Monday, July 29, 2013

Prairie Artisan Ales - Prairie Standard

In case there was any question, the craft beer train is definitely rolling now. The brewery count in San Diego just topped 70, the number of breweries in the country is well over 2,000, and the President of the United States even has his own homebrew. Things are getting crazy! America has good beer coming out of nearly every state now, including (as I found out recently, much to my surprise) Oklahoma.

Prairie Artisan Ales is located in the town of Krebs, Oklahoma, about two hours east of Oklahoma City. Their beers started hitting shelves out here recently and they've been making quite a buzz. I had heard great things about their saisons, so I grabbed the first one I saw, Prairie Standard. On a side note, this beer has one of the best labels I've seen in a while. On it are step by step instructions on how to catch a catfish by "noodling." I feel like a real Oklahoman already!

Prairie Standard pours a light golden color with just a tinge of haze to it. A one finger white head fades fairly quickly, but this is still an attractive beer. The aroma is a touch sweet and has just a bit of funk to it, with notes of green apple, hay, lemon pepper, grassy hops, vanilla and some caramel malt.

The taste opens with a good amount of lemon, followed by some light bready malt. Green apple skin, chardonnay grapes white pepper, a touch of funk could all be found as well. The finish leaves a pleasant and lingering grassy hop note that left me wanting a lot more. The mouthfeel was just a touch under-carbonated, but still felt light and crisp. As far as saisons go, there's nothing standard about this one. I'm hoping to try a lot more from these guys very soon. Hello, Oklahoma!

Final Grade: A-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Friday, July 26, 2013

Maine Beer Company - MO, Lunch and Peeper Ale

This past weekend, we visited the Washington D.C. area for a wedding. While I highly recommend NOT visiting DC in late July (unless you like finding out how many parts of your body you can sweat from at once), if you do end up there, you'll find some fantastic beer and one of the best beer bars in existence, Churchkey. Luckily, Churchkey was located just a few blocks from our hotel, so we made it over there on Sunday night. I was really blown away by the place. The tap list was extensive and the bottle list was absolutely epic. I've never seen anything like it. After spending about 30 minutes drooling all over the menu, I decided to go with a few new (to me) beers from one of my favorite East coast breweries, Maine Beer Company. I started with one of their pale ales, which happens to make the list at #238, MO.

MO pours a pale golden color with a thin white head. I got a load of clean, peppery hops on the nose with a nice hint of grapefruit. After so many west coast, super tropical pale ales and IPAs, it was kind of nice to find something more along the East Coast style lines.

The beer opens with a crisp, piny hop bite. Pepper and grapefruit rind creep in the middle before a lingering, but not overpowering, pine resin finish. The mouthfeel was perfect, never letting the bitterness of the hops get too out of hand. I finished MO very impressed. It's a very east coast pale ale, which I didn't think I liked before this beer. Turns out I do. Now onto the next beer, which also makes the list at #87- Lunch.

You're probably wondering about the name, so here's the story. Lunch is the name of a Finback whale who frequents the Maine coast and was given the name because she has a chunk missing from her dorsal fin, almost like something decided to eat it for lunch. You can see and read more about her here. I had heard a ton of good things about this beer, so I was pretty stoked to find a bottle of it at Churchkey.

Lunch pours a clean golden color with a nice, two-finger white head. The smell is definitely more "west coast" than MO, with some mango and tropical hop notes being the first thing I smelled. Some peppery citrus and pine were in there as well.

The taste opens on the sweeter side, with a good hit of mango upfront. Then it progresses to a peppery citrus rind-like middle and a finish that's full of some gloriously bitter pine resin. A caramel malt backbone keeps things from drifting off into the "intensely bitter" zone. The balance of this beer is fantastic and it walks the line between West Coast and East Coast IPA really seamlessly. This is a must try if you can get it.

Lastly, I found a bottle of Maine Beer Co.'s pale ale, Peeper Ale. I bought this one in a semi-sketchy bottleshop in Maryland and, for whatever reason, didn't check the bottling date until it was far too late. When I did, I was pretty bummed- December 7, 2012. I wasn't expecting too much from this one. To make matters worse, we finally made it home after a heavily delayed flight and I dropped the beer when I was transferring it to the fridge. It didn't shatter, but the seal on the cap broke and it started angrily spitting foam all over my kitchen. I quickly grabbed a bottle opener and a glass and went to work. I usually don't review warm beer at 3am, but there's a first time for everything...

Peeper Ale pours a turbid-looking and hazed (not surprising at all because I had just dropped the shit out of it) honey color with a foamy and rocky bone-white head. I wasn't expecting much from whatever hops were left after 7 months, but I was surprised to find a good amount of peppery, floral hops with a touch of lemon, grapefruit and caramel malt.

