Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Clown Shoes - Genghis Pecan

The holiday formerly known as Thanksgiving is a mere days away and everyone won't stop asking me what beer I'll be bringing to my family's dinner table. OK, I lied, only one person has asked me. OK, no one has. But IF they did, there are a few beers that come to mind. Most of these beers are fall (read:pumpkin) beers, such as Dogfish Head's Punkin' Ale and The Bruery's Autumn Maple (my #1 suggestion. You know, in case you were gonna ask). But there are other beers that would fit the bill. And when I saw Clown Shoes' new beer, Genghis Pecan, I thought I had another lined up for sure.

Everything about Genghis Pecan as a Thanksgiving beer works on paper. Like pretty much every other Clown Shoes beer it has a stellar label, featuring the dreaded Mongol lobbing pecan pies at an unseen foe as turkeys wearing clown shoes are landing around him. And like pretty much every other Clown Shoes beer, it has a name that's definitely a conversation starter. And a pecan pie porter? How could that not be good? This seems like a shoe-in for a recommendation for Thanksgiving Dinner. Let's check it out.

Genghis Pecan pours a deep drown color, almost the color of maple syrup. A one finger mocha colored head forms immediately and leaves some faint traces of lace after each sip. Everything about this beer's label screams "dessert beer," so I was expecting a ton of sweetness from the smell. But it never really showed. Instead, the smell was incredibly faint, with traces of earthy malt and yeast. The yeast had just a tinge of Belgian yeast sweetness to it. There was also a trace of almond meal and the oil of pecan skins.

The taste opens with some lightly roasted malt and just a hint of cola nut before the flavors drop off and go comatose. It's the strangest middle of a beer I've ever come across. There's just nothing there. Finally, it revives itself and a fairly brief finish shows some toasted walnut, pecan nut oil, faint brown sugar and some raisin. These flavors are so brief, though, that they really feel like an afterthought. The mouthfeel is probably the best part of this beer. It's slick and just a touch heavy, providing the perfect medium for an awesome dessert beer. But unfortunately, in this case, it's kind of like putting an awesome frame around a blank canvas.

So my friends, it is with great regret that I recommend you choose something else to drink for your Thanksgiving meals. Genghis Pecan just never lives up to all of its great promises. I love the concept and love the design, but the execution just wasn't there. I'd like to wish a very happy and safe Thanksgiving to all of you out there. Whether it's beer, wine, or something else, may your glasses be filled with something more interesting than Genghis Pecan.

Final Grade: C

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 130

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Anheuser Busch - Shadow's Wild Black

                                                           Wild Black in the glass...

                                                ...and in a more natural setting.   

Nearly two years ago, I tried a beer that changed my ideas on how bad beer can really be. If memory serves me right, it was the night of the national championship game for college football and the beer was called Wild Blue. I thought I had tried the worst of the worst with beers like Pizza Beer and Kennebunkport IPA. Wild Blue laughs in the face of beers like that. With the first sip, I could feel years taken off my life and my esophagus. It was sweeter than a Nicholas Sparks novel (and more syrupy). It would be hours before my taste buds would regain consciousness and start to work again.

Since then, I've had two beers that were somehow worse: A beer called Zorg and the infamous Sam Adams Triple Bock. The Sam Adams is never going to be topped. It's the bad beer equivalent of Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Muhammad Ali all wrapped into one cobalt blue bottle with a disintegrating cork. That beer remains (and most likely, forever will remain) the worst thing I have ever put in my mouth. But Wild Blue will always hold a special place in my heart as my first truly bad beer.

A few months after the Wild Blue fiasco, I was perusing the shelves when I found another version of Wild Blue called Shadow's Wild Black. It looked identical: Same dark and menacing liquid behind the bottle, same pissed off looking dog kicking fruit. I honestly don't know what I was thinking, but for some reason, I thought to myself, "I have GOT to try that!" I walked out of the store a few minutes later with it, only then remembering the torturous experience Wild Blue had been. But it was too late. I was the proud owner of a beer I never wanted to drink. And so it sat in solitary confinement in the back of my fridge for over a year and a half.

