking the same question: "Well, what else haven't I tried?"

A few weeks ago, I was perusing the shelves of Texas Wine and Spirits in Carlsbad after striking out on finding anything mindboggling when I noticed a brewery that I had passed over probably a hundred times- High Water. Maybe their sort of ho-hum labels have been scaring me off, or maybe it's their use of unappealing names ("Pom Cherry Bomb" sounds more like a Mike's Hard Lemonade flavor than a good beer), but I've been passing over High Water's beers for quite a while. Maybe it was finally time to try one. I grabbed a bottle called Campfire Stout, which I figured would be some kind of smoked stout, and read the label. I wasn't particularly intrigued until I read: "Notes of chocolate and graham cracker topped with a hint of marshmallow will leave you wanting s'more." It took a minute for me to process what I had just read. S'mores? Beer? Together? Hell yes! How had I gone so long without this beer in my life?

Campfire Stout pours a slightly thin looking black color with about a half-finger of khaki colored head. The smell was absolutely amazing. Campfire Stout completely nails the s'mores smell with tons of dark chocolate and graham cracker upfront with some nice, subtle hints of marshmallow and milk chocolate lingering in the background.

The taste opens with some light roasted malt flavor followed by dark chocolate and some vanilla. The finish brings some notes of graham cracker, char and marshmallow. The mouthfeel is noticeably thin and I feel like it hurts this beer a bit. If this was bumped up to maybe 10% instead of the 7.3% it currently sits at, the thicker mouthfeel would probably bring out a bit more sweetness. Overall though, I think I have to call this beer a success. I was a little skeptical that this idea could be pulled off, but High Water has done a pretty nice job with this. If you're looking for something on the original side, this is definitely worth a look.

Final Grade: B

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 39