Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Lost Abbey - Cable Car

Nearly seven years ago, I moved from the LA area to San Diego. I didn't really know much about San Diego going in, but it's been awesome so far. San Diego has awesome weather, beautiful beaches, some of the best food I've ever come across, and being from LA, I don't have to get stressed out about how much San Diego's sports teams suck (check your Dodger jokes at the door, please. Thank you.) And perhaps best of all (as I found out a few years ago when I discovered how awesome craft beer was), there may not be a better place to live if you love beer. San Diego breweries are world class, as evidenced by their thirty three beers currently sitting in's Top 250 Beers list. You read that right- 33. So you would think that I would have knocked all of those all off the list long ago. Ummm.....not quite.

As it turns out, just because a beer is brewed near you, that doesn't mean you're going to have an easy time finding it. Going into this past weekend, I had tried 26 of San Diego's 33 Top 250 beers. A few of these (AleSmith IPA and Stone's Oaked Arrogant Bastard being glaring examples) are beers I see on a daily basis, but I've just been slow to review. Others (like Alpine's Great and Lost Abbey's Duck Duck Gooze) are nearly impossible to find. And then there are the ones in the middle, like Lost Abbey's Cable Car.

Cable Car is an American Wild Ale brewed for my favorite bar in San Diego, Toronados by Lost Abbey. I've seen bottles in the bar for a while now, but at the price they go for (try $40+ per bottle) it's been a little hard for me to pull the trigger. Finally, Toronados sent out an email saying that they were getting a keg of Cable Car in for their 5th Anniversary celebration this past weekend. Problem solved! At #51, here's Cable Car.

Cable Car pours a hazed dark apricot color with pretty much no head. The smell alone is probably worth the price of admission, with huge notes of juicy red delicious and tart green apple jumping out of the glass immediately. Vanilla, lemon curd and cherry pie filling could be found in there as well a little deeper.There's a pretty good amount of acidity as well, but it isn't so huge that it detracts from the other smells.

The taste opens on a big sour note (think lemon Warhead sour) and it is awesome. Layers of green apple and tart red cherry follow with just a touch of funk mingled in. The finish leaves just a touch of dryness and ends on a great acidic note. Tight, prickly carbonation holds the flavors in here together nearly perfectly.

I'm really glad I finally got to try this one. Holding out for a keg of it wasn't easy, but it was definitely worth the wait. A very happy anniversary to Toronados and a big thank you to them for the chance to try this beer. Now to take care of the rest of those San Diego beers...

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 121

I don't know how much you can see of this list, but it was epic.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cambridge Brewing Company - Banryu Ichi

On the second day of my Boston trip, I woke up ready to visit one of Boston's largest and most famous breweries, Harpoon. So we woke up, spent a few hours walking around the Boston Commons, and then took the T down towards Harpoon. But as soon as we got off the train, we realized something was amiss. While the brewery should have opened an hour before we arrived, the gates were still closed. Looking around a bit more, we noticed a sign that said the brewery was closed for the day because they were preparing for a festival later in the day called Harpoonfest. Damn... Undeterred, we decided to check out a brewery across town that I had heard nothing but good things about, Cambridge Brewing Company.

Cambridge Brewing Company is located, surprisingly, in Cambridge. It's just a few blocks away from MIT, and in one of the nicer areas I've ever found a brewery. There's a beautiful outdoor patio surrounded by gardens and old brick walls. While that's probably not too popular in the winter, the weather was perfect, so we grabbed a seat outside and checked out the menu. After trying the fantastic You Enjoy My Stout, I started searching the menu for something different. And it didn't take long to find the winner- Banryu Ichi, a sake-beer hybrid. Whaaaaaat?

I've had beer aged in sake casks, but I've never seen the combination of beer and sake together quite like this. You can find the full description at CBC's website here, but here's the short version. Banryu Ichi was made by first getting together with a local sake brewer and making 100 gallons of sake. Then, they made a beer using pale barley malt, flaked rice and brown rice syrup and added the fermenting sake to the beer. No brewer's yeast was added, so the sake was actually used to ferment the beer. Pretty crazy stuff. The beer is served in a traditional wooden Masu (sake cup) and comes in 5oz pours, which is probably a good thing because this monster clocks in at 14%.

Banryu Ichi pours a deep copper color with no trace of a head whatsoever. At an ABV this high, that's not really too surprising.  I had no idea what to expect from the smell of this one, and I was met with an almost mead-like sweetness with a big smack of grape jelly. Bubblegum and a faint trace of brown rice could be found in there as well as well as just a hint of something that smelled like sake.

The taste was pretty similar to the smell with a lot of rich, honey-like sweetness throughout. Juicy red grapes hit first along with some honey and grape nuts and the finish brought a touch of brown rice. This beer finishes dry (almost sake-like), which was actually really nice. It kept the beer from becoming syrupy and made me totally forget about the high ABV. All in all, I would call this very different experiment a success. It can't be easy to craft a beer like this, but Cambridge Breing Company made it work somehow. Hats off! Maybe I'm not so sorry we missed Harpoon after all.

