Beer of the Month: Hops on Rye from Firehouse Brewery

Firehouse Brewery’s Hops on Rye earns the title of Beer of the Month for November. This Rye IPA is one of those unique beers that defy simple description. It’s got a hefty amount of malt, with caramel and rye flavors up front, and a little sweetness. The malt balances well with all the hops that give the beer a piney and slightly menthol-like finish. Not only is it a great beer, it’s the first time Firehouse has ever bottled one of their beers. Since Firehouse has won medals at the Great American Beer Festival each of the last three years, you might say it’s about time their beers got more exposure. You can find it at Bay Area BevMo! and Whole Foods locations, as well at K&L Liquors in Redwood City. Renowned bottle shops City Beer and Beer Revolution also should have it before too long.

Firehouse Brewmaster Steve Donohue graciously provided a couple bottles at a recent meeting of the Bay Area Beer Bloggers held at Firehouse, where Devon, John Heylin, Brian Stechschulte, Peter Estaniel, Jen Buck McDaniel, Rich, David Jensen, and myself attended. It was a fun, enthusiastic, and vibrant bunch and I immensely enjoyed being a part of it. It was also rather interesting matching the real life personalities with each individual writing style.

So what actually happens at a Bay Area Beer Bloggers meeting anyway? You’ll be shocked to discover it basically involves a bunch of people chatting about beer and blogging while they sit around a table and drink beer. As a special bonus at the end of the evening, Steve Donohue took us into his brewery and showed us around the place he’s brewed those award winning beers.

But the beer blogging meeting was not all just about fun and beer. It served as a launch pad of scietific inquiry as Peter Estaniel, John Heylin, Steve Donohue and I contemplated the effect of dissolving Xenon gas into beer rather than the traditional Carbon Dioxide. And beer blogging proved to be an unstoppable force for peace and brotherhood, as Bruce Stechschulte, a graduate of the University of Michigan, and I, a graduate of their hated rival Ohio State University, still had an amicable discussion over a couple of pints, despite the fact that I’m a pretty fanatical Buckeye fan. One can imagine from this example how much destructive carnage and bloodshed could have been averted if only George W. Bush and Suddam Hussien had been beer bloggers.

Beer of the Month: Anchor Brewing’s Humming Ale

For the month of October, I bestow the honor of Beer of the Month of October to Anchor Brewing’s Humming Ale, their recently released fall seasonal brew. While Anchor Brewing has long been a craft brewing pioneer since Fritz Maytag rescued the brewery in the 60’s, they seemed a bit behind the craft beer curve, with a tried and true beer line-up, but nothing particularly new or original. That’s changed in 2010, with an excellent collaborative Imperial Stout with Sierra Nevada, and now Humming Ale, the first seasonal Anchor’s released since 2005.

And what a great, easy-drinking yet sophisticated brew this is. It’s rather fruity, with apricot and a little pineapple flavors, and then has this herbal, almost savory, slightly astringent hop finish. I found it well balanced, with a great composition of flavors that just seems to hit all the right notes.

Everyone seems to be holding their breath, wondering how the new ownership of Anchor will handle the national craft brewing treasure Fritz Maytag sold them. Seems like everything is working out all right so far.

Beer of the Month: 3-Way by Anderson Valley Brewing

Today, I grant Anderson Valley Brewing’s 3-Way the title of Beer of the Month. 3-Way is a hybrid beer concocted from Anderson Valley’s ESB aged two years in whisky barrels, their 20th Anniversary Imperial IPA, and their Imperial Amber. It’s got this great warm, smokey, nutty, malty flavor with a very slight resiny hop finish. Give them credit for creating something unique, greater than the sum of it’s parts. I’m afraid it’s only available at the Tasting Room next to the brewery in Boonville, which Linda and I enjoyed on our honeymoon.

Of course, bringing up the subject of a 3-Way during a honeymoon is particularly dangerous. When I noticed this selection at the Anderson Valley Tasting Room, it seemed wise not to bring it up. Of course, I could only restrain myself for about five seconds before turning to Linda and asking, with a sly confidence, “Linda, would you be interested in a 3-Way on our honeymoon?”

“Why sure,” Linda replied, batting her eyelashes,”if Sting would join us, I’d be up for it.”

One of the many reason why I love her.

Beer of the Month: Saisson de Buff from Stone Brewing

Having spent last week in San Diego, it only seems fitting that the Beer of the Month of August should come from this great brewing region. And so I bestow this upon Stone Brewing’s Saisson de Buff.

Saisson de Buff is one of those collaborative beers that were all the rage six months ago. Brewed by Greg Koch of Stone Brewing, in collaboration with Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione and Victory Brewing’s Steve Covalesky brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Back in 2003, this trio formed an organization called BUFF, Brewer’s United for Freedom and Flavor, which met a grand total of one time, and quickly adjourned to a nearby pub to discuss brewing ideas tactics, amoung other things.