We're moving in a few weeks, so it's time to cut down on things we don't want to move. One of these things is the large inventory of beer I've acquired in our time here. So I've been trying to drink the beers that I have no intention of aging. Unfortunately, it was Wild Black's turn yesterday. For science!

Wild Black pours a deep purple color, almost more like a Welch's Grape Juice, with just a faint purple tinge to the head. The color was strange, but I've had some oddly colored beers in the past that ended up just fine. Who knew, maybe it would even be good. I took a whiff... Nope, it was going to suck. A sickeningly sweet artificial blackberry monster latches onto your nostrils the second they're in range and will not let go. If you can get past that, there are enticing notes of chlorine, concord grape concentrate, artificial blueberry, wet cardboard, and what I can only imagine what dog vomit would smell like if that dog had just scarfed a TON of Starbursts.

The taste opens with a faint dash of faded hop sourness, but it's quickly turned into Alderaan by the Death Star of huge sticky and sweet notes of grape jelly, pureed raisin and blackberry Robitussin (if that's a thing). There's a strange and brief wine-like note that reminds me of those fruity Arbor Mist things that they used to have those commercials for when I was a kid with dudes jumping on trampolines. There's a lingering note on the finish that reminds me of what the result of a Will It Blend? would taste like if the experiment was blackberries and tar.

Someway, somehow, this beer is better than Wild Blue. Now that's not saying much, but it's the truth. If this and Wild Blue were the only two beers in existence, would I choose this? No, I would choose life. Stay thirsty, my friends. For better beer than this.

Final Grade: F+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 132

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Williams Brothers Brewing Company - Grozet

I'm all for exploring new styles of beer, and it's been cool to see a lot of forgotten recipes pop up again as brewers look for original beers to try. I was in a local liquor store the other day when I saw a new style I'd never heard of- a Grozet. It's a Scottish style that is brewed with wheat, gooseberries and a few other strange ingredients (bog myrtle, anyone?). Supposedly Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns were quite fond of this style, but with the other options out there in those days, that probably isn't saying much. So let's check the Grozet out.

Grozet pours a clear pale golden color with a 1/2 finger white head and some nice lace. It didn't really look that different to me, but I did notice a lot more carbonation that normal rising from the bottom of the glass. The smell was definitely different, with an earthy and slightly musty note catching me first. There was a definite ripe berry and fruit backbone with notes of kiwi, red currant, gooseberry, fruit leather and just a little wet hay. Promising, for sure.

 Unfortunately, the taste is where things fell apart for me. I was hoping for some hints of all the things I was smelling, but instead I was met with what seemed to be a weak filtered wheat ale. There's some grain, slightly chalky yeast, and a bunch of off-tasting wheat throughout. The finish brings a sort of sour wheat flavor that doesn't linger long before tailing into watery nothingness.

This beer gets points for smell alone, but the flavor just never connected with me. I'll definitely pick up another Grozet if one comes my way, but this particular one will remain untouched by me.

Final Grade: C-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 132

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Goose Island Beer Company - Halia

Last year, one of the most prominent breweries in Chicago, Goose Island, was purchased by the corporation who must not be named (AKA Anheuser Busch InBev). At the time, I was really disappointed. And in a way, it still disappoints me. It's supposed to be us (craft breweries) against them (the giant beer corporations that sell horse piss with clever marketing). But (so far...) it turns out that everything wasn't so terrible about this acquisition. By selling the brand to You Know Who, it enabled Goose Island to move their mass production beers (like Honker's Ale, 312 Urban Wheat and their India Pale Ale) to other facilities, leaving them space to focus on more interesting beers in their own facility. This also allows them the room to make a larger quantity of their special release beers, which means that beers like Halia, one of Goose Islands famed "sisters" beers, are now showing up in San Diego. Score!

Halia is part of the Four Sisters series of beers that Goose Island makes (the others being Juliet, Lolita and Gillian). These beers are all fruit beers, with Halia being aged in white wine barrels with peaches and Brettanomyces. If I could have picked one of the sister beers to try, it probably would have been Halia, and that's just what happened to show up first out here.

Halia shows up in one of the most elegant looking bottles you will ever see and pours a slightly hazed straw color with a one finger white head that fizzes away like 7-Up. It disappears pretty quickly, leaving behind a white ring around the surface and some clingy lace trickling down the glass with each sip. Light brett notes are immediately evident in the smell, along with some golden delicious apple, spicy yeast, light oak, sweet white wine, leather and just a touch of underripe white peach. This beer smells special.

