Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Koby the Awesome Dog (...and The Rare Barrel - Map of the Sun)

I've never really gotten people who think that they have to be either "cat people" or "dog people." Why does it have to be one or the other? Cats vs. Dogs isn't exactly on the same level as Axis vs. Allies (at least in my mind), so I've always tried to remain as neutral as possible. If you really must know, here's where I stand: There are jerk cats and there are jerk dogs. There are awesome cats and there are awesome dogs. I am firmly pro-awesome animal and I've seen I've seen enough of both jerk cats and jerk dogs to know if you're lucky enough to end up with an good pet (cat or dog), you should feel fortunate. Currently I have an awesome cat. And up until today, my family had an awesome dog. And that awesome dog is the reason for this post.

Koby Vanos was born (we think) around the year 2000. She came into our lives as a puppy, along with her brother from another mother, Reggie, that year by complete chance. A family friend found Koby and Reggie abandoned, but together, huddled under a tomato plant in their yard. Hoping someone else would want them, our friend brought the puppies to a Christmas party and we ended up with them.

Koby and Reggie came together, but they couldn't have been more different. Reggie is a half dachsund, half chihuahua who is proud, rambunctious, intelligent and just a little bit paranoid. He can be sweet, but he has always shown signs of abuse from before we knew him. If you try to pet his head, he ducks. If you offer too much attention, he shrinks away. We've always loved him, but he's not the kind of dog that reciprocates it the way many pet owners would like. He's not going to show up at your feet while you're watching TV and snuggle you. He's not going to get excited and spin around in circles in front of you, hoping for your approval. He's just not that kind of dog. If he had a celebrity doppelganger, it would probably be someone like Janine Garofalo. Kind of a downer, sarcastic, a little dumpy, but also likeable in a weird way. That's Reggie. And that not Koby at all.

Koby came to us an unbridled, irresistible, and undeniably fun puppy of questionable lineage (she looked like a miniature dingo and no vet could pinpoint what mix of breeds she occurred by). Goofy, optimistic, maybe not as well endowed in the intelligence department as most dogs, and impossible not to love, Koby was as fun as any dog I've met. If you showed up at our door, it didn't matter if she had seen you a hundred times or if it was the first time you two had met, you were her best friend. Tail wagging, tongue out and barking excitedly, she greeted everyone who came to our door like they were her favorite person in the world. She loved being pet, loved attention and loved people. And it was really, really hard to not love her back.

Years and years passed and Koby began to show the effects of age, but her personality never wavered. Even though her hips started deteriorating long ago, causing her to move like Keith Richards after a long night out, she would always rush to greet anyone who came to the door just like she did when she was a puppy. The last few months, she was sustained by pain pills as much as food and was breaking down faster than a twenty year old Pinto, but her energy and happiness still couldn't be contained. She was undeniable, she was so much fun to be around and she was beautiful until she finally passed away today.

I don't know what an appropriate way to celebrate the life of a pet looks like (especially a pet as great as Koby). It's probably not in the form of a beer. But, through a good friend, Eddie, I happened upon a beer that's as good a reminder of Koby as anything I've come across in recent memory, so it just felt right to open today.

Rare Barrel's Map of the Sun is a sour blonde ale aged on apricots that pours a beautiful golden color. The nose sparkles with ripe peach and tart apricot flesh notes. The flavors in here are bright and beautiful. Juicy apricot and nectarine, a touch of lemon meringue and some light acidity. The finish is smooth with just a touch of underripe apricot skin tartness. It's a bright, clean, tart and very delicious beer that I can imagine Koby the dog loving if she had been born Koby the person.

So here's to you, Koby. Your energy and goofiness was contagious, your outlook on life was enviable, and the amount of happiness you brought to our family was unquantifiable. You were an awesome animal and an awesome friend that we were so lucky to cross paths with. And I won't forget you for as many more trips around the sun as I may be fortunate to have.

Final Grade (for the beer): A

Final Grade (for the dog): A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 107

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Prairie Artisan Ales - Apple Brandy Barrel Noir

I'm probably not the harshest critic out there, but I would say that it takes a lot for a brewery to gain my trust. There are just too many inconsistent breweries out there. But if you release solid beer after solid beer, it becomes harder to say no to your new offerings and you eventually approach the status of a brewery like Prairie, who I now find myself pretty much powerless to say no to.

