Beer of the Month: Buckwheat Ale from Dust Bowl Brewing

Buckwheat Ale on the bar at Dust Bowl Brewing

Our Beer of the Month is from a brewery I’ve been trying to get to for a long time.  It’s Dust Bowl Brewing in Turlock, CA.  Turlock, located 10 miles south of Modesto in California’s Central Valley, is not a place most people go.  In fact, it’s doubtful I’d ever stop there except my ex-wife moved to Modesto a couple years ago and I’ve gone there many times to spend time with my kids ever since.  I’ve heard a lot of good things about Dust Bowl Brewing from people like Beer Samizdat and Brewtographer and have long wanted to go there.  I’ve also enjoyed a couple bottles of their flagship Hops of Wrath, a nice balanced IPA with plenty of complex hop character.  But when I’m spending time with my kids I don’t see often enough, I don’t go beer hunting, so never made it to the brewery. 

The good news is that I recent finally found some extra time to get to Dust Bowl on my own and I’m pleased to say, the beers live up to the hype. I quickly made up for lost time and ordered a sampler of five of their beers to go with a club sandwich.  All of their beers were good, and some quite good.  Brewmaster Dan Oliver is quoted on the website as saying, “We love those layers. You’ll never find our brews to have a singular flavor.”  Which pretty accurately sums up his beers in my opinion.  There was a lot going on in each glass and it was all well balanced.

One of their more interesting ones was called “German IPA”.  I liked the flavorful combination of the crisp, light dry malt, with a restrained use floral and light citrus hops.  If the IPA style had originated in Germany, I think it would taste something like this. 

But my favorite Dust Bowl beer was their Buckwheat Ale, made with no less than five malts, including 15% buckwheat in the grain bill.  It’s malty, smooth, dry, slightly tangy brew with an earthy buckwheat character.  It’s got only 25 IPU’s and an abv of 5.9% if you’re in to those sort of numbers.  Rarely do brewers use buckwheat, but a lot more would if they tasted this.   With so many of California’s breweries trying to one up each other with wild and crazy uses of hops, it’s refreshing to see a brewery going a different directions, getting creative with malt and coming up with something unique, flavorful and drinkable.

So let’s raise a Buckwheat Ale and celebrate the fact that often great beer come from unexpected places and ingredients.

You can’t go wrong with any Dust Bowl beer.  Beer of the Month
Buckwheat Ale is in the middle.

Beer of the Month: Ghost Rider White IPA from Wasatch Brewing

A couple times a year I travel to Utah on business and you know one of the best things about Utah?  The beer.  Yes, the beer.  In a state known for nagging, annoying and bewildering beer regulations, somehow brewing has flourished in this state.  There’s no better example than our Beer of the Month, Ghost Rider White IPA from Wasatch Brewing.

This brew combines tanginess from the wheat with floral notes from the hops and a little spiciness from coriander to create a distinctive, complex yet balanced brew.  White IPA’s are sort of the rage these days, with lots of brewers taking a riff on the popular IPA style by taking a wit beer (also a popular style) and adding a bunch of hops to it.  Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t.   Beers like Ghost Rider prove that when brewers continue to push the envelope, good things happen even in places like Utah where the deck is stacked against them.

Maybe it’s the dramatic, wide open skies of Utah that inspire all those great Utah breweries.

The wide open morning skies of Logan, UT

Beer of the Month: 395 IPA from Mammoth Brewing

For October, the title of Beer of the Month is bestowed onto 395 IPA from Mammoth Brewing, which I picked up on a trip to Yosemite National Park the weekend of September 28-29th.   Mammoth intentionally keeps their operation small, and you can’t get their beer outside of their small distribution region in and around the Yosemite Valley, so tasting some Mammoth brews unavailable back home was a nice little side benefit of the trip. This beer, named after a road running by the National Park, has long been a favorite beer of mine.  It’s one of the more unique IPA’s you’ll find, brewed with mountain desert sage and mountain juniper berries.    There’s a light toastiness from the malt, a noticeable gin note from the juniper berries, and dominant citrus flavor from the hops.  It’s a dry IPA that lets of that complexity flow, and tastes smooth despite a strong hop whollop.