The taste opens up with some of the light brett notes I was picking up in the smell. It's not a full on funk bomb, but you can definitely taste that brett. This couples with some sweeter peach and juicy green apple flavors, which actually turns out to be a great pairing. Then some white wine, lemon and underripe pear flavors show up and take us through the finish. The beer is crisp without feeling cider-y and nearly perfectly carbonated. The sweetness in the flavor is broken up just enough by the carbonation without the beer ever feeling too fizzy.

Overall, this beer just works. I wouldn't put this in the upper echelon of sour/farmhouse beers just yet, but if you gave this a few years (I probably should have, but didn't have the patience), this could really develop into something special. I still don't agree with Goose Island selling out to the dark side, but if beers like this keep coming my way, I just might forget about it.

Final Grade: A-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 131

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Prairie Artisan Ales - Prairie Bomb!

More often than not, it really helps to have friends that are into beer. If they live near you, you always have someone to taste beer with. And if they live far away, you always have someone to trade with. Sounds pretty win-win to me.

My friend, Eddie, moved to Northern California a few months ago, right after we shared our first great beer experience together (happening upon a Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise in a bar, followed by drinking said Lou Pepe Framboise). I was bummed to lose a great local friend who happened to be really into beer, but, as they say, there's a silver lining to every cloud. We stayed in touch, mainly with me being really jealous of all the ridiculous beer he was getting access to up there. Then it was decided that when he came down to visit this past weekend, we should do some kind of trade. Somehow, the words "Prairie" and "Bomb" came up together in the discussion and I almost had a heart attack.

Prairie Bomb! is a beer made by Oklahoma's Prairie Artisan Ales that has been gaining a massive following since its inception. It's a 14% stout brewed with cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, coffee and chili peppers and it's been shooting up the Top 250 List for a while now. I figured I had a shot of getting it in San Diego since Prairie beers show up here from time to time. But after looking for months, I hadn't even come close. It quickly became one of my white whale beers (the others being Zombie Dust, Bourbon County Coffee, Duck Duck Gooze and Fou Foune) and I made it a point to ask every bottleshop I went into about it before moving on to see what else they had. So when Eddie casually mentioned that he had purchased not 1 but 6 (!!!!!) of them and that I was more than welcome to one, I nearly crapped my pants. So here's to you, Eddie. May I one day be able to make you half as happy as you've made me with this beer. At #97 (at last) Prairie Bomb!

Prairie Bomb! pours a slightly thin (for the ABV) looking black color with a huge (again, for the ABV) two-finger mocha colored head. I wasn't expecting much from the appearance at all, but this beer is a looker, with huge amounts of dark lace coating the glass with each sip. The smell is near perfection, with a rich blend of vanilla, coffee and chili evident even from a foot away. Venture closer and you're met with a rich, almost custard-like vanilla smell that's more intense than any vanilla I've come across in a beer (short of maybe Southern Tier's Creme Brulee). The coffee in here isn't dark and overwhelming, but it smells smooth and freshly ground and melds with the vanilla beautifully. Joining the two are some great earthy and smoky notes of ancho chili.

Each sip of this beer brings wave after wave of mouth coating vanilla and cocoa notes. There's some powdery cocoa in here, along with some rich dark chocolate, marshmallow and fudge. The finish brings some light and earthy chili pepper notes with just a slight hint of heat. The beer feels a bit thin, more like a 5% stout than a 14% one, but flavors coat your mouth so much that it never comes close to tasting watery. If you can find this beer, you have to get it. It more than lives up to every bit of hype. And if you can't find it, it always helps to have a friend like Eddie.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 132

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Boulevard Brewing Company - Bourbon Barrel Quad

Now that the dust has (at least somewhat) cleared from the mayhem that is San Diego Beer Week, it's time to get back to the serious business that is beer reviewing. Through a few amazingly generous trades/gifts/chance acquisitions, I've been able to acquire some beers in the last few weeks that I only dreamed I would one day possess. So I've got a big few weeks of tasting ahead to get over the disappointment I always feel when beer week ends. But before we get to those, let's take a look at a beer I've been wanting to try for a while- Boulevard's Bourbon Barrel Quad.