I do think that this beer faded a bit (it tasted more like a pilsner than a pale when I tried it), but I still really enjoyed it. Grassy and peppery hops hit first with some floral and rosewater notes showing up in the middle. Some caramel and bready malt show up as well, but they remained in the background. The finish was incredibly clean for being so warm and brought notes of pine and white pepper.

Overall impressions: Maine Beer Company rocks my world. I can't say enough good things about these guys and what they do. All of these beer are top notch, with Lunch being the best of the group. I really, really, really hope these make it to San Diego soon.

Final Grades:
MO: A-
Lunch: A
Peeper Ale: B+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 128

Friday, July 19, 2013

Twisted Pine Brewing Company - Ghost Face Killah

I tried my first chili beer a few years ago and absolutely hated it. It just tasted...wrong. I don't remember which one it was, but I DO remember it tasting like someone mixed a beer with dirt and hot sauce. Then almost two years ago, Ballast Point introduced two chili versions of their Sculpin IPA- Habanero and Ghost Chili. I wasn't feeling chili beers at the time, but I had just tried a ghost pepper hot sauce (which I loved, but which also almost destroyed me) and I had to know what a ghost pepper beer would taste like.

 Ballast released both chili versions of Sculpin on the same day, so I showed up at the tasting room and went straight for the ghost pepper one. And it sucked. The brewers were afraid of someone dying in their tasting room (or something along those lines), so they barely added any of the pepper to the beer. The result was a beer that tasted like Sculpin gone horribly wrong. Disappointed, I tried the habanero version and it was... fantastic! To this day, it remains the best chili beer I've ever had. But that day left me wondering something: Could a ghost pepper beer be pulled off? I finally got the chance to try one last week- the aptly named Ghost Face Killah.

Ghost Face Killah pours a deep and murky apple cider looking color with a fizzy head that looks better suited to a tonic water than a beer. The aroma is deep and smoky and laced with a good amount of heat. I didn't really pick up much "beer" aroma in there, but it almost smelled more like a freshly prepared chipotle salsa.

From what I've heard, this beer is widely known as the hottest beer in production, so it surprised me when I took my first sip and it tasted sweet. Instead of a mouth blistering blast of heat, I was met with a honey-like sweetness and a lot of smooth grainy flavors. Then, right as I started to think that the heat wasn't coming, Ghost Face Killah brought hell. A slow, smoky heat began to build on the tip of my tongue and then spread all over my mouth, getting hotter and hotter. As another reviewer put it, this beer provides a "slow destruction of your taste buds." Don't get me wrong, this beer isn't as hot as if you were to eat an actual ghost pepper. But as far as beer goes, this is freaking toasty. If you can't take the heat, don't mess with Ghost Face Killah.

Final Grade: B

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 128

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Jester King Craft Brewery - Boxer's Revenge

Tomorrow's a big day for San Diego because it's the start of something that San Diegans take very seriously- the Del Mar Races. Opening day at the races means a lot of things- ridiculously huge crowds, scantily clad ladies wearing crazy hats, me stuck in hellish amounts of traffic wondering why I chose to live north of the racetrack when my work lies south of the track and, most importantly for this review, lots of horses.

I know what you're thinking- Well, in this case, the explanation is pretty simple. Austin's Jester King Craft Brewery makes a beer called Boxer's Revenge and it happens to have a particularly badass-looking horse on its label. I don't know if you can see in the picture, but the horse in question is wearing boxing gloves and sporting a waxed moustache. Bad. Ass. Now let's see how the beer is.

Boxer's Revenge pours a glowing, dark apricot color with deep golden edges. A huge foamy and cream-colored head wells up in the glass immediately and takes a while to go down. The smell was a bit sweeter than I was expecting, but very pleasant. I picked up candied apricots, white grape juice, sweet moscato wine, mango, a healthy dose of farmhouse funk and some faint wood.

The taste opens with a slightly sour (but also sweet) white wine flavor. There's a pretty complex  mingling of malt and wood flavors in the middle with just a touch of brett thrown in for good measure. Some citrus, tropical fruit and barrel notes can be found in the middle as well before a finish that is dry, woody and funky. Despite being over 10% ABV, this beer is incredibly smooth and never really gives any hints of its strength.

So, if you're looking for a horse that could win you some money tomorrow, your best bet is probably to brave the traffic and head to the races. But if you're looking for something a bit more interesting, like a horse that's mustachioed and ready to rumble, I recommend looking to Jester King.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 128

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Professor Fritz Briem - Professor Fritz Briem Grodziskie

What is a Grodziskie? Those are the words I said when I first heard about a new (to me) and elusive Polish style of beer a few weeks ago in another beer blog. You can read a more detailed description of the style here, but I'll try to sum it up in three words. Smoke. Sour. Wheat. That's right, a Grodziskie is a smoked, sour wheat beer. I've never even thought of two of these things together, let alone all three in a beer. So if you heard a loud and distant thump a few weeks ago and were wondering what it was, it was the sound of my jaw hitting the ground when I saw those words together. How the hell could those things work together? Was that even possible? And more importantly, where could I get one to try? Luckily, I stumbled upon one a few days later.