Final Grade: A-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 118

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Jack's Abby Brewing - Hoponius Union

This past weekend, I took a trip to Boston to see my youngest sister graduate from Boston University. All in all, it was a pretty fantastic trip. The weather was perfect, I didn't pick up any weird diseases or ghosts from the semi-sketchy old bed and breakfast we stayed at, and Morgan Freeman even showed up at the graduation to receive an honorary degree. A trip to Boston wouldn't be complete without checking out some of Boston's numerous fantastic beer bars, so the first night of the trip, my sister took us to perhaps the most famous beer bar in Boston, The Publick House.

The Publick House is known for having a kickass selection of Belgian beer (and it does). As it turns out, the food at Publick House may be right up there with the beer. If you go, do not miss the Publick House Burger. Usually, house burgers don't get me all hot and bothered, but this one...Good lord. Anyways, back to beer. I'll admit, I was really impressed by the selection of Belgian beers at The Publick House. But when I saw another beer on the menu, the Belgians didn't stand a chance.

Usually, lagers don't really do it for me. Sure, there's a time and place for them, but it's rare that I'll bypass an attractive stout or IPA on a beer menu for a lager. But over the past few months, one lager has been making quite a commotion and I just had to see what the fuss was about. At #123 - Jack's Abby's Hoponius Union.

Jack's Abby is a Massachusetts brewery that specializes in lagers. While it seems like that wouldn't make it in the extreme style-leaning craft beer world of today, they seem to be making a pretty good name for themselves. Hoponius Union, an India Pale Lager (which they say is an IPA that's brewed like a lager) has quickly become their flagship beer. Hoponius Union pours a clear, light copper color with a thin bone white head. The aroma was fantastic, with some grapefruit jumping out of the glass right away. Some soft bready malt, lemon peel, sage, and mango could be found in the smell as well.

The taste opens with a juicy smack of grapefruit and pine with a light, biscuity malt backbone. The finish brings just a touch of pine resin, but the taste never really strays deep into the bitter end of the spectrum. The mouthfeel is remarkably smooth and crisp. I could (and would) drink a ton of this beer if it was distributed this way.

While I don't have a lot of experience with IPLs, this was by far the best I've ever had. The flavors in here rival those of nearly any IPA out there while retaining the drinkability of the best lagers. If you are going near the Boston area in the future, I highly recommend seeking this beer out. And while you're there, do not miss the Publick House. I don't care if Morgan Freeman hadn't been involved. I would call this trip a success based on the visit to The Publick House alone.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 118

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Cisco Brewers Inc. - Island Reserve: Rumple Drumkin

Over the past few months, San Diego has seen a pretty nice flow of new beers from the Massachusetts area. Clown Shoes is the most notable brewery to come this way, but I've also spotted beers from Brash, Cisco and even Cambridge Brewing. While a lot of the beers that have shown up here are a great addition to our vast bottleshop selections here, I think I've found one that Massachusetts can keep to themselves- Cisco's Rumple Drumkin.

I bought Rumple Drumkin for two reasons. The first was, obviously, the name. It's an awesome name and it can be very hard for me to say no to a beer with an awesome name unless I know from hordes of reviews that it's terrible. The second reason is that Rumple Drumkin is a rum barrel aged-pumpkin beer- a take on pumpkin beers that Avery absolutely nailed with their Rumpkin. I was hoping for something similar in Rumple Drumkin. Unfortunately, things went very wrong.

Rumple Drumkin pours a murky brownish-red color with a one finger tan head. I thought it looked pretty solid at first, but then I noticed something floating in the glass. When I held the beer to the light and looked closer, I almost wanted to drainpour it on sight. The beer had a flurry of huge, lime green chunks in it. My guess is that I was looking at a ton of hop leaf residue, but this stuff looked gack-green. I usually don't mark beers down solely on looks because I've been fooled before by a gross-looking beer. But this was over the top. Take a look at this!

Hoping for the smell to be better than the appearance (which really shouldn't have been hard), I took my first whiff of the beer. Rumple Drumkin is a rum-barrel aged pumpkin beer that an old bag of hops. No pumpkin. No rum. Just hops. Ok....... Behind the hops lurked a strange vegetal smell that reminded me of rotten acorn squash along with iron-y malt (it smelled like blood, no joke), and ammonia. I expected at least mediocrity from this beer, but the more I watched and smelled it, the more excited I got. We were definitely creeping into "Worst Beer Ever" territory. Against the protestations of my stomach, I took a sip.

