Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best/Worst Beers of 2013

Well, my friends, another fantastic year for beer has come and gone and I hope it was as good a year for you as it was for me. Just to give the quick recap, here were the Top 3 Highlights of my year in beer:
  1. Brewed my first batch of beer. Hopefully there's gonna be a lot more of this in 2014.
  2. Watched "The List" of top beers expand from 100 to 250 and knocked off 43 of them.
  3. Got to try the #1 beer in the world, Heady Topper, along with a lot of other beers I never thought I'd get to try.
I recently moved into a house (explaining the lame no-post week last week), which should allow me to do fun things like homebrew, have better tasting events and not have to listen to my upstairs neighbors having weird sex for hours or blasting country music. It's gonna be awesome. Anyways, let's get on with the "awards." As I've done for the past few years now, here are the five best and worst beers I reviewed this year. I've gone off on beers that HAVE made the Top 250 list enough already, so the "best" beers here are beers that you will not find on in the ranks of the Top 250. Not yet, at least. So without further ado, let's do this.

Best Beers of 2013

5. Hangar 24  Brewery - Pugachev's Cobra

If the name Pugachev's Cobra alone doesn't intimidate you, the alcohol content will. At least it should have last New Year's eve, when I thoroughly enjoyed a bottle of this, but stupidly tried to tackle it alone. Take one sip of this puppy and you'll start feeling pretty selfish, too. It's delicious! Bourbon and beer are perfectly balanced in here and Pugachev's Cobra has depth for days. The flavor ranges from dark fruit to tobacco to brownie batter. It's an awesome, awesome beer.

4. Ruhstaller - Exquisite Kolsch


You may remember that earlier in the year, I got a bad can from Ruhstaller and the owner responded to my bad review by thanking me and then sending me a bunch of new beers to review. The Exqusite Kolsch is the one that really stuck with me. It doesn't beat you over the head with hops or blow you away with depth, but it strikes a few delicate chords really, really beautifully. Grassy hops, pale malt and some fruity esters create a fantastic drinking experience. Especially when the weather gets a little warmer.

3. Prairie Artisan Ales - 'Merica

I don't know that anyone out there killed it this year quite as much as these guys did. And while Prairie Bomb! justly gets most of the credit, 'Merica isn't too shabby either. This single hop saison finds the perfect blend of funky/grassy/farmhouse of the saison style with the awesome grapefruit/lemon/passionfruit of the hops. I'm really excited to try more Prairie beers in 2014.

2. Caldera Brewing Company - Mogli

I had tried a few of Caldera's beers before this one and had yet to be impressed by their other offerings. But after one sip of Mogli, I was a believer. The beer smells like s'mores, tastes like espresso and cocoa AND it has a really cute dog on the label. You pretty much cannot lose with this beer.

1. Sante Adairius Rustic Ales - West Ashley

 If West Ashley isn't the best sour I've ever had, it's damn close. It's an apricot sour aged in Pinot Noir barrels that impressed me more than any other beer this year. Tons of incredible apricot flavor here without ever feeling forced or artificial. I'll probably never see another bottle of this again, but it was fantastic while it lasted. Chances are, it's only a matter of time until this pops up on the Top 250 List.

Worst Beers of 2013

5. Hillcrest Brewing Company - Perle Necklace Pale Ale

I loved a lot of things about Perle Necklace going in. I loved the name, loved how they were able to sneak one by the often humorless people who deal with label approvals, and loved that there was finally a brewery down in one of my favorite areas of San Diego, Hillcrest. Unfortunately, once the bottle was open, there wasn't a whole heck of a lot to love. This beer didn't smell great and the taste was just a mess. Faded hops, soggy wheat thins and not a whole lot of joy can be found in this bottle. There are far worse things out there, but this was definitely one of the lowlights of the year that I reviewed.

 4. New Belgium Brewing - Lips of Faith-Cascara Quad

Cascara was another one I'm throwing on here mainly because I had such high hopes for it and it soullessly dashed them. A quad brewed with dates and "coffee cherries" sounds awesome, but "awesome" this beer was not. There's a lot of flavor to be found here, but the flavors run rampant with no boundaries whatsoever. The result is some interesting elements, but no real cohesion. In other words, this beer is a hot mess. The Lips of Faith series in general wasn't fantastic this year, so here's hoping that 2014 is better for the series as well.

