Beer of the Month: Hops of Wrath from Dust Bowl Brewing

The Beer is of the Month is Hops of Wrath from Dust Bowl Brewing.   I’ve enjoyed a few over the past three years while visiting my kids since the time my ex-wife took the kids to Modesto.

When that happened, I wanted to hate Modesto. Before then, I lived on the San Francisco Peninsula and the kids were only a short five minute drive away. When I started seeking ways to spend additional time with my kids, my ex-wife resisted, so I started pursuing legal channels.   Shortly thereafter, my ex-wife announced her husband just got a job near Modesto and she was taking the kids with her.  That seemed too much of a coincidence to me.  It is not wise to discuss these things in great detail on blogs but let’s just say things got pretty messy and some lawyers made good money over the deal.  In the end, an independent arbitrator allowed my ex-wife to take the kids to Modesto, but also allowed me to spend more time with them.

Part of that additional time was spending Wednesday evening in Modesto with my kids. Having never been there before, I figured Modesto was some dusty Central Valley town out in the middle of nowhere.  And indeed, I discovered Modesto to be this dusty Central Valley town out in the middle of nowhere.  But somehow, the place grew on me.  Modesto has this unassuming humbleness and unstated pride in its normalcy, an exotic ordinariness few places posses. Everyone seems to like being in Modesto a lot more than they have any reason to.

Or maybe Modesto simply represents an important time and place where festering family discord finally healed and the kids and I had some great times.   Helping my kids with their homework in Modesto’s library, going on a stroll with them through Scenic Oaks Park, and taking the kids bowling at McHenry Bowl are some of the many great memories I’ll take away from Modesto. Sometimes when we’d go out to dinner, I’d enjoy a Pint of Hops of Wrath.  A couple times we even made it to Dust Bowl Brewing’s brew pub just down the road in Turlock.

When people talk about the great California IPA’s, Hops of Wrath usually isn’t in the discussion.  It ought to be, standing up to the best California IPA’s from far sexier places like San Francisco, Santa Rosa or San Diego.  Its hop flavors are sharp, clear, and very directed with lots of pine and grapefruit peel character.   It’s a pretty dry IPA with a little caramel malt to round out the flavors, resulting in a rather unbalanced IPA, which in this case is a very good thing.  More than a beer, Hops of Wrath represents the fact that good things happen in unlikely places.

My ex-wife and I get along a lot better these days and she just moved back into the Bay Area to San Rafael.  My kids are closer now so I’m pretty happy about this, but it means I won’t be going to Modesto anymore.  I’m going to miss that place.

PS – I won’t be going to Modesto but maybe I won’t have to get Hops of Wrath.  Dust Bowl Brewing recently announced a major brewery expansion.  Here’s hoping Hops of Wrath and some of the other excellent Dust Bowl brews start showing up in the Bay Area.

The Modesto Arch.

Beer of the Month: Hop Cuvee from Bison Brewing

For an article on organic beer in the upcoming issue of Adventure Sports Journal, I did a fair amount of “research” by sampling a bunch of organic brews. One that clearly stood out was bison Bison Brewing’s Hop Cuvee.

It’s a beer that couldn’t possibility exist a couple years, at least in organic form.  It’s brewed with organic Citra and Simcoe hops which have only been certified organic in the last couple years. Centennial hops and a couple other hop varieties are also added into the mix.  The light malt and dry character allow the hops to shine in all their grapefruity and piney character.  If you ask me, Hop Cuvee stands up with the best of the West Coast IPAs.

There was a time only a few years ago that organic beers were rather limited in scope, often found only in styles such as ambers or stouts.  This was largely due to the fact that organic hops were hard to come by, and often had to be imported from New Zealand or England.  The development of a nascent organic hop industry in the Pacific Northwest has changed that. Bison Brewing owner Daniel Del Grange has been a part of that change, organizing organic brewers all over the United States over the past decade to show hop growers the full demand for organic hops. Hop growers have responded, increasing their organic acreage and certifying new popular hop varieties such as Citra, Cascade and Simcoe.  The result is that organic brewers can can create a much broader spectrum of flavors than ever before.

