Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Bruery - Mash & Grind

Two nights ago, fantasy football season officially started for me. After weeks of anxious waiting, countless mock drafts and pre-draft trash talk at work (where all of the other league members are), the real draft finally happened. I hate being the bearer of bad news, but being on my team tends to be the kiss of death for pretty much any player I draft (quarterbacks, kickers, team mascots, etc.). In fact, by Week 3 last year, I was forced to change my team name to "Injured Reserve." So I'm sorry, fans of Green Bay, Indianapolis and St. Louis. You may want to start drinking heavily now because a bunch of your star players are likely in for a world of hurt this season.

And if you plan on drinking heavily, what better way to do it than to start with what I was sipping on draft night, The Bruery's new 12.5% barleywine, Mash & Grind? As a Reserve Society Member, I've gotten to enjoy a TON of new beer from The Bruery this year. Mash & Grind (along with it's sister beer, Mash) is yet another new addition to the lineup and is a bourbon barrel-aged barleywine that is brewed with coffee from Portola Coffee Lab, a company The Bruery has teamed up with on a few beers before this one.

Mash & Grind pours a rich, deep brown color with caramel highlights on the edge. A one-finger, creamy tan head forms immediately, but simmers down quickly, leaving nothing buy a few small swirls on the surface. The coffee is immediately evident on the nose, with rich and earthy dark roasted coffee notes showing right away. Caramel, booze soaked raisin and toffee can all be found as well, along with a bit of a dark chocolate covered berry note. Very inviting.

The taste opens up with a nice wave of earthy coffee, then progresses to notes of toffee and some spicy, earthy hops. Caramel and vanilla hit in the middle, with some bourbon and just a touch of boozy heat sneaking in on the finish. For a beefy beer, the mouthfeel is remarkably light, never coming close to feeling heavy or syrupy. I think I enjoyed the standard version of Mash a bit more than this one, but I do feel like the coffee was a really nice addition. This is another top notch beer from The Bruery and was a great sipper during the draft. Good luck to all of you playing fantasy football this year and especially to all of you who are unlucky enough to be fans of the teams I listed above. You're gonna need it.

Final Grade: A-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 127

Monday, August 26, 2013

Monkish Brewing Company - Seme Della Vita

Last weekend, my girlfriend and I were driving around Los Angeles looking for what was supposed to be the best mochi place in the city. I'm not what you would call "great with directions," so I ended up turning approximately 16 blocks before I was supposed to into what looked like an industrial complex. But as fate would have it, this complex happened to hold a brewery. We weren't on a tight schedule, so we decided to check it out.

The brewery we stumbled upon was a small business called Monkish Brewing Company. They're fairly new to the scene and specialize in Belgian styles with a twist. For example, when we were there, they had a Belgian single brewed with elderflowers, a saison that was dry hopped with hibiscus and chamomile and a brown brewed with rose hips (just to name a few). One that caught my eye was a Tripel brewed with vanilla and pistachios- Seme Della Vita.

Seme Della Vita pours a clear apple cider color with a thin, bone-white head. The smell was intense and sweet with huge pistachio and pound cake notes jumping out of the glass. I also picked up some toasted biscotti and hazelnut. Everything about the smell of this beer had me really excited to try it.

The taste opens sweet, with a good amount of Belgian yeast and hints of hazelnuts coming through first. The middle shows just a hint of prickly booze along with some dry, chalky yeast. The finish brings the pistachios, both meat and skin and finishes fairly clean without coming off too sweet. The flavor didn't quite live up to the smell, but this was a pretty tasty beer, nonetheless.

I don't think it should come as too much of a surprise when I say that craft breweries are popping up virtually everywhere in Southern California (even Los Angeles). But what's more surprising than the quantity of breweries is the quality. With this many new breweries popping up, you would think a good amount of them would be sub-par. But the more I visit new breweries, the more impressed I get. Monkish, and their Seme Della Vita, are a great example of what new breweries are about. They're pushing boundaries and new takes on brewing while paying homage to the classic styles and breweries that started it all. Monkish was definitely worth the trip. And we even ended up finding our mochi afterwards.

Final Grade: B+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 127

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cascade Brewing - Cascade Apricot Ale

Cascade is a brewery that I really wish we would see more of down here in San Diego. To date, I've tried three of their offerings and I have yet to be anything less than blown away by any of them. The problem is that it's really hard to find bottles from them down here. Luckily, a few months ago, my local bottleshop got four different Cascade offerings in. I think you can probably guess how many of the varieties I bought. After trying (and loving) their Noyaux and Blueberry, it was time to give Cascade Apricot a try.