I make an annual trip to Yosemite with friends and family to experience the surreal scenery, full of shear cliffs, dramatic waterfalls, and towering peaks.  I’m especially proud of my ten year old daughter and twelve year old autistic son who tackled a six mile hike through steep, rocky to Vernal Falls high above the valley with my wife and I.  It was great family experience exploring one of America’s revered places and learning a lot about ourselves.  We finished this trip in the nick of time because shortly after that, the Washington dysfunction all too common these days shut the Federal Government down and Yosemite National Forest with it.

You’re probably as sick of this shut-down mess as I am, and it’s doubtful anything I write here is going to change your mind or break the gridlock in Washington.  I avoid delving into politics on my blog as beer and running draw people in from all walks of life and all are welcome on the open roads or to share a pint.  I’m one of those damn liberals, so you can probably figure out where I stand.

So I’d like to make this gentle reminder that Yosemite was long ago preserved by far-sighted minds in our Federal Government who saw a problem and addressed it, and pretty much everyone thinks they did a good job about it.  While rewarding family vacations are important, what’s more important are our livelihoods which require a functional Federal Government.   An unintended consequence of the shutdown is that we all gained a new appreciation of what the Federal Government does for us every day, even if we don’t like paying our taxes or dealing with rules. 

So I’m optimistic that a year from now when our family comes back to Yosemite, saner heads will prevail and our country will be both better and wiser from our collective experience, as contentious and destructive as things are right now.  I’ll drink a 395 IPA to that.

This land was made for you and me.

Beer of the Month: Sante Adairius’s Nonna’s #4 Sour Brown Ale

Yes, I’m still on this Santa Cruz brewery kick.  Maybe I just have a fascination with that quirky city over the hill.  Or maybe it’s because they make a lot of damn good beer down there.  Whatever the reason, our Beer of the Month hails from Sante Adairius Rustic Ales in Capitola. 

There’s been enough buzz about Sainte Adairius since it was founded last year that it was getting increasingly embarrassing to admit I hadn’t been there yet.  Of course, given that few breweries could live up to considerable hype over Sante Adairius, there was the fear the beer would be a let down when I finally got to taste what everyone’s been raving about. 

The good news is that wasn’t the case a couple weeks ago on a warm late summer afternoon when my wife and I strolled over to Sante Adairius tap room to find the place overflowing into the parking lot outside.  Everything we tried was pretty good to excellent and it’s hard to pick a favorite when more than a couple of their beers made our eyes open real wide and made us exclaim “Wow!” 

But forced to choose, I’ll take Nonna’s #4 Sour Brown Ale.  A sour brown sounds like a bad batch of homebrew I once made, but the idea makes a lot of sense when you think about a Flander’s Red Ale.  I loved the crisp, clean sourness with an underlying nuttiness to it.  It’s a struggle to define how it tastes, but often great beers are the ones that aren’t neatly broken down into flavor components. 

You can’t go wrong with any of Sante Adairius’s beers, but their 831 IPA is worth seeking out as well.  It’s a balanced, dry, musty and herbaceous brew that’s undeniably a tribute to the hop but it an way you’ve never tasted before.  And if you want to learn more about the brewery, check out this great interview from Beer Samizdat.

Beer of the Month: Second Conversation Belgian Stout from Discretion Brewing

I swiped this photo of Second Conversation off the
Discretion website, since the picture I tool of my
glass of it was so bad



A light crisp stout?  Well, not exactly but our Beer of the Month nearly attains this oxymoronic achievement in a good way.  I found Second Conversation Belgian Stout from Soquel’s Discretion Brewing is both excellent for was it is, and for what is isn’t.  It’s this great dry, crisp tasting stout with a light dose of bitter chocolate from Ecuadorian cocao nibs, Belgian Saison yeast aromatics and a little bit of dried fruit.  There’s a well balanced and unique combination of flavors working together, unlike some stouts which can be heavy, syrupy sweet or full of harsh roastiness.  Second Conversation is very drinkable yet interestingly complex.  I’d almost say it’s sessionable, except at 7.7% abv, it certainly isn’t.