3. Anheuser-Busch - Wild Black

Having tried Wild Blue prior, I kind of knew I wasn't in for a good time when I tried Wild Black. Still, this was one gross mother. If you like to pick up things like Robitussin, pureed raisin, wet cardboard and tar in your beer, then I have just the beer for you. For those of us who aren't so inclined (or aren't desperate teens looking for anything to get hammered off of), you may want to look elsewhere. Far elsewhere. 

2. Cisco Brewers Inc. - Island Reserve: Rumple Drumkin

Cisco was a new brewery to San Diego this year and, unfortunately, my first experience was Rumple Drumkin. A rum barrel aged pumpkin beer with a funny name seemed harmless enough when I saw it in the bottle shop. Little did I know what a monster this beer was. From the lime green sediment that left a half inch layer on the bottom of my glass after it settled to the pumpkin beer itself, which tasted nothing like pumpkin, Rumple Drumkin was an experience. I wasn't joking when I said it tasted like an aspirin pill Fun-Dipped in litterbox. Don't be fooled by the catchy name. Just say no to Rumple Drumkin.

1. Boston Beer Company - Samuel Adams Triple Bock

 Not only was I able to try the #1 beer in the world this year (Heady Topper), I was able to try arguably (though I don't know who would argue with it once they tried this beer) the worst beer in existence- Sam Adams Triple Bock. The appearance made me wonder how many hours I would have left to live if I downed the whole bottle, the smell made me gag and the taste was straight from the pits of hell. So really, a pretty pleasant experience. If you're into pain and having unpleasant tastes seared into your memory, I highly recommend Triple Bock.

And that about wraps things up over here. Cheers and Happy New Years to all. See you in 2014.

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 126

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Belching Beaver Brewery - Peanut Butter Milk Stout

If you're a budding craft brewery in San Diego, it can be hard to figure out ways to separate yourself from the pack. One of the densest areas is the Vista/San Marcos region, which alone houses breweries like Port/Lost Abbey, Iron Fist, Latitude 33, Aztec, Mother Earth and more. Oh, and right next door in Escondido is the San Diego powerhouse, Stone. So, again, what do you do to get recognition when you're up against competition like that? One fairly new brewery's solution to the problem was humor.

From their name alone, you can probably tell that Belching Beaver doesn't take themselves too seriously. They also try to keep the "beaver" theme alive in their beers, with names like Perky Beaver, Beaver's Milk, Rabid Beaver Bite and Barrel Aged Ol' Dirty Beaver. I'm not sure how they got label approval for some of their beers, but hats off to them for getting it done. A good beer name can get you some initial recognition, but it's really only going to carry you so far if the beer sucks. Luckily, after trying a good deal of their lineup, I can tell you for a fact that their beer does not suck. Their latest beer, Peanut Butter Milk Stout (sorry, no "beaver" in this one) was given to me by my friends, Ryan and Renee, and I was pretty excited to check it out. Thanks, guys!

Peanut Butter Milk Stout pours a deep chestnut color capped by a half-finger light brown head. The initial whiff is all peanut butter and crushed peanuts. I don't know if freshly made peanut butter smells different than peanut butter that's been in the fridge for a few months, but something about the peanut butter aroma here just smells "fresh." I'm digging it. Roasted malt, light roast coffee, milk chocolate and a trace of toffee linger in the back, but the peanut aroma really keeps them at bay.

Surprisingly, you don't get that much peanut butter from the taste initially. Instead, I caught a mild roasted malt flavor that slowly built into the peanut butter by the middle. When the peanut butter does hit, it's pretty tasty, but it's not quite as intense as the smell would have you believe. There's some light milk chocolate in here and a nice vanilla note rounding things out in the finish. The beer is "only" 5.3%, so the mouthfeel is way light. Cleverly, though, the brewers added lactose to this puppy, so you get a nice creaminess that works pretty nicely with the peanut butter. Overall, I'd say this is a pretty tasty offering from Belching Beaver. I'm really looking forward to more from these guys in the future.