Like pretty much everything else that Cascade bottles, Cascade Apricot Ale isn't as simple as the name may make it sound. According to the bottle, it's a blond/tripel blend that's aged in oak for a year and then aged on apricots for 10 more months. Craziness. Let's give this one a try. At #162- Cascade Apricot Ale.

Cascade Apricot Ale pours an intensely hazed apricot (surprise!) color with a thin off-white head that recedes pretty quickly. The smell is intensely sour and I found my mouth watering the second I took the first sniff of it. Upfront, the smell doesn't carry much apricot, but instead shows loads of tart green apple, underripe raspberry, apricot pits and lemon mixed with a spicy oak barrel note. As the beer warmed, I started to get more of the apricots, and they came through with a rich, jam-like sweetness.

The taste hits you right away with a big sour kick in the teeth. A sharp lemon bite leads off, followed by some sour green apple and a ton of lactic sourness. There's a big hit of dryness near the finish that seems to suck all of the moisture straight from your mouth. Once that fades, you get the actual finish, which is smoother and sweeter, bringing apricot preserves, underripe red cherry and some oak. This beer is insane. It's absolutely fantastic and one of the best sours I've ever come across. Luckily, Cascade now sells their beer online, so you don't have to wait as long as I did for the chance to try this one.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 130

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ruhstaller = Awesome

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you may recall a post I did a few weeks ago in which I absolutely shredded a Black IPA from Ruhstaller called The Captain. The reviews I had read of the beer on beeradvocate were pretty solid, but the can I got definitely was not. It was the first beer I had ever tried from Ruhstaller, and so I wrote my review, made a mental note to never buy anything with the Ruhstaller name on it again, and went on to other beers. Then something crazy happened.

About a week after the review of The Captain was posted, I noticed that someone had commented on the post. I clicked on the comment and my heart skipped a few beats when I saw what it said:


This is JE Paino, I'm the owner of Ruhstaller.

 Obscenities raced through my head before I could read another word. I had annihilated this guy's hard work and I probably deserved whatever I had coming my way. Bracing for the worst, I read on:

Thank you so much for your honest feedback. 

Whaaaat? I torched his beer and he's thanking me??? I read on and was astonished. Not only did he take complete ownership for the bad can I had purchased, he offered to send me a replacement along with some "upcoming and experimental beers for my review and feedback." Pretty awesome stuff. What was even more awesome was a few weeks later, when I received a cooler full of beer from Ruhstaller. It's not unheard of for breweries to replace bad cans or bottles for customers, but getting a cooler full of beer for one bad can? These guys are the best!  I recently finished going through all of the Ruhstaller offerings I received and here are some of the highlights.

Exquisite Kolsch

Hands down the best of the bunch and the best Kolsch I've ever come across. Smells of light cereal grains and faint fruity and citrusy esters with a hint of concord grape. The taste opens with a light kiss of grassy hops and then progresses to a smooth, drawn out pale malt and fruity yeast note. Finished clean with a grassy hop bite. It's light, approachable and perhaps the perfect beer for a hot summer's day. I would love more of this beer. (Side note: I just saw a post on Ruhstaller's Facebook page saying that this beer was just bottled. I highly recommend trying this one if you cross paths with it.)

Final Grade: A

California Tripel 

Most of Ruhstaller's beers tend to be lighter styles that are good for hotter weather, so I was surprised to find a 9% Tripel in the bunch. I'm glad that they sent this my way, though, because it's very good. It carries the classic tripel smells of wheat, Belgian yeast, candi sugar and dates. The taste opens with a sweet, Belgian yeast flavor and then delves into notes of dates, brown sugar and some bubblegum with just a hint of booze. One of the better tripels I've come across.

Final Grade: A-

The Captain

I'm happy to report that my second time around with this beer was much more enjoyable than the first. Unlike the first can I tried, this can had a good amount of hops in the smell, alongside an almost buttery molasses note and some chocolate. I could also smell some hints of pine, citrus rind and toasted bread. The taste opened with some light pine and then moved to a bready malt middle with hints of toast, molasses, cocoa and some roast before an herbal hop finish. The beer is a bit more on the malty end of the spectrum than I prefer in Black IPAs, but it's still a good representation of the style and miles better than the can I tasted a few weeks ago. I'm really glad I was able to try this one again.

Final Grade: B

Kuchinski Hop Ranch California Blonde Ale

Grown with hops from local farmers, this was a good representation of what Ruhstaller's beers are all about. A crisp, grainy aroma with a nice floral hop note and something that reminded me of jammy red cherries. The taste opens with a clean, grainy note with a floral hop backbone. Finish brings some biscuit and a touch of buttery, bready malt, but tempers it nicely with some good floral hop resin. This is a keeper.