There are some things in life I'll just never forget. My first kiss. My first home run. My college graduation. And, unfortunately, the time I bought a pumpkin beer because I thought it had a cool name and it ended up tasting like an aspirin pill that had been Fun-Dipped in a three weeks over-ripe litter box. The beer is incredibly bitter, with a chalky, yeast meets pet dander flavor that I could still taste in the back of my throat days later. If there was pumpkin in there at some point in time, the only remnants I could find were a gross, rotten vegetable flavor that I hope to never taste again. This beer is the stuff of nightmares. Other reviews I read were more positive and a lot of people reported flavors that you would expect to find in a pumpkin beer. So it is possible that I got a bottle that had been horribly compromised at some point. That said, I don't think I'd ever be able to try this one again. It was truly one of the worst beer related experiences I've ever had.

Final Grade: F

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 117

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Unsystematic Brewing - Tilda Swinton Pale Ale

Today is a very special day for me, because it marks a first for this blog and for me. This will be the first beer that I have reviewed that was also brewed by me. That's right, after years of talking about brewing, dreaming about brewing, and wondering why the hell I wasn't brewing already, the time finally came to brew my first beer. It just didn't seem right to be a beer reviewer and rake other people's beers over the coals on occasion if I couldn't make a decent one myself.

For my first beer, I decided to go with something as simple and seemingly impossible to screw up as I could find. I settled on a mild pale ale which I renamed the Tilda Swinton (the most pale thing I could think of. If you didn't laugh there, you're not alone. I'll try harder on the name next time). Tilda Swinton was made using Caramel and Pale malt, and hopped with Columbus and Cascade hops. By the way, after getting a whiff of the Columbus hop pellets, I decided I may just have a new favorite hop variety. I let the beer ferment for two weeks, then bottled it and left if for an additional three weeks in the bottle to condition. It's finally done and ready to be thrown into the fire. If homebrewing taught me anything, it's that there is a lot more to brewing than you would think. My appreciation for every brewery out there has skyrocketed. At number 127,657,899 on the Top Beers of the World list, here's Tilda Swinton.

Tilda Swinton pours a slightly hazy caramel color with a thin but foamy off-white head. When we were bottling this, I was a little worried because it was looking pretty darn chunky when we were transferring it to the bottling bucket. Luckily, it cleared up in the bottles and there's only a touch of haze. The smell is light, with some pale malt, some grassy hops, a touch of mango and grapefruit and some light breadiness. Fortunately, there's nothing too offensive going on in the smell. Infection was definitely my biggest fear going into this process, but it appears that Tilda has come out infection free. That sounds weird...let's move on.

The taste opens with a light hop bite, though it's really more of a suggestion than a bite. The hops kind of glide over your tongue, leaving a grassy sourness as they pass, rather than crushing your palate into the dust. A touch of caramel creeps in before a finish that brings a touch of chalky yeast and aspirin-like hop resin. The mouthfeel is a just a touch thicker than water, and this bottle was a touch under-carbonated, though I've had a few that were much better. The finish is a bit more on the bitter side than I'd like, but overall I'm still pretty happy with this one. I've had a few bottles so far and I haven't gotten sick, died or gone impotent so I'm calling this a success. There are some pretty obvious flaws that I'll have to watch out for on my next few batches, but it feels pretty great having one under the belt. And there's really nothing like kicking back with a brew that you made yourself.

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 119

Grade: No grade on this, but I will give homebrewing in general an A+. A huge thanks to my friends Ryan, Renee and Brian for letting me brew this in their house and for all the help they gave me. They all get an A+, too.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Odell Brewing Company - Odell IPA

This past weekend, I ventured into the heart of the country, to a little place called Omaha, Nebraska. I know what you're thinking- "But wait a minute...the Little League World Series isn't for another few months and the Justin Beiber concert in Omaha isn't until July 7th! What could you possibly be going to Omaha for?" Fair questions indeed, my friends. As it turns out, I was actually there to watch two of my best friends in San Diego get married. While I didn't know what to expect going in, we ended up having a great time in Omaha and I even got to check a beer I've been wanting to try off my list - Odell IPA.

After trying to find this beers in a few bars downtown, we finally stumbled into a place called Old Chicago. After perusing their extensive (at least by Omaha standards) bottle list for a few seconds, my eyes locked on the prize. I had heard nothing but good things about the Odell IPA, so it was finally time to find out what the fuss was about. At #176, here's Odell IPA.

Odell IPA pours a clear golden color with a really nice one finger eggshell-colored head. The head persisted throughout the life of the beer and left beautiful lacing down the glass. The aroma wasn't huge, but I got some light piney hops, grapefruit, and a good touch of citrus. Unfortunately, whatever towels were used to clean the glasses must have been used to wipe down new tires earlier that day, because I kept getting a strange burnt rubber smell out of the glass. And it definitely wasn't the beer. Bummer.

The taste is loaded with a rich, piney hop flavor. The malts come in around the middle and balance the hops really well with a flavor that's full of both bread and caramel. There's a really great balance throughout this beer between bitter and sweet and neither the hops nor the malt ever really gain the upper hand. The finish brought a bit of pine resin, but it wasn't really allowed to take over, either. This beer is an exercise in balance. A big cheers to my friends, Kyle and Lyndsay Dudley. I can't think of a better beer to toast you two with than this one.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 117