Final Grade: B+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales - West Ashley

San Diego gets a lot of hype for beer, and rightly so. With over 70 breweries and counting (most of them quality), it's becoming harder to find bad beer down here than it is to find great beer. But that isn't to say that the rest of California is sitting back and letting us make all the good beer. I've noticed a huge influx recently of awesome California-brewed beers that weren't brewed in San Diego. The latest for me is from a tiny brewery in Capitola, California (just south of Santa Cruz) called Sante Adairius.

Sante Adairius may be small, but they've gained an incredible reputation in a very short time. One of the beers that carried them there is an apricot sour called West Ashley. It's a saison aged with apricots in Pinot Noir barrels and it's been blowing reviewers away for over a year now. Because the brewery is so small, the releases of West Ashley are only on site. Luckily, my friend, Eddie, was able to get to the most recent release and grab me a bottle. Thanks, Eddie!

West Ashley pours a glowing and gorgeous even apricot color with a thin bone white head. The smell is redolent of tart apricot skin, peaches and cream and a nicely restrained barnyard funk. Dried apricots, some leather and just a touch of oak are evident as well. Smell-wise, this beer is near perfect. There's enough of a tart edge to let you know it's a sour without making you recoil from all the sourness. And the funk in here isn't depths of the men's locker room towel collection bin funk, it's just a suggestion.

The taste opens with a fantastic pull of tartness, full of underripe apricot, meyer lemon flesh and lemon seed. The middle shows everything from apricot skin to dried apricot to underripe white peach. The beer finishes with some apricot pit, light oak and a drying tartness. The mouthfeel is bright and light in body with just a touch of carbonation.

Everything about this beer just works. It does. It gives you so much in both smell and taste without ever coming close to giving you too much in one area. "Balance" is the key word here and I don't think I've ever found a more balanced sour than this. I don't know when the next time I'll see a beer from Sante Adairius will be, but I will definitely be looking forward to it.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cascade Brewing - Vlad the Imp Aler

We still have a few weeks left in it, but I think it's safe to say that this has been a pretty great year for me, beer-wise. I've been able to try some ridiculous beers this year, courtesy of traveling and being friends with awesome people. It's also been a great year for beer distribution in that I've seen a humongous improvement in the quantity and quality of beer on beer shelves in San Diego within just one year. Luckily, one of those improvements has been that beers from one of my favorite breweries, Cascade, have become a bit easier to find. The other night, I was able to try one I've been dying to try for a while now, Vlad the Imp Aler.

With Vlad the Imp Aler, Cascade gives us aspiring homebrewers yet another easily reproducible beer. All you have to do is brew a Blond Quad (yeah, I don't know what that is either, but it's been blowing my mind ever since I saw it on the label), a Spiced Tripel and a Spiced Blond, blend them and then age them in a mix of bourbon and wine barrels for two years. No biggie. Let's see how this one turned out.

Vlad the Imp Aler (fantastic name, by the way, Cascade) pours a slightly hazed amber color with a fizzing, thin off-white head. It drops off pretty quickly, leaving just the hazed liquid topped with a fine white ring. If the looks of this one underwhelmed at all, that's soon forgotten as the smell fires on all cylinders. There's a hearty mix of white wine and bourbon, all laced with with some tart and heavy fruit notes. Red cherry and white grape are dominant here, with just a hint of oak in the background.

The taste opens with a nice hit of sourness, drenched in a fruit-laden sweetness. Meaty red cherry notes mix with some Tripel spice, white grape, raisin skins and some candi sugar. The bourbon doesn't really show up until the finish, and even then it's just a trace, coupled with some red cherry skin tartness and a pleasant dryness from the alcohol. For me, the sweetness was a bit much for me to call this my favorite offering from Cascade. Still, I am very glad I finally got my hands on this. Here's hoping next year will bring a lot more Cascade down here.

Final Grade: A-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Evil Twin Brewing - Justin Blåbær

I've been doing this blog thing for over three years now and over that time I've seen and tasted some ridiculous things. Whether it's been beer made with pizza, beer made with oysters or a Hanson themed beer, a lot of strange things have popped up on my radar these last few years. But as far as labels go, I don't know if I've ever seen anything stranger than Evil Twin's beer, Justin Blåbær. 