Final Grade: B+

1881 (Orphan Hops)

I was sent a few test batch samples, including a version of their red ale, 1881 brewed with Orphan hops. I'm not familiar with Orphan hops and I couldn't find anything about them online, so I'm not sure if they're a new varietal or if "Orphan Hops" means that they threw a bunch of random leftover hops into a kettle for this one. Either way, I liked it. The smell is very earthy, with a slight mustiness/nuttiness to it. The hops smelled a touch citrusy with a hint of mango and crusty bread on the backend. The taste is smooth, with a good balance of earthy hops and bready malt. Hints of rye and day old coffee as well as a slight nuttiness.

Final Grade: B+

Overall, I was really impressed with everything that Ruhstaller sent my way. They've put together a pretty solid lineup of brews, most of which are fantastic summer beers. A huge thanks to JE Paino and his team up in Sacramento for their hard work and generosity. I'm really glad I got to enjoy all of these and I can't wait to see what they do next.

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Bruery - Sour in the Rye with Kumquats

The kumquat is a pretty fantastic fruit. In fact, it might be one of my favorite fruits. My grandparents used to have a kumquat tree in their backyard that seemed to always be loaded with fruit. So at any given family event, it was a pretty sure bet that the tree was getting its load lightened significantly by my sisters and I.

Kumquats are awesome, but they're also pretty different. They're the only citrus that I can think of that you can eat without the hassle of having to deal with a peel. Just pick and scarf. They're also very seldom used in the kitchen, unlike a lot of other citrus out there. They're not the sweetest fruit,
but they are delicious (plus, if you get sick of eating them, they make great projectiles for when a nearby acquaintance (friend, sister, grandma, cat, etc.) isn't paying attention). So I was pretty excited when The Bruery announced that they were going to be bottling a version of their Sour in the Rye beer with kumquats. Let's check this bad boy out.

Sour in the Rye with Kumquats pours a murky copper color with a glowing orange core. A small head formed initially, but fizzed away into nothing pretty quickly. Looks-wise, this beer was a little disappointing, but any disappointment I may have felt went out the window the second I smelled it. The kumquat aroma coming off this beer is fantastic. It almost smells like someone grated a bunch of kumquat zest over my glass right before I took a sniff. There's also a spicy rye aroma that goes great with the natural zestiness of the kumquats. In the background, I picked up some faint lemon, oak, tangerine zest and vanilla. As far as beer smells go, this one is top notch.

The kumquats aren't featured quite as much in the flavor as they are in the aroma, but this beer still tastes amazing. It opens with a drawling lemon/lacto sour note across the palate with a touch of underripe green grapes in the background. The middle is smooth with a hint of grain and rye and gives you a quick respite from the sourness before the finish slams you with a hit of sour that's all kumquat. To me, the finish was less kumquat flesh than the skin and oil of the kumquat, which leaves a sort of spicy bitterness as the final note.

As far as sour beers go, this one is top notch. I didn't think Sour in the Rye could get any better, but the kumquats really take this beer to another level. I'm really glad The Bruery decided to bottle this one. Kind of bummed I only bought two bottles though.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Southern Tier Brewing Company - Choklat

Today is National S'mores Day, and while I don't have an actual s'mores beer to review like I did last year, I do have a beer that definitely qualifies as dessert. Choklat, from New York's Southern Tier Brewing Company, is a beer that I've been trying to track down for a while. I've tried and really enjoyed Southern Tier's Creme Brulee and Mokah so far, so I was really glad to find a bottle of Choklat in a bottleshop in Maryland a few weeks ago. At #180, Choklat.

Choklat pours a bit thin-looking, but once it hits the glass it becomes a viscous black color. A one finger mocha colored head wells up immediately, but quickly settles to a light ring around the surface of the beer. Southern Tier's stout have a reputation of being pretty sweet (too sweet, if you ask a lot of people) and this one definitely smelled that way. If you were to fill two glasses, one with Choklat and one with Hershey's Chocolate Syrup, I doubt someone who was blindfolded would be able to differentiate the two. Choklat has a rich, milk chocolate smell with just a hint of bitterness on the back of it. I also picked up some cocoa powder, chocolate cake and some oats.

