Saturday, August 25, 2007

Vintage suprise

I recently had a chance to try a very tasty bottle of Trader Joe’s 2006 Vintage Ale, which is brewed by Unibroue and is an exceptionally good buy if you can get to a TJ’s. It has a very nice dark caramel color and starts out with an interesting nose that almost reminds you of root beer, but then gets more and more complex as the hints of holiday spice begin to come through. Unibroue is a Canadian brewery that makes a selection of exceptionally high quality Belgian style beers. I don’t think you will be disappointed if you give it a try.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Newton's Norcal Beer Journey, Day 1 - Eel River

Hi everyone, I type this entry from a lovely Travelodge in Eureka, CA. As you can see from the marquee advertising cable TV, I am living large. The reason I'm up here is that I recently decided to venture through northern California for 4 days, 3 nights and visit ~12 microbreweries. Also, I decided to go it alone for two reasons:

1) Everyone's working except me.
2) I can't remember the last time I had some alone time.

So this morning, I hopped in the Geo Prizm and drove 5.5 hours up to Humboldt county to kick-off a slow southbound trickle through northern California beer country. Hell yeah.

I'm going to divide my trip report into many small chunks to accomodate the short attention spans of the internet generation. Chances are you didn't even get this far, and you're playing some flash game where you're trying to chuck crap at Lindsay Lohan.

On to the beer.

First stop was Eel River Brewing in Fortuna, CA. Eel River bills themselves as America's first certified organic brewery. Upon entering what looked like a converted barn (very well converted I might add), the first thing I noticed was the huge number of awards for their beers. Definitely a positive sign.

Still not really understanding the concept of pacing oneself, I decided to go with the sampler. I won't talk about all 6 beers here, but here are some notables:

- For some odd reason, the seasonal was actually just a half IPA, half blonde mixture. Interesting idea, very bready flavor, but not much in the way of hops.
- The amber was light on aroma, but was really well balanced between malt and hops. The malt had a ever-so-slightly roasty flavor to it, reminiscent of Fat Tire.
- The porter again was a little light on aroma, but had some incredible coffee flavors followed by a mouthful of mild smokiness (without tasting like a bonfire of burning leaves). Good stuff.

I also picked up a bomber (22 oz. bottle) of their imperial stout. Haven't tried it, and I've resist ed the urge to drink it alone in my hotel (er, motel) room, so I have no notes on it.

Next up, Mad River Brewing in Blue Lake.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

SF Beer Fest

Last weekend I attended the SF International Beer Festival at the Fort Mason Pavilion. I don't have my pictures downloaded from the event, but to give you an idea of how huge this event is, here's a picture I found from someone's Flickr site:

Beer Fest Pic

As you can see, this event is HUGE. Almost 200 breweries and probably thousands of people attend each year. Surprisingly, the crowd is almost 50% female.

Let me start by saying that this is the 4th or 5th year I've been to this event, and each time I go it's one of the highlights of the year. All-you-can-drink microbrews and good food - how can you go wrong? However, as I've developed a more discerning beer pallette, the event has definitely lost some of its luster. Also, although there are tons of breweries, it's getting to the point where there aren't many interesting beers I haven't tried at the event. I like to think of trying good beer as a subject in my academic life, and I dedicate time to it accordingly.

With that said, here are a few high and low points that stick out in my mind:

Mateveza Yerba Mate Ale - This beer unites yerba mate, the S. American tea, with hops, barley, and yeast to produce an organic and naturally caffeinated beer. The result? A beer with a decent initial flavor that is soon dominated by bitterness reminiscent of chewed aspirin. Definite bitter beer face. Some might actually like it, but the bitterness was way to sharp and unbalanced for me.

San Quentin Breakout Stout - A strong offering from Marin Brewing Co., this beer had everything I like in an American stout - a creamy head that lasts, light coffee and chocolate aromas and flavors, and a slightly thicker body. If you see this one around, be sure to give it a try.

Blue Frog Double IPA - As a giant fans of hoppiness done right, I had really high hopes for this one. The best double IPA's that I've have a harmonious blend of malt and hop flavors, and copious amounts of both. Unfortunately, it was not a pleasant experience. There was a strange cloyingly sweet maltiness followed by some alcohol heat and some hop bitterness, but these factors seemed to clash rather than compliment. It was okay for a few taster, but would probably become tough to drink after more than that.

So to sum up:
  • Although I didn't talk about them, there were plenty of fantastic beers there. The problem is that I drink them all regularly so I avoided them at the festival. Regardless, it's very apparent that craft beer is growing stronger every year.
  • The uber-hoppiness trend continues to proliferate here on the west coast. However, it apparently takes a lot of skill to balance a real hop monster as a lot of the new hoppier beers I tried weren't so good.
  • I had a fantastic time and will be back again next year, hopefully with more beer club representation!
After the event, I headed to Zeitgeist where they always have quality beer on tap. But that will be a post for another day.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Pacific Coast Brewing Co.

Checked out Pacific Coast Brewing Co. in Oakland today. Had a Northwest feel to it with brick walls and big windows, complete with nautical artwork throughout. Loren thought it was more Boston, although he's never been to Portland or Seattle, and I've never been to Boston, so that basically makes him wrong and me right.

