Thursday, January 30, 2014

Firestone Walker Brewing Company - Firestone 17-Anniversary Ale

If you're friends with me on Facebook, you probably think I'm a cat person. If you post a cat related picture, chances are I'm gonna "like" it. If you mention the word "cat" in your status, I'm all over it. If you post a cat video and it's any good, I'm watching it a minimum of 18 times. I even had a useless cat iPhone case that I kept solely because it had a cat on it. (Needless to say, that case was retired shortly after it failed to keep my phone from shattering after an 8" drop.) AND my girlfriend and I sort of have adopted a cute black nomad cat in our neighborhood and we post pictures of it more often than most people post pictures of their actual offspring. Yes, if you brought me to trial and I was forced to defend myself against charges of being a "cat person," it would be hard to prove otherwise. But here's the thing- I'm not a cat person. I freaking love dogs, too. If someone were to offer me the choice of owning a cat or a dog right now, I'd choose the dog in a heartbeat (barring certain breeds). And here's the other thing- I think it's ok to be both a cat person AND a dog person.

The same goes for beer and wine. In this matchup, I'm obviously siding with beer, but I don't think it's right to force someone to choose between the two. You'd be surprised at the amount of brewers out there who have extensive wine cellars. And the more this craft beer scene expands, the closer I see it getting to the wine scene. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in Paso Robles, California.

Firestone Walker didn't start as a brewery, they started by making wine. Eventually, they experimented with beer and liked the results so much that they decided to give it a shot. But they've never forgotten their roots, or their location (for those of you unfamiliar with the area, Paso Robles is a Central California town well known for its winemaking). So for their anniversary beers, Firestone does something a little outside the box- they bring in the wine guys. Winemakers from a variety of wineries are selected to come into the brewery, get into teams and put together a blend of Firestone's beers. The winning blend is then put into a larger scale and bottled, becoming the next in the line of Firestone's highly rated Anniversary series. This year, the winner was a team from Tablas Creek Vineyard and was a blend of 7 different Firestone beers. Let's see how it turned out. At #134, Firestone 17.

Firestone 17 pours a deep cola color with a one-finger tan head. The head fades fairly quickly, but leaves behind a swirling tan film on the surface and some spotty lace down the glass with each sip. The smell gives off a big blast of bourbon barrel off the pour, but settles down pretty quickly, wandering through notes of toasted coconut, milk chocolate, vanilla, spicy oak, toffee, some toasted brown sugar and just a touch of booze.

The taste begins with a smooth rush of bourbon over the tongue. Caramel, roasted malt and lots of spicy oak mingle with just a touch of heat. But this beer's just getting started. The middle shows some toffee, cola and vanilla before a finish of charred barrel, burnt brown sugar and the slightest trace of hop resin. The flavors remind me most of an English Barleywine, which was awesome because I love English Barleywines. The mouthfeel was just a touch lacking, but it's hardly noticed with all the other great stuff going on in here. I've had some blends (AKA the Mission St. Anniversary beers at Trader Joes, which is ironic because they're made by Firestone) in which the individual beers stood out too much for the beer to work. Everything fights for dominance and no one really wins. It's like watching a New York Knicks game. But every beer in this one works together seamlessly. It's a fantastic beer. Just further proof that there is common ground to be found between the worlds of wine and beer. After all, can't we all just agree that alcohol fermentation is awesome?

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 128

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Russian River Brewing Company - Beatification

Let's talk about whales. Not the kind you get asked to save by the Greenpeace people every time you leave the grocery store. Important whales. Beer whales. (In case any of my Narwhal readers are tuning in, I'm just kidding about the "important" part. You and your weird tooth-horn thing will always hold a special place in my heart.) Anyways, I've probably mentioned this before, but let's just clear up what a beer whale is. It's not a beer with a picture with a whale on it (again, sorry to my Narwhal friends), it's a beer that is very, very hard to track down. To me, there has to be at least some chance of you obtaining the beer for you to call it a whale. For me, a beer like Duck Duck Gooze, which is pretty hard to come by but does see a release every 3-4 years in San Diego, is a whale. A 30 bottle release by Cantillon from 1987 is not. It's just straight unattainable. It's like a space whale or something.