While the smell of this beer was really sweet, the taste opens on more of a bittersweet chocolate note. The sweetness shows up in the middle of the palate, with some velvety smooth milk chocolate notes, Hershey's syrup and some vanilla. The finish heads back to the bitter end of the spectrum, with some unsweetened baking chocolate, char, roasted malt and some earthy hop resin. The mouthfeel of Choklat is silky smooth and really brings out all of the different chocolate elements in here. There's a lot of sweetness in this beer, but Southern Tier did well to keep this one from becoming too one dimensional. A top notch dessert stout.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Friday, August 9, 2013

Boston Beer Company - Samuel Adams Triple Bock (1997)

Jack the Ripper. Joseph Stalin. Kris Jenner. Whoever the writer was of the song, "Who Let the Dogs Out." Throughout the history of the world, evil has appeared in many forms. But perhaps never have I come face to face with evil so ruthless as that which reared its head from an innocuous looking cobalt blue bottle a few days ago. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, really. It had been trapped in there since 1997. And it was very ready to be set free.

 Before we get into the beer itself, let's think about how old a beer that was bottled in 1997 is. Simple math tells us that the beer is 16 years old, but do you remember where you were 16 years ago? I don't know about you, but 16 years ago, I was an awkward pre-teen puttering around Paul Revere Middle School with my wingman, a penguin Beanie Baby named Pengy, trying unsuccessfully (to your surprise, I'm sure) to get girls to talk to me. Actually, you know what... let's NOT go back 16 years. Who wants to relive ancient history? Let's talk about Sam Adams Triple Bock!

 Sam Adams Triple Bock was first bottled in 1994 and, at the time, was one of the strongest beers in existence. For Sam Adams, it was the gateway to bigger, crazier beers like their famed Utopias beer (which I lovingly call, "Out of my price range"). Sam Adams bottled Triple Bock in '94, '95 and finally in '97, after which they decided to stop making it. From what I've heard, it wasn't bad when it was fresh. But as years have gone by, Triple Bock has turned into the stuff of legend.

When I was first getting into beer, I spent an obscene amount of time on the forums of beeradvocate. From the talk of Lost Abbey's carbonation issues to the beer-related abbreviations used in forums (PTE= Pliny the Elder, FBS= Founders Breakfast Stout, etc.) to the banter about which state made the best beer, I sat back and watched, filling my brain with beer knowledge I assumed I would need should I ever chance upon a fellow BA (that's Beer Advocate for all you non-BA's). And it was there (well, on the "Worst Beer Ever!" threads, to be exact) that I learned that Triple Bock existed. After reading scores of reviews of the stuff, I knew I had to try it. It took years to obtain, but I finally was able to trade for a bottle with my very generous friend from Pennsylvania, Frank. Thanks, Frank! I think...

 Samuel Adams Triple Bock pours a dense and downright pond-scummy looking brown color with no head whatsoever. I swirled the beer in the glass a bit, only to find that it left my glass horribly stained with what looked to be pure tar. The beer was corked, but the cork was soggy and practically disintegrated into the bottle when I pulled it out. After the pour, bits of cork clung to the surface with what little buoyancy they had left after 16 years of saturation and had to be fished out with a spoon. Huge clumps of muck stayed behind like sulking teens on a family vacation (which makes sense because those clumps really are teens) and took multiple blasts of hot water to be loosened from the bottle. The rumors about this beer's vileness appeared to be true, and I hadn't even taken a smell yet.

My first smell of this beer was...regrettable. A sickeningly sweet aroma jetted down my nostrils and straight into the pit of my gut.

 "Did you just gag?" my friend, Brian, asked.


I calmed my stomach the best I could and went back in. Bad idea. Triple Bock smells like a puree of soy sauce, molasses and raisins that's been trapped in a car on a 100 degree day for about six hours. Whatever drinkable matter was in that bottle smells to be about fifteen years deceased. It's really horrific. I don't think I've ever been more terrified to take a sip of beer than I was with this, but it was definitely too late to turn back. Triple Bock opens with a note of slightly sour plum that is sweet. Really sweet. "Port-like" could be a good description, but only if instead of being the byproduct of crushed and fermented grapes, that port was the byproduct of crushed and fermented souls. Prickly booze, heavily fermented raisin, and raisin cake all make nauseating treks across the palate before a finish that's a cross between sewage soaked prune and regret. While the beer is in your mouth it releases savory blasts that I swear taste like straight MSG. The mouthfeel is thick and uneven, almost chowder-like.

While I can't recommend the experience of trying this beer itself, I am glad that I tried it. I don't feel like you can truly appreciate the top beers the world has to offer if you haven't trudged through the bottom of the list as well. And I think it's safe to say, my friends, that Triple Bock is about as low as you can go.

Final Grade: F

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129