I had been hearing about Bourbon Barrel Quad for years; long before I knew anything about Boulevard Brewing Company itself. Bourbon Barrel Quad is a (wait for it...) bourbon barrel aged Belgian Quadrupel that is aged on cherries. It also may have the best acronym (BBQ) in the world of beer. I've been seeing it pop up on trade forums, online beer sites, ebay...pretty much everywhere but on the shelves of California for a long time. But with Boulevard's expansion in the past year or so, some more of their limited release beers have been showing up. Including BBQ. Let's check this one out.

Bourbon Barrel Quad pours a hazed caramel color with a pretty substantial cream-colored head. The smell had some great quad characteristics, with some banana, clove, molasses, cinnamon and brown sugar at the forefront. I picked up some rye malt, just a touch of booze and some spicy oak as well.

Brown sugar and candi sugar are the first things that pop up, flavor-wise, along with some soft nutty malt flavors. The finish brings some lightly spiced oak notes with a touch of vanilla and some booze. The finish was a touch weak for me. It kind of just died mid-palate. I really did enjoy the flavors in this one, but I wish they would have lasted just a touch longer. The name's promise of bourbon also left me a bit underwhelmed as I got some barrel notes, just no bourbon. I tried this beer fresh, but I have a strange feeling that if you aged this for a couple years, it would be money. I may just have to try that.

Final Grade: B

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 130

Friday, November 8, 2013

AleSmith Brewing Company - Speedway Grand Prix

Yesterday began the 3 day epic event that is the Speedway Grand Prix at AleSmith Brewing Company. The last few years, the event has been on a single night at a local bar, but this year, AleSmith decided to do things differently. 15 versions of Speedway Stout, 3 days to try them all, and 1 very happy me. So on Wednesday, muffin tins in hand (a tradition for the event and a necessity if you want to transport a bunch of taster glasses anywhere) my friends Jason, Matt and I headed to AleSmith to partake in the madness. I tried 12 of the varietals and here's how they turned out.

12. Cherry Amaretto Speedway- Loved this one on paper, but it just didn't turn out the way I was hoping. The cherry came off a bit "Robitussin-like," as Jason put it, and the amaretto never really came through fully. I've had a few versions of Speedway from the event in previous years that were borderline gross, and this was nowhere near that level. A good sign for the event.

Final Grade: D+

11. Macadamia Nut Speedway- I really loved this one on paper as well, but the macadamia presence was a little too strong in the flavor and there were a lot of oily and bitter macadamia skin notes that took away from the sweeter and meatier flavor of the nut itself.

Final Grade: C-

10. Fresh Raspberry Speedway- Yet another one that I thought was going to be incredible. If anything, I think there were too many raspberries added to this one, and the result was a boatload of raspberry flavor, but no real trace of the Speedway itself.

Final Grade: C

9. Turkish Coffee & Cardamom Speedway- On the interesting meter, this was way, way up there. It was a really great experiment and they nearly pulled it off. I got a lot of chai-like flavors with a ton of spices that I really couldn't distinguish. The cardamom rocked  my tastebuds, but didn't really let much else come through in the flavor. Enjoyable but not better than most of the other varietals.

Final Grade: C

8. Nicaraguan Coffee Speedway- The smell of this one was off the charts. Huge amounts of delicious dark roasted coffee. But...the taste just didn't live up to the promise of the smell. The coffee notes felt disjointed and it just never "wow"ed me. Worth trying for the smell, but the taste wasn't quite there.

Final Grade: C

7 & 6 (tie): Nibs & Beans Speedway and Vietnamese Coffee, Cocoa Nibs, Vanilla Beans and Raspberry Extract Speedway - I liked both of these a lot. I liked the Vietnamese Coffee one even better once I figured out that it wasn't the pumpkin speedway I had been told it was. (That really threw my palate for a trip.) The vanilla came through pretty well in both of these versions, which I liked. They just didn't add that much to the base beer, so they were middle of the pack for me.