That’s a good thing because drinking organic takes a lot of chemicals out of our ecosystem that would be otherwise used to produce non-organic beer.  According to Bison’s website, each individual who drinks a six-pack of organic beer a week forces the conversation of 1,700 square feet to organic barley agriculture.   From this figure, I calculate that if only 1% of California’s 38 million residents substituted an organic beer for a non-organic beer twice a month, it would force the conversion of 1,140 acres of land to organic agriculture.

Using data from the USDA on the fertilizers and pesticides used in non-organic barley farming, I estimate this small change in California beer consumption would remove 41 tons of Nitrate, 17 tons of Phosphate, 14 tons of Potash, and 12 tons of Sulfur fertilizer from our country’s eco-system, while eliminating over 1.6 tons of pesticides.  

So take this as a gentle nudge from your truly to encourage you drink a little more organically.  Not only will you be removing chemicals out of ecosystem, there’s plenty of good organic brews out there.  You’ll find few better brews, organic or non-organic, than Bison Brewing’s Hop Cuvee.

Beer of the Month: Maduro Brown from Cigar City Brewing

How many Brown Ales have you tried that gave you the “Wow” factor?  I can’t think of too many myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the style that’s way under appreciated. But even I must admit a good Brown Ale is more like “background music” than a beer that commands your immediate attention.

Maduro Brown from Cigar City Brewing is that rare exception.  I picked this one up a local supermarket last month during the family vacation.  I know Cigar City makes a bunch of special releases that beer geeks gush over but really wasn’t expecting that much from this Brown Ale in their regular line-up.   I just figured it would go well with the burgers we were having for dinner.  It caught my notice at first sip and would go well with just about anything.

It’s rich, silky smooth, full of complex flavors of toffee and chocolate.   Cigar City adds flaked oats into the grain bill to give it that wonderful texture and tie all the great roasted flavors together. One of the best Brown Ales I’ve ever had and another good reason to go back to Florida.  

Beer of the Month: Apex IPA from Bear Republic

After cooing over the subtleties and nuances of a couple of pale yellow brews for the last Beers of the Month, it’s high time I choose one that will put some hair on your chest.  So this time around, I’m going with Bear Republic’s Apex IPA.  Apex IPA is a testament to both Bear Republic’s hop alchemy and truth in advertising, as Apex does indeed reach the ultimate height the West Coast IPA can possibly reach.

I knew this was going to be good the nanosecond all those wonderful grapefruit aromas hit my nose. Behind all those aromas were flavors of great depth and brightness of grapefruit and floral notes produced by a blend of Cascade, Columbus, Centennial, Cinook, Mosaic and (whew!) Citra hops. Underneath all those hops is a dry, hefty neutral malt backbone fully supporting all those hops while letting all their flavor notes shine through.  At 8.95% abv, it’s either a strong IPA or a light Imperial IPA.  You decide.

Bear Republic has been brewing Apex for a few years and even won Silver at the 2006 Great American Beer Festival but this is the first year they started bottling it.  This is seriously the West Coast IPA all other West Coast IPA’s should aspire to.  So, if you ever meet one of those jaded beer hipsters that tell you “Pliny the Younger isn’t that good”, you’ll know they’ve had an Apex.  Or at least they should have.

Beer of the Month: Buzzerkeley from Calicraft Brewing

There are beers that simply taste amazing. There are beers that are novel and unique. And then there are beers that cause one to re-think what beer is. Buzzerkeley is one of those rare beers that is all three.

It’s the flagship beer of Calicraft, a relative newcomer to the Bay Area brewing scene, that hails from Berkeley. Brewmaster Blain Landberg started brewing in his UC-Berkeley dorm room, which almost got him kicked out of college, if the Calicraft website can be believed.  But enough about the brewmaster’s youthful indiscretions, let’s talk about his beer.