Professor Fritz Briem Grodziskie pours a light copper color with a thin and quickly fading off-white head. There was a bit of carbonation visible in the glass, but it definitely looked a bit low to me. The appearance may have been a bit of a let down, but the smell gave me a lot of hope for this beer. There was some cereal malt, light cinnamon and some apple sweetness upfront. In the back, I got some mild wheat, umami, smoked sea salt and just a hint of campfire. It reminded me of taking a sweatshirt to a campfire and then washing it, but then smelling just a hint of that smoke in it the next time it's worn. The smokiness wasn't over the top (which I liked, because heavily smoked beers and I often don't get along well) but there was enough so you wouldn't forget it was there.

As good as the smell was, this beer just didn't quite do it for me in the taste department. There were promises of good flavors in here, but they just never really came through. The taste opens with a mild kick of golden apple, then gives you a quick kiss of tartness that makes you think it's about to turn into a sour beer. But it never does, leaving the tartness unfinished and ending with a long, bland wet wheat finish. There's just a hint of smoked sea salt in the taste as well, but it never really gets its time in the spotlight either. I would love to see all of the element of this beer really showcased, but the only one that really shines is the wheat and it's really not the one that should be the star of this show. That said, the one really redeeming quality in here is the mouthfeel. The nearly perfect carbonation tickles your tongue and really does its best to bring out the flavors in here. Sadly, the flavors just aren't that good. I would love to try another example of a Grodziskie someday. But I don't think I'll be going back to this particular one anytime soon.

Final Grade: C

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Brasserie Cantillon - Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic

My girlfriend and I have been going to a place in San Marcos called Sublime Alehouse for a while now. Their food is fantastic, especially with beer, and they have an extensive taplist that never leaves me wanting. In fact, it's rare that anything there leaves me unhappy when I leave...except for their bottle list (or lack thereof). For a long time, the only bottles on Sublime's "bottle list" were a handful of random beers that weren't particularly interesting and a few ciders. Then, someone at Sublime realized that it was probably time to get some good bottles in there and they did. Big time.

We went into Sublime about two months ago and, after perusing the tap menu, I noticed a new menu sitting on the table. As I started thumbing through it, I was blown away. The list was page after page of really excellent beer. And this included, as I was shocked to find, a few bottles of Cantillon. I was even able to find a beer that I had pretty much given up hope on finding (and #192 on the Top 250 List), Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic.

Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic pours a deep pikish-red color with a one-finger light pink head. There's a good amount of turbid carbonation visible in the glass and some fair lace left with each sip. As I've come to expect with Cantillon beers, the smell was nothing short of incredible. Deep, tart red cherry notes are at the forefront, with some oak, hay, chestnut meal, raspberries, cream and a slight touch of funk present as well. As the beer warmed, I picked up more and more of a spicy oak note, which was really nice.

The taste opens on a big and meaty sour cherry note. This never really drifts into "sour beer" territory though, because a rich raspberry preserve note provides a sweet backbone. Some lemon tartness and cherry skins round out the flavor here. The cherry and lemon tartness linger on your tongue forever, never becoming too sour but constantly leaving you wanting more. The carbonation is near perfect, trickling over your tongue with each sip just enough to break up the sweeter flavors. This is yet another fantastic offering from Cantillon. And to the person responsible for the new bottle list at Sublime Alehouse- "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 127

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Boulevard Brewing Company - Saison-Brett

Throughout my life, I've gone through a different phase pretty much every summer. I can't really remember what my first few summers were like (though I'm fairly certain the summer of Year 1 was devoted to pooping in inappropriate places while my mom looked at me and said, "Really?" and the summer of Year 2 was probably devoted to chasing my dog and trying to grab her tail), but the summers I CAN remember have been fantastic. I've always lived near the beach, so most of my summers growing up were spent there. There was a summer where all I did was bodyboard, followed by a summer where all I did was skimboard. Then there was a summer where all I did was golf (which probably wasn't the best way to spend a summer because I mainly golfed in the San Fernando Valley, where summer temperatures range from "hellish" to "Dear God, the paint is melting off my car!"). And then there's this summer, which I'm officially declaring the "Summer of Saisons."