One of the first whales I ever heard about was a beer from Russian River called Beatification. Having tried all of Russian River's "tion" sours besides this one, it quickly rocketed up my personal whale list. My best chance to find this beer, since it is a brewery release only, was to hope to find it on draft somewhere. But three years had passed and I had never even heard of it being on draft. Things weren't looking good, but that's when my friend Eddie (who you may know as the awesome guy who got me the bottle of West Ashley), told me he was going to the Beatification release and he'd be happy to grab me a few bottles. Thanks, Eddie! The Beatification whale had finally been beached. (Caught? Landed? Scored? Fandangled? I don't know the proper terminology for finally getting a whale because I never get them.) At #27, Beatification.

Beatification pours a slightly hazed golden color with a soda-like fizzing eggshell colored head. The head dissipates almost immediately, but looking down into the glass, you can see a steady stream of bubbles rising to the top, like there's some unseen hot spring under the surface. I started to smell the beer off the pour and the closer I got to it, the more I fell in love. There's a fantastic blast of citrus, lemon and barnyard funk right away that made my knees weak. There's some lemon zest in here as well, along with some pineapple, dried apricot, vanilla bean and a touch of spice mixed in with some earthy notes and good old horse blanket. Perfect.

The taste opens with a big, slightly acetic lemony twang that carries through all the way to mid-palate. Then, I started to pick up some underripe red cherry and lemon hard candy in the middle. Right before the end, the beer brings the noise with some barnyard, wet hay, a touch of leather, vanilla and some light oak. This beer sticks the finish. It's intensely tart and lemony with a great lingering dryness. Like every other Russian River sour, this beer's mouthfeel goes to 11. It's flawless. I could drink this beer forever. You absolutely have to try this beer. Beach this whale!

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 129

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Bruery - Preservation Series: Shegöat

I usually try to not do two reviews of the same brewery in a row, but I picked this up from The Bruery the other day... reviewing two beers from them in a row was pretty much going to be inevitable at some point. Luckily, The Bruery doesn't make a whole lot of bad beer, so tasting through all of these isn't going to suck. For one of the first ones I tasted, I went for a recent release, Shegöat, a weizenbock.

Weizenbock isn't a style I'm too familiar with, mainly because almost no one makes them. Schneider Aventinus is the most prominent example out there, but beyond that, I'm struggling to remember other weizenbocks I've tried. As a style, they're closest to Dunkelweizens (the sweeter and more tan brother of Hefeweizens), but the alcohol tends to be ratcheted up a few notches. Shegöat clocks in at a hearty 8.7%. Let's give this one a try.

Shegöat pours a deep brown (much darker than I was expecting) color with a thin, cream-colored head. The head stuck around nicely, leaving faint tracks of lace with each sip. The beer is sweet and malty on the nose, with banana, clove and dried persimmon coming to mind right away. Some spice cake and dark fruit notes are in there as well.

The taste opens sweet and malty, with some caramel, raisin bread, banana nut loaf and a good amount of brown sugar present. The finish is a touch spicy with a good amount of drawling malt sweetness and just a kiss of alcohol. The carbonation is on point, just enough to keep the sweetness of this beer from becoming cloying without detracting from the flavors in here too much. Weizenbocks haven't really been a style I've sought out much in the past, but if there are more like this one out there, that may be changing soon. Good stuff from The Bruery.

Final Grade: A-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 127

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Bruery - Bottleworks XII

If you're going to call yourself a craft beer city, you're going to need a few things. People who want to drink your beer is a must. As is a wealth of standout breweries. But you also need a really great bottleshop. I would argue that San Diego has this in Bottlecraft. San Francisco has it in City Beer Store. And Seattle's has it in a shop that I'm dying to visit someday called Bottleworks. If you're into beer, you've probably heard of this shop before, mainly because the reputation of their anniversary beers precedes them. Every year, Bottleworks gets together with a different brewery to make an anniversary beer. And the breweries tend to be legit. Breweries like Cascade, Russian River, Stone and New Belgium have all been involved in Bottleworks anniversary beers. Almost three years ago, The Bruery made the Bottleworks 12th Anniversary release, but I didn't come close to getting a bottle. Luckily, the beer was so warmly received that they decided to brew it again last year. It's a raspberry sour that's part Witbier, part Berliner Weisse, and this time, I definitely grabbed a bottle. At #199, Bottleworks XII.