Newton kicked it off with a Racer X--claimed it was two times as good as Racer V, and promptly called Joe L to taunt him. About the beer: "mmmmmm... very herbal, slightly citrusy; tastes like happiness." It had an exquisite color- the late-afternoon sun beamed through the half-oblong copa, radiating a deep brownish red glow. The beauty of a good amber.

Loren stepped up with the sampler--a brilliant move. I don't even know where to begin describing his selection. Colorful would be one way. One of the beers, the Emerald, was crystal clear and a deep bronze. The clarity and hue bore resemblance of a precious gem. It was pleasant to the taste. Loren's reaction: "Wow. Slightly medicinal and alcoholic, but in a good way." Newton detected a spiciness, while Loren's second go round detected a similarity to apple.

I went with the cask brew of the day... the Millenium IPA. Definitely fruity, warmer than almost any beer I've ever had fresh from the tap (too warm, in fact). Had the essence of butter toffee, or perhaps honeysuckle. I enjoyed it, but I don't think I'd have another on the same day.

Random thought: we're thinking we need to go around and smell some hops and barley to re-orient our beer senses.

Also tried the Blue Whale Ale... overall a great beer. Hoppier than the millennium, a real beer taste.

Brendan's selection was a strong, dark pour. "Perfect size, perfect beer, perfect everything"--the Leviathan Russian Stout.

My final beer was the Gray Whale. The color was slightly lighter than the blue whale, but not quite as clear. Similar to the Millennium in flavor, but not as fruity. Well balanced and worthy of another round, but not today.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lanesplitter Redux

Sure as school's back in session, we're back at Lanesplitter. We've got a good crew here today, the Joes, Newton, Loren and myself. We all finished a midterm today, so we thought it the perfect occasion for a Haas Beer Industry Club meeting of the minds [read: happy hour]. I talked up the LS enough after the last outing to compel Newton into an "incredible craving" for a return visit. So here we are.

As per, my first selection was the cask conditioned variety. Afternoon Bitter Brew from Moonlight in Santa Rosa. It didn't have the head of a quality cask pour, but it was the perfect temperature. It had a beautiful amber hue and went down smooth as velvet. Seavey also went with the Bitter Brew, and thought it, well, it left him speechless.

Newton crashed the party with a big ol' pitcher of Russian River Damnation, a Belgian Ale. It had a citrus aroma, light in color, with a nutmeg yeasty overtone. Lazar felt it had a well-balanced hoppiness.

Anderson Valley Belks ESB was next up for me. It was the lightweight cousin to the more mature Boondt Amber, one of my all-time favs. A delicious beer, great medium color and a crisp, refreshing flavor. Definitely would recommend this brew.

Loren went for the Death and Taxes, and described it as dark, like tax day. He spoke of a hint of coffee with a definite bite. Newton detected a whiff of molasses, and his taste this time around improved upon a previous memory.

Loren enjoyed a Porter... Iron Springs--I detected a touch of chinese herbs. It was certainly a strong porter.

My last selection was from Bear Republic, a brewery in Mendocino. It had a rich deep color... like the study of a railroad tycoon. I would definitely drink this beer again; it was hearty at 7%+ but not too intense.

We'll be hitting the Bears Lair for Days@Haas on Friday... I'm sure there will be a good beer or two to be had there...


Pizza and Beer (hold the pizza)

One of the best spots in Berkeley for pizza and good beer is Lanesplitter Pizza and Pub. Over spring break Sleave and I headed out to the location on San Pablo (you'd never know it's there unless you were looking for it) and enjoyed several regional delights. My first inclination is usually to go for whatever is on nitro, or cask conditioned. Cask conditioned beers are usually so smooth you don't even know your drinking them. Another thing I don't mind about them is they are usually a touch warmer than most draughts. Call me crazy but it just tastes right.

The first sampling was the Russian River on the cask. It was hoppy, and actually a bit cold. It was light in color, and had a nice head, typical of most brews on nitro. A great start to the evening.

My second offering was a Santa Rosa lager called Death and Taxes... apparently there's a 65 yr old dude that crafts his own and sells it to some of the local establishments. It was dark, but refreshing. Don't know that I'd have it again (of course that's a relative phrase), but delicious nonetheless.

Next up was Twist of Fate... It had a mild hoppiness, and I would characterize it as malty, kind of like a red--actually it was reasonably red in color. It gave off a hint of sweet hops but I wouldn't say it was a sweet beer. Joe described it as somewhat like bbq sauce. It smells faintly like a stout, like a light stout, or a thin stout. All these beers we've had are complex--fun to drink and challenging to describe. They've definitely been serious beers; beer club beers.

I had a sample of Joe's Scotch Ale... it was sweet meaning sweet not sweet meaning neat.

My last beverage was a Drake's Blonde. A perfect beer to end on; mostly light yet flavorful. Floral, really. Almost a breakfast drink, but still a quality beer.

So I highly recommend Lanesplitter, if you're hungry the pizza will do the trick, but I'd go there more for the beer.