Buzzerkeley, a light golden ale, brewed with copious amounts of California Starthistle honey and fermented with Champagne yeast, is a study in subtlety.  There’s that yeasty toastiness and tingly carbonation one finds in a good Champagne.  A light spicy and fruity character with a bit of a sour tang and floral notes from the honey complete the experience.  It’s extremely dry due to the Champagne yeast, giving it a crispness and allowing all the muted flavors to shine through.

It’s subtle and restrained, yet somehow, there’s plenty going on.   It’s not wine, but arguably isn’t beer either. It’s light and refreshing, yet deep and complex.  It pushes the envelope, but retains a familiarity within its uniqueness.  For every yin, there’s a harmonizing yang.

I suppose that’s what you might expect from something out of Berkeley.

Beer of the Month: New Almaden Imperial Red Ale from Santa Clara Valley Brewing

Our Beer of the Month for March comes from a brewery that seems like it’s been around for a couple years, but only started brewing late last spring. It’s from Santa Clara Valley Brewing, formed by multi-GABF award winning brewer Steve Donohue and Apple Executive Tom Clark.  Their Electric Tower IPA drew plenty of raves, including one from yours truly, and Electric Tower tap handles have been popping up all over the South Bay.

Their recently released New Almaden Imperial Red proves Santa Clara Valley Brewing is no one hit wonder.    There’s plenty of malt, giving it a creamy mouth feel and lots of roasty and earthy flavors but hefty additions hops create citrus flavors pushing through all that malt goodness, resulting in a beer with plenty of bold flavors.  For all its strength and assertiveness, it’s also surprisingly smooth.  I hesitate to describe a beer at 10.0% abv as drinkable, but it’s certainly an easy sipper.

The name comes from one of my favorite places to the run in the Bay Area.   Reddish, cinnabar mercury ore was mined at New Almaden just south of South Jose starting in the late 1800’s  primarily for gold extraction to support the gold discoveries east of Sacramento.  You can find ruins of these mines at Almaden Quicksilver Park, which has numerous trails, rugged hills and spectacular view for excellent trail running.  Every Saturday and Sunday morning, plenty of running groups will gather at the MacAbee Road entrance to “do Quicksilver”.  I’ve also taken the family for hikes there many times as it’s a great place to learn our region’s history, enjoy nature, take in excellent views of nearby Mount Unumhum and challenge yourself on the trails if you’re so inclined.

Turns out, I’m not the only South Bay blogger that enjoys New Almaden Imperial Red and Almaden Quicksilver park.  Check out fellow South Bay Beer Blogger Brian Wimsett’s post on True Brew Too-Beer and Friends.

Mount Unumhum as seen from Almaden Quicksilver Park.
(Photo credit)

Beer of the Month: Sneak Attack Saison from 21st Amendment

Our Beer of the Month to start off 2014 comes from up the road in San Francisco.  It’s 21st Amendment’s Sneak Attack Saison.  This unlikely winter seasonal was first released last year and was given heavy Beer of the Month consideration back then.  Having enjoyed many a glass of this brew once again this winter, it seemed I had no choice but to grant Beer of the Month status to Sneak Attack.  And so I did.

Saisons are traditionally a summer beer style, the name coming from the French word for “season” with this lighter, often yeastier style of beer brewed for the consumption of summer farm workers in the French countryside.  Sneak Attack is not all that yeasty, but brewed with cardamom, has great tangy, spicy flavors with slight lemon note and a lightly herbal finish.   This flavorful and refreshing winter seasonal is ironically perfect for this hot and nearly rainless Northern California winter.  It almost makes you forget California’s severe drought conditions.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a 21st Amendment Beer without the fun, historically inspired can art.  The bare-chested George Washington stoically crossing the Delaware River in his swim trucks to surprise the British is one of 21st Amendment’s best labels from a brewery that comes up with plenty of clever ones.

Sneak Attack Saison:  In many ways, the perfect beer to celebrate our California “winter”.