All three breweries will take turns brewing the recipe at there respective locations, the version I tried having been brewed at Stone the past spring. It’s one of those complex beers best explored on multiple occasions. The first thing that hit me was it’s light, almost feathery mouthfeel. Then, a rich yeasty flavor kicks in with some clove spiciness and a little piney character, most likely from the rosemary. Finally a strong, yet smooth herbal bitterness finished the taste excursion. Somehow with all those strong, complex flavors, it remains refreshing and very drinakble.

And there’s no better place to explore Saisson de Buff and the many excellent beers San Diego has to offer than Downtown Johnny Brown’s, where I savored this beer twice last week. It’s a neighborhood sports-like bar, located just north of San Diego’s Gaslamp district, where few tourists venture. You could also go to The Toronado-San Diego or The Neighborhood for a great tap list, but those places just seem to have a manufactured trendiness to them. Johnny Brown’s authentic character remains contemporary on its own terms. I guess you might have figured out Downtown Johnny Brown’s is my favorite beer bar in the world.

And San Diego is one of my favorite cities. The Inner Harbor running trail is some of the most picturesque urban running in the United States, and the great scenery always seems to enegize me on when I run there. There’s always great, innovative, and memorable beers to be found. When I die and go to Beer Runner Heaven, it will be lot like San Diego.

Goooooooooooool! Spain’s Alhambra Especial Premium Lager is the Beer of the Month

I played soccer as a kid. My strategy was basically to run around all over the field after the ball, and if I got to it, I would kick it in the general direction of the opponent’s goal. If someone from the other team attempted to dribble by, I’d take a mighty swing with my leg, and kick either the ball or the other guy’s leg pretty hard. This simple technique made me a pretty effective defenseman.

When it was time to decide what sport to go out for as a high school freshman, it came down to either soccer or cross-country. Knowing the high school soccer coach preferred players with “advanced” skills such as dribbling, passing, and shooting, the prospect of riding soccer team bench didn’t appeal to me much, so I went out for the cross-country team instead, since good coordination is not particularly required for running. It proved to be a wise decision

But I still follow soccer, and love the celebration of the beautiful game which is the World Cup, a March Madness for the whole world if you will, held every four years in June. And if you hadn’t heard, Spain won the championship in a hard fought match 1-0. It wasn’t the most pretty soccer mind you, but thankfully Spain scored the winning goal with just a few minutes left in extra time, preventing the greatest trophy in soccer to be won in the worst way imaginable, on penalty kicks.

So to celebrates Spain’s victory, the Beer of the Month for July is Alhambra Especial Premium Lager from Spain. For a lager, it’s rather malty and has this slight caramel twang to it, with slightly tingly carbonation, and a very light earthy and slight grassy hop finish. I can’t help wondering if the light hop touch is by design, or due to the long trip from Spain to the San Francisco Bay area. A little extra hop bite wouldn’t hurt it. Either way, it’s a fresh and substantial lager to enjoy while toasting the Soccer Champions of the World.

Beer of the Month : Firestone Walker’s Solace

When I started this blog slightly over a year ago, I made two promises to myself. I wouldn’t let it become a chore where I felt obligated to have to post things at specific times, and I didn’t want it to become yet another beer blog posting beer reviews. In one fell swoop, I’m breaking both of these promises to start a Beer of the Month series of postings.

I’ve written beer reviews before, and enjoy reading them on other blogs, so it seemed like a monthly focus on a particular beer seemed like a good idea. I’ve been kicking this idea around for a couple months, and it’s been increasingly appealing over time, so it’s time to start. So starting this month, I’ll be posting a Beer of the Month review within the first couple weeks of each month. I hope you’ll enjoy my perspective on interesting beers to try.

The first beer of the month is FireStone Walker’s Solace, their recently released summer seasonal. I was intrigued this unusual, somewhat complex, wheat beer for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on. There were some light fruity banana esters, as well as nice clove spiciness, along the lines of a classic German Hefeweizen. But there’s also a little melon-like fruitiness and a slight peppery character as well. It’s quite refreshing, and liked the subtle complexity to the brew, which could be easily ignored if one is just in the mood for “lawn-mower”, thirst quenching beer.

Not that I get too bent out of shape over styles, but I remained curious. What was this? A Hefeweizen, or something else. After doing a little research, I found the answer to this little puzzle in an announcement on beernews.org, which states:

While Solace is somewhat devoid of style, Brewmaster Matt Brynildson said it will be a sort of unfiltered fusion of a Hefeweizen and a Belgian Saison. Subtle hints of banana and clove aroma will merge with sweet fruit flavor, a medium body and tangy finish. This combination will result in drinkable spring/summer beer with about 6% alcohol by volume.

“Style guidelines are definitely being stretched and exaggerated with the rise of craft beers in the U.S.,” Brynildson said. “I call it a Summertime Belgo-Bavarian Zwickle Saison,” he added jokingly.

OK, so that clears things up. A hybrid beer like this one could end up as a muddled, confused wierd homebrew experiment gone amok. But thankfully, that’s far from the case here. So kudos to Firestone Walker for coming up with something innovative and unique, that makes for a nifty summer seasonal. It’s available on the West Coast through August.