Discretion Brewing is a new comer to the vibrant Santa Cruz brewing scene, which is quietly producing some of the more innovative beers in Northern California.  And there seems to be plenty of good conversations down at Discretion.  Discretion’s First Conversation Saison won Silver Medal at this year’s California State Fair, and their Third Conversation is a nifty session amber Saison (4.3% abv) you should also check out if you make to their tap room in Soquel.

I’ve gotten rather tired of all the attention hogging beers, you know, the one’s that scream “Look at me!  I have 179 ibu’s and I’m aged in used oaken soy sauce barrels!”  Beer is a social lubricant and you got to like beers such as those from Discretion which seem designed to facilitate just that.

Discretion’s Tap Room and Brewery (I took this picture
myself rather than steal it from someplace)

Beer of the Month: Strike Brewing Blonde

There are some breweries that need no introduction.  The South Bay’s Strike Brewing isn’t one of those breweries, but they need a lot less of an introduction than they did less than two years ago when they first started out.  I used to hunt down Strike in better bottle shops or high end boutique grocery stores.  Now, I can walk a block to my neighborhood Safeway in Campbell and pick up their beer.  And they’ve emerged from the Bay Area to start distribution in Southern California.  For those wanting the details on this brewery formed by three collegiate athletes, check out this interview back when they were first starting out.

With all the summer heat, my desire for massively hopped IPA’s or heavy imperial stouts has plummeted.   I’ve been drinking more of the lighter beers of summer and recently rediscovered Strike Blonde, one I’ve enjoyed for what seems like a very long time.   The beer has a crisp malt with this great grassy, slightly earthy vibe.  That’s it.  It’s simplicity works to it’s advantage.  Simple yet flavorful beers are underrated, and harder to brew than the big stouts or IPA’s that get all the beer geek buzz, since the brewing flaws have nowhere to hide.

There’s a reason it’s easier to find Strike these days.

Beer of the Month: Electric Tower IPA from Santa Clara Valley Brewing

When I finally got a chance to try Electric Tower IPA from Santa Clara Valley Brewing, I was actually afraid to drink it.  Sure, Brew Master Steve Donohue won four Great American Beer Festival medals at Sunnyvale’s Firehouse Grill before leaving to start Santa Clara Valley Brewing with Tom Clark so you figured it was going to be good.  Plenty of people got pretty excited when they announced in March their licensing was complete and they were going to commence brewing, including myself.  I even kept bugging Steve a few times on his Twitter account about when his first beer would come out.  With all that build up, my biggest fear was that no beer could really live up to all these expectations and by the time  I’d finally try it, it would be a let down.

Since you know Electric Tower IPA is Beer of the Month, you can figure out the rest.

Drawing of the Historical San Jose Electric Tower
(Wikipedia Common Image

Yes, Santa Clara Valley Brewing delivers the goods and then some, meeting all the high expectations with their initial release.  I could tell this was going to be a good just by opening the bottle.  Wonderful aromas of pine and mango greeted my noise.  Sipping the beer delivered more of the same, with its smooth and flavorful tropical mango, pineapple and resin-like pine flavors.  There’s a solid, lightly toasty malt foundation to this fairly dry beer as well, but as with any good West Coast IPA, the hops are doing all the talking.  

So what’s this Electric Tower all about anyway?  Back in 1881, a large electric tower was erected in San Jose, used for lighting up the city.  These were common in America cities in the late 1800’s, often called Moonlight Towers, as electrification began to sweep the country. San Jose’s tower was one of the largest ones of this era.  You might say it was the earliest example of Silicon’s Valley technical prowess.

Electric Tower IPA:  Another reason it’s good to live in the South Bay.