As you can see above, the label features an overexposed creepy dude with slight resemblences to Justin Bieber surrounded by goofy comments from the brewers and a caption that reads: "Justin Flashes His Istedgade Eyes." (For those of you, like me, who have no idea what Istedgade means, it's a street that runs through Copenhagen that goes directly through Copenhagen's hipster neighborhood.) If all that wasn't enough, we have this on the side of the bottle:

OMG! It's JUSTIN BLABAER!!! If you have "Blabaer fever," then this is the only cure. 
We stuffed so many blueberries into this beer--it's going to make you shout, "Oh Baby!"

Well played, Evil Twin. Very well played. I'll keep looking, but I doubt anything is topping this beer on the ridiculous meter. Now we move on to the more important question: Is the beer any good?
Justin Blåbær pours a hazed lavender color with a slightly purple-tinged two finger head that recedes fairly quickly. I really liked the smell, which opened with a nice acetic tartness full of blueberry pie filling, a light funk, lemongrass, red cherry and some faint oak. 

 The flavor opens with some acetic tartness right off the bat, full of lemon. The blueberries show up big time in the middle with a nice amount of sweetness and just a touch of underripe tartness. The beer finishes off a touch heavy with some wheat notes, lemon zest and blueberry fruit leather. 

 I have to say, I was really buying this for the label, but the beer inside is actually quite good. It's probably the first blueberry beer that hasn't blown me away with huge amounts of artificial sweetness. You get a lot of blueberry flavor here, but there's nothing about it that feels artificial. The label may be goofy as hell, but there is a very serious beer inside. I may just have the Blabaer fever.


Final Grade: A-

 Top 250 Beers Tasted: 130 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Brasserie de Rochefort - Rochefort 8

I'm going to be reviewing some pretty different beers this week, but before we get to those, I want to backtrack a bit and review a beer I've been meaning to review for a few weeks. This is a beer that doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves, mainly because it has a big brother that steals all the spotlight. While it's big brother, Rochefort 10, is a fantastic beer, today we're going to give Rochefort 8 the attention it deserves. At #120, Rochefort 8.

Rochefort 8 pours a deep and murky brown color with an eager foamy tan head that wells up as soon as the beer hits the glass. The aroma is rich with notes of banana, clove, fig, brown sugar, dark bread crust, vanilla custard, toffee, rum raisin, molasses, brittle and some wet earth. Whew! Did you get all that? After smelling this, I really couldn't wait to see what it tasted like.

The taste opens on the sweeter side with notes of toasted brown sugar, toffee, molasses and candi sugar. Then it progresses to some clove, bread crust, doughy malt and some indistinguishable baking spices. The finish brings in some bittersweet cocoa and some roasted malt with just a touch of alcohol. This beer isn't messing around. It's got so much packed in here, but somehow retains a nearly perfect balance. If you're looking for top notch Belgian beers to try, don't miss Rochefort 10, but don't forget about Rochefort 8.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 131

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Victory Brewing Company - DirtWolf

It's been a while since Victory has showed up on this blog. If memory serves me correctly, it's been about three years. Coincidentally, that was also the last time Victory did anything really noteworthy beer-wise. They've been really quiet for a while, but it may be that they were just biding their time before releasing something that would rock the beer world. And that beer was DirtWolf.

Pretty much as soon as DirtWolf was released, the threads on beeradvocate started popping up: "Is DirtWolf better than Heady Topper?" "Is DirtWolf the next Pliny killer?" "I'm trying to find a surrogate father. Umm...is DirtWolf available?" Ok, one of those is made up, but the hype around this beer was incredible. It surged into the Top 250 List with a full head of steam. So let's check this one out and see if it's worth the hype. At #204, DirtWolf.

DirtWolf pours a slightly hazed golden color with a good amount of visible carbonation in the glass and a smooth, one finger cream colored head. The smell impressed me straight out of the bottle with notes of candied grapefruit, mango, menthol, pine, some musty and earthy hops and caramel malt. It wasn't as strong a smell as I was hoping for, but Victory chose some good hops to use in this one (Chinook, Citra, Mosaic (Hot Hop of the Moment Alert!), and Simcoe) so the smell is pretty solid.