Final Grade(s): B-

5. Pumpkin Latte Speedway- Very hit or miss in our little group, I actually liked this one a lot. There was a lot of spicy chai mixed with pumpkin pie spice with some coffee notes tucked in the back. The spice was substantial, but it let enough of the Speedway out so you could tell what the base beer was. I would say this one was a hit.

Final Grade: B

4. Lapsang Tea Speedway- Tea and coffee together? After reading the list when I got in the door, I thought for sure this was going to be the worst of the bunch. As it turned out, it was one of the more interesting varietals. The great coffee notes from base Speedway were there, but there were a lot of earthy, almost mushroom like notes mixed in that (while it sounds weird) really worked in here. The finish also brought some tingling tea and earthy hops. I can't say I would want to take pint after pint of this to the dome, but in small doses, it's really something. I would love to try this one again.

Final Grade: B+

3. Bird's Eye Thai Chili Speedway- Now we're moving into the top tier. The Thai Chili Speedway was truly incredible. The coffee element was a bit muted and didn't bring the aggressive dark roast that I've come to love in original Speedway. But this worked, too, as the lighter coffee and cocoa notes laid down a smooth rhythm before the thai chiles came in and shredded my face off. I loved this beer.

Final Grade: A

2. Pinon Coffee Speedway- We sell this coffee at my work (Trader Joes) and, while it's alright, I didn't have high hopes for this beer. We ended up drinking a crapload of it. It was amazing! Apparently Pinon Coffee was made to be put in Speedway Stout. The coffee aroma is so intense I wanted to crawl under a table and just smell it for hours. But unlike the Nicaraguan, the coffee came through in the flavor as well. Rich, roasty and ridiculously tasty. This needs to be bottled.

Final Grade: A

1. PB Cup & Vietnamese Coffee Speedway- Oh, like this was gonna be bad? Peanut butter cups and Vietnamese coffee? Just take my money now, AleSmith. The smell was pure ground up Reese's and mild roast coffee and the flavor was absolutely decadent. Wave after wave of silky dark chocolate and smooth peanut butter gives your palate a massage AND a happy ending. What a beer!

Final Grade: A+

I would have to say that the Speedway Grand Prix was a huge success. Not all of the varietals were off the charts tasty, but with 15 versions, I'm pretty sure that's impossible. If you're a fan of Speedway Stout, make sure you get to this next year. You will not be sorry. Just don't forget your muffin tin.

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

New Belgium Brewing - Le Terroir

Today, we are smack in the middle of San Diego Beer Week. I was fully planning on making this post about a sour event I attended on Friday. However, due to the event not being quite what I was hoping it would be (obscene pricing + multiple sketchy tasting pours + limited tap list), I'm going to move onto something else and come back to San Diego Beer Week after the epic-ness that is planned for tomorrow.

Which brings us to a familiar place- New Belgium's Lips of Faith series. I've kind of been to all ends of the spectrum on this series. I started off in love with it, but lately their offerings have fallen off a bit and it's been a while since I was really blown away by one. Luckily, they just brought back an old favorite- Le Terroir. This beer is a dry hopped sour that I haven't tried in quite a while. If my memory serves me correctly, my first meeting with Le Terroir was on the same day that I met both Pliny the Younger and Alpine's Exponential Hoppiness for the first time. (I think I still have yet to top that day, beer-wise.) So let's go back and take a look at a beer that is definitely worth revisiting. At #183, Le Terroir.

Le Terroir pours a raw honey color with a touch of haze to it. A half-finger cream colored head forms immediately and leaves some nice streaks of lace down the glass with each sip. I may knock some of New Belgium's other beers, but you won't find me knocking their sours. Especially the smell. Le Terroir brings a deep and musty smell with bright notes of lychee, mango, pear and some nice lactobacillus. As it warms, some bready malt and light yeast notes begin to creep up as well as a touch of umami.

Le Terroir is a lesson in balance. It doesn't wallop you with sourness, but rather lets it creep over your palate and linger on the sides of your tongue. Underripe white peach, green apple, lacto and some light apricot all make appearances. The finish brings some mango, soft bready malt and a touch of wood. As the beer warms, a hint of brett is evident as well. I hear La Folie talked about way more than this beer, but this is probably the one people should be talking about. It's one of the better sours out there. If you're a sour fan, do not miss out on this one.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129