"Summer of Saisons" might be a little redundant, because the style was traditionally brewed to be enjoyed by farmworkers during hot summer months when clean water wasn't exactly as easy to come by as it is now. Still, I think it has a nice ring to it, and I'm definitely in the middle of a huge saison kick, so that's what I'm sticking with. I started the summer by drinking a boatload of saisons (some of which you'll see on here very soon), but there was one in particular that I really wanted to get my hands on- Boulevard's Saison-Brett. As the name would imply, it's a saison that uses the volatile Brettanomyces strain of yeast. At #116, here's Saison-Brett.

Saison-Brett pours an absolutely beautiful glowing golden color with a monster bone-white head. The retention was insane. The head stuck around forever, finally retreating just a touch so I could try the beer itself. The smell was about as fantastic as I've ever come across in a saison. I picked up a mix of musty wet hay and straight up barnyard (from the Brettanomyces), coupled with juicy notes of mango, lemongrass, lemon pepper, pear and a faint spicy note.

The taste opens with some wet hay and faint wheat, then lays a blanket of buttery-smooth malt and funk across your palate. Given all the fruit in the aroma, I was expecting a lot of sweetness in the flavor, but it never really showed up. Instead, I got grass, pepper, lemon zest, some underripe pear and a dry and peppery hop drawl on the finish. And it was fantastic. Everything in this saison worked together beautifully. Brett isn't the easiest thing to handle, but it was money in this beer, lending just the right amount of funk. Despite it's high ABV for the style (Saison-Brett clocks in at a pretty beefy 8.5%), this thing drank like a dream. The "Summer of Saisons" may be in full force, but it's going to be tough to top this one.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Monday, July 8, 2013

Cigar City Brewing - Cucumber Saison

Like anything else in this world, beer goes through trends. Whether it's hops, breweries or styles of beer, trends happen. As far as styles go, saisons have seen a huge boost lately. And for good reason- they're awesome! However, as a style, saisons are pretty straight forward. No strange yeasts, no strange brewing techniques and no strange ingredients. That is, until Tampa Bay's Cigar City came along.

Cigar City, most notable for their famed Huhnapu's Imperial Stout, has been making waves in the craft beer scene for quite some time now. They're known for creating some of the most awesome beers this county makes, but one of their stranger beers is what caught my eye recently. It's a saison brewed with...cucumber. This I had to try!

Cucumber Saison pours a hazy golden color with a one finger bone white head. I didn't notice a lot of lace from this beer, but I did notice a ton of carbonation racing up the sides of the glass. The smell was, I suppose as you would expect a cucumber beer to smell like- full of cucumber. In the background, I picked up some wet wood, dill and honeydew, but the highlight was absolutely the cucumber.

The taste, not surprisingly I suppose, is largely cucumber as well. The flavor is full and rich, never feeling artificial, but definitely overwhelming any of the other elements in here. Alongside the cucumber, I picked up some sour pickles, grain and wheat, but it was definitely hard to find them among all of this cucumber. If you're a fan of cucumber, this is an absolute must try. It's refreshing, light and flavorful. But if you're not looking for cucumber, there's really not much else to be found in this beer. I didn't get much of the "saison" in this, but the cucumber was phenomenal. Nice work, Cigar City.

Final Grade: B

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 128

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Caldera Brewing Company - Mogli

I've had and loved dogs for pretty much my entire life. I still can't decide whether I'm a dog or a cat person, but I do know that I really, really love dogs. Apparently, so do the folks up at Caldera Brewing Company.

Caldera doesn't send a lot of beer this way, but the beers I've had (their IPA, Pale Ale, and a super roasty stout) all impressed me. Their labels have never been jaw dropping (with the possible exception of their Vas Deferens Strong Ale), but they get the job done. Recently I was in a store and experienced something I've never experienced before- a really great label from Caldera. The beer was called Mogli and the wax dipped bottle had a label with a picture of a friendly looking black lab. As it turns out, the lab's name was Mogli and he was part of the Caldera family. Unfortunately (according to the bottle) he now lives on only in memory and on the label of the beer named to commemorate him. After reading the story on the bottle, I just couldn't walk out of the store without it.

Mogli pours a slightly thin-looking chestnut brown color with a pretty, sand colored head that stays around one finger in the glass. Each sip leaves tight patches of lace down the sides of the glass. The more I smelled this beer, the more I was reminded of s'mores. I picked up some slightly burnt marshmallow, powdery graham cracker and a lot of cocoa. Tucked beneath those notes were some toffee, charred oak and a bit of mocha.

The taste opens with a lot of sweet cocoa notes, mixed with roasted malt, espresso and burnt chocolate. Marshmallow and a touch of coffee-like acidity and burnt brownies round out the flavors in this one, all melding really well together. This beer is barrel aged, but I didn't really pick up much from the barrel. In most cases, I would have been a little bummed about that, but this beer really didn't taste like it was lacking anything. It was fantastic. So raise a glass to Mogli. I don't know how much of a beer fan he was, but I'm sure he would approve of this one.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129