Bottleworks XII pours a hazed apricot color with a glowing, deep golden center and a one finger white head. (By the way, no picture of the actual beer here. I destroyed my phone and a replacement hasn't shown up yet. You're just gonna have to imagine how good this beer looks. My bad.) The smell presents a nice mix of coriander, lemon zest and tart mixed berries. The raspberries are definitely in there and they come through with a slightly underripe note. There's an overlaying lactic aroma here along with just a trace of brett. This is gonna be good stuff.

On the first sip, the sourness hits you right away. It's big and lactic, bringing with it a ton of lemon and some intensely tart raspberry. The base beer here is a witbier and that shows nicely, with some coriander and light wheat notes coming through in the middle. The beer finishes tart, clean and a touch dry with some jammy, ripe raspberry notes and a touch of wine barrel finishing things out. I keep hearing mixed things about The Bruery's sours, but I'm not really seeing what's not to like. Everything I've had has been phenomenal and this beer is another one they've absolutely knocked out of the park.

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 127

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Noble Ale Works - Citra Showers

Recently, there's been a lot of beer activity in the traditionally nearly beer-less zone of Los Angeles/Orange County. The Bruery and Beachwood BBQ are leading the charge, but there are some other breweries that are gaining steam and making beers that will stand up to pretty much anything. One of those breweries is Noble Ale Works out of Anaheim.

Noble Ale Works was opened in 2012 by a brewer who used to brew at two other well known LA/OC breweries, Hangar 24 and TAPS Fish House & Brewery. I had tried and liked two of Noble's beers, but wasn't really giving them much attention until word starting getting around a few days ago that Noble had a new Double IPA out that was a beer to be reckoned with. Having heard this about a lot of beers in the past few years with mixed results, I was skeptical. But when I heard it was an all Citra-hopped beer, my fate had been sealed. I had to try it. Let's see how this one stacks up.

Citra Showers pours a slightly glowing and hazed golden color with a sturdy one-finger cream colored head. This beer looks awesome in the glass, and the lace it leaves with each sip is incredible. The smell is even better. If you love Citra hops, you can't not love the smell of this beer. Tropical and citrus notes explode out of the glass, giving you waves of candied grapefruit, mango, caramel, guava and spicy citrus zest. There's a slight rye note in the back as well. I wasn't much of a believer going into this one, but Good Lord, this smell!

The beer opens velvety on the palate with sweet mango and caramel notes coating your tongue right off the bat. Juicy grapefruit follows, along with some tangerine zest and a slight rye spiciness. The finish brings the barest trace of bitterness in the form of grapefruit pith resin.The mouthfeel is slightly creamy and holds the sweeter flavors in here together beautifully. Everything here is balanced, delicious, and insanely well put together. What a freaking beer. Believe the hype, people. Citra Showers is for real.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 126

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

FiftyFifty Brewing Company - Imperial Eclipse Stout (Four Roses Bourbon)

We're only a week into the new year and a lot has happened already. My girlfriend and I moved into a house; I finally realized I have too much beer after picking up my purchases for the year at The Bruery; we got adopted by a neighborhood black cat that I've named Sundown AND I was able to find a bottle of something that I've been wanting to try for a while- FiftyFifty's Four Roses Eclipse. I've only tried the two Elijah Craig variants of Eclipse to date, so I was excited to branch out a little bit with this one.

As the name might suggest, Eclipse pours a deep charcoal color with just a thin sand-colored head. The beer poured a tad thin, but each sip yielded a nice curtain of lace, so I didn't think I had much to worry about mouthfeel-wise on this. The smell was a bit faint, but after letting it warm up for about half an hour, it started to open up a lot. Notes of rich cocoa laced with bourbon began to emerge from the glass along with some honey, roasted malt, charred wood and just a touch of dark fruit. Pretty nice.

Roasted malt and honey were the first things I picked up in the taste and they worked together really nicely. Some toasted brown sugar, milk chocolate, molasses and just a touch of char could be found in there as well. There's just a tickle of bourbon in there as well, with a finish that definitely leans towards the barrel. If there's one thing lacking here, it's definitely the mouthfeel. This beer just feels too light. I don't expect beer like this to have the consistency of used engine oil, but the flavors of this beer just beg to be coupled with a fuller mouthfeel. Overall, this is a tasty beer, but I just can't justify the price when there are so many beers out there (see: Caldera's Mogli) for much cheaper that are also better. Unless I find more variants on tap somewhere (or unless the price gets chopped in half), this is likely the last time I'll be buying Eclipse.

Final Grade: B+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 126