The taste opens with some pine and floral hop notes with a sharp drawl of pine sap across the palate. Some mint, caramel malt and sticky floral hop resin show up next before another smattering of pine on the finish. On the first bottle, I didn't notice it quite as much, but on the next few, I started getting a decent kick of booze on the finish as well, which was a bit of a turn off. The mouthfeel is a bit heavy, but there's sufficient carbonation in here to break it up a touch.

Overall, this beer was good. It wasn't Pliny or Heady or anything on that level good, but I enjoyed it. Maybe I've gotten too used to all of the West Coast style IPAs, with all of their citrusy and tropical goodness, but this one just didn't blow me away. Does it deserve to be known as a good beer? Sure. Is it Top 250 worthy? Not so sure about that one.

Final Grade: B+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 133

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Goose Island Beer Company - Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout

Black Friday tends to be a day that people either dread or adore. Usually, I'm somewhere in the middle. While getting expensive things for not much money never sounds like a bad idea, things can turn in a hurry when you're stuck sardine-style in the electronics section at Target at 2am and some lady behind you seems to think that if she rams her cart into you repeatedly, you and everyone else in her way will magically disappear. Not that that's happened to me before or anything... Anyways, most Black Fridays there's something that gets the masses going. Whether it's the Xbox One, Furby or Tickle Me Elmo, there's something out there that everyone is going for. This year (for a lot of us, at least), it just happened to be a beer. Actually, make that plural.

Goose Island chose Black Friday this year for the release of their Bourbon County Brand line of stouts. Bourbon County Stout was last distributed to San Diego in 2010, back when I was just starting this blog. I tried it, reviewed it, and (luckily) saved a bottle for later, only years later realizing that I should have bought a case of it because it never came back. Now that Goose Island has been bought out by The Corporation Who Will Not Be Named, it's allowed them to focus on the production of their more limited releases like Bourbon County Stout. Luckily, that means that it's back in San Diego. And it brought friends.

Every year on the Bourbon County Stout line brings new additions (this year's big one is the Proprietor's Reserve) but the version that's been the star of the show for a while now is the Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout. Rated #4 in the Beer Advocate Top 250 List, it's the one that I've had my eye on for a while. I finally got my shot when a local bar announced they were going to have Black Friday bottle pours of Bourbon County Stout, Bourbon County Barleywine and Bourbon County Brand Coffee. In the history of driving to bars, I don't know if anyone has driven to a bar faster than I did to try this stuff. At #4, Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout.

Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout pours a viscous black color with just the slightest trace of a mocha colored head. The head doesn't last long, and you're left staring into the depths of what appears to be used motor oil. In a good way! I don't have the words to describe to you how good this beer smells. I just don't. "A-mother-freaking-mazing?" Too obvious. "One of the most delicious smells my nose has ever had the pleasure of meeting?" Not there yet. "Boner-inducing?" Getting there! Let's just say that if weird cave-dwelling animals that ate humans invaded the earth and were eating people dumb enough to wander into caves left and right and were smart enough to make their caves smell like this, I wouldn't be able to help myself. I'd be toast. That's how good this smells. The coffee aroma alone is worth the price of admission. It's dark, roasty and earthy and just explodes out of the glass. Beneath it I get some dark chocolate, wet earth, fudge, cocoa powder and some wet barrel notes.

The taste opens with a rich blend of espresso, heavily roasted dark coffee notes, bourbon and chocolate syrup. None of these really take the lead, but work in tandem Captain Planet-style to rock the hell out of your tastebuds. I've had a decent amount of barrel-aged beers that use coffee, but nothing I've had has used it as well as this. If you care to venture beyond the initial flavors of coffee, bourbon and chocolate, you'll find some caramel, chocolate cake and a slightly charred barrel note. A dry baking chocolate note shows up on the finish along with some mocha and burnt brownies. There's a slight dryness on the finish from the booze, but there's really nothing here that would lead you to believe that this beer is 13%+. It is going to be very hard for anything to top this beer. Thanks Goose Island, for the best Black Friday ever.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 133