From their criminally underrated Prairie Standard to their much talked about Bomb!, Oklahoma's Prairie Artisan Ales has made a pretty huge impact since storming into the craft beer scene a few years back. And with their goofy labels and impossible to resist merchandise (see pictured glass. Like I was going to say no to a dinosaur tasting glass...), their marketing alone makes them stand out from the rest of the craft beer crowd. But unlike so many others who have delivered in looks but stumbled in quality (looking your direction, Rogue), Prairie seems to deliver a fantastic product every time. Their latest offering is Apple Brandy Barrel Noir. And pretty much as soon as it was released, it hit the Top 250. At #209 (and heavily trending), Apple Brandy Barrel Noir.

Apple Brandy Barrel Noir pours a rich brown color that becomes almost charcoal once it settles in the glass. A creamy, mocha-colored head rises quickly and leaves some thick spackles of lace behind with each sip. The nose is an otherworldly blend of rich, dense and spicy oak barrel notes, a good dose of sweet apple brandy with just a touch of heat and some baker's chocolate. There's just a hint of caramelized pear in there as well.

Upfront, you get a good smack of apple brandy with just a slimmer of heat. Behind that, there's a great charred barrel note, burned brownies, fudge, roasted malt and a dry, slightly boozy finish. The mouthfeel is medium and just a touch slick. Overall, just a beautiful look at what barrel aging can do to a beer. Prairie strikes again!

Final Grade: A

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 115

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Lost Abbey - Duck Duck Gooze

Oh, hey there! It's been a little while. A lot has happened over here in the past few months, most notably (for me, at least) my engagement to my amazing girlfriend of six years, Bailey. I don't think there's anyone who knows me quite as well as she does, and I don't know that many things illustrate that as well as the story I'm about to tell you.

It started 5 years ago, when I first began delving into (I'd say experimenting with, but that makes it sound like I was trying out black tar heroin) craft beer. The more I was drawn into craft beer, the more great San Diego beers I wanted to try. And there was one, high up on Beer Advocate's Top 250 List, that I just couldn't get my hands on- Lost Abbey's Duck Duck Gooze.

As it turns out, there was a pretty good reason I wasn't finding Duck Duck Gooze- it was pretty much a ghost by the time I had heard of it. It's a brewery only release that Lost Abbey had only released once (at that time) in 2009. And because they didn't have multiple batches going at the same time AND because it's a gueuze (a blend of 1 year old, 2 year old and 3 year old lambics), I was pretty much S.O.L. for at least 3 years while they made another batch.

It turned out to be 4 years. In 2013, Lost Abbey finally announced they would be releasing Batch #2 of Duck Duck Gooze. It would be sold online and then bottles would be available for pickup on one day only during a release party...which happened to be on the day we were planning on going to the wedding of a close friend in Central California. Not good. I was totally screwed. Unless I got super lucky, I was going to have to wait until the next release in 2016 or 2017 for a chance to try Duck Duck Gooze.

Or so I thought... As it turns out, Bailey worked in a preschool that had some parents who were pretty high up in the San Diego craft beer food chain. She, and her awesome friend, Michelle, were able to pull some strings and gave me the biggest surprise I've probably ever received on my birthday that year- Duck Duck Gooze. And it was from the first bottling in 2009. So thanks to my amazing fiancee, I'm happy to finally present #20, Duck Duck Gooze.

Duck Duck Gooze pours a dark golden, almost copper color with a thin-off white head that settles down pretty quickly. When you smell it, you're met with a nice blast of cheesy funk right away. Beneath that is a nice lactic tartness, a big hit of lemon, light oak and just a hint of apple cider vinegar.

The taste opens with a nice, juicy push of Granny Smith apple tartness, lemon and underripe D'Anjou pear. There's a smooth middle with a touch of oak and lemon meringue, followed by a lingering lemon flesh finish that sticks with you forever. The finish brings just a touch of white wine barrel, cherry skin and a breath of brett.

Overall, this beer is fantastic. It walks the fine line between sour and funky that most gueuzes seem to fall on one side of. This doesn't have the sourness of Cable Car, but it's also not the funk bomb that Drie Fonteinen's Oude Gueuze can be. It's right in the middle and it just keeps pummeling you with new flavors on each sip, none of them bad. It's one of the best beers I've ever come across and I'm so glad that I finally got the chance to try this. You're the best, Bailey!

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 114

Note: Since the last time I posted, there have been some major changes to the Top 250 List. Unfortunately, a good amount of beers I had tried on there have disappeared. But fear not, my friends. We press on!