Checking out the Hop Dogma taproom

Hop Dogma Brewing in many ways fails to deliver on the premise of their name, and for that, we should be grateful.

Merriam-Webster defines “dogma” as “something held as an established opinion; especially a definite authoritative tenet”.  Given the rapidly evolving nature of hops in the brewing industry, one could argue a “hop dogma” in today’s brewing simply doesn’t exist. For a brewery with “Hop” in their name, there were only three IPA’s on the tap from a line-up of more than ten brews the day my the wife and I visited their El Granada tap room on the shore of Half Moon Bay.  Three IPA’s out of 10+ taps is a welcome sight, in my opinion, given that IPA’s often completely dominate selections throughout the Bay Area.  In another refreshing change, they had as many Lager beers as IPA’s available, with plenty of malt forward Stouts and Porters as well. Yes, I’m taking the name way too seriously, but I never figured out the dogma of Hop Dogma.

Oh yeah, how was the beer? Pretty damn good. Sorry, no fancy schmancy tasting notes here from samplers I tried. But starting with “We’re All Going to Helles”, a solid Helles Lager and other excellent brews like “Lean Mean Vanilla Bean Porter”, it was pretty much one impressive beer after another. Now at 8.2% abv, “Lean Mean Vanilla Bean” might not be so lean, but the vanilla level was just where it needed to be noticeable, adding itself to the mix without screaming “I’m HERE!” like many vanilla additions do.  And yes, they do hoppy beers at Hog Dogma, my favorite effort being “Nelson Mosella”, a Double IPA brewed Nelson Sauvin, Mosaic, and Ella hops full of bright tropical character. I also took a couple sips of “Honest Intuition” one of those hazy, New England IPA’s I typically despise and…..must admit it has a few redeeming qualities.  “Le Monk Da Funk”, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale finished with Brettanomyces, was an arresting dry ale with lots of popping yeast-driven flavors. I’ve become a recent fan of Hop Dogma’s gleefully unbalanced IPA Alpha Dankopotamus, even though I kept needing help from the bar tender to correctly pronounce it.

The Hop Dogma tap room is on the ground floor a majestic old wooden house on the corner in El Greneda, giving it a feel like you’re sharing beers in somebody’s living room. The ocean views are nice, too. The cold wet afternoon we stopped by, lots of locals filled the place, chatting away and slowly sipping pints of their favorites. I bet it’s packed on hot summer days.

We’ll be back.

piller point
Strolling on the beach, not too far away from Hog Dogma’s tap room

Rambling Recommendations 3.2.2015 from Gordon Biersch, Ninkasi and Strike

Every so often after discovering a few new beers I like, I want to tell the world about them.  Or at least the small part of the world that reads this blog.  So let’s get right to three beers to check out if you get the chance.

First up is Gordon Biersch Maibock.   This beer has an interesting back story in that this traditional German beer played a large role in Dan Gordon co-founding Gordon Biersch.  As Gordon states in a press release, “Maibock was the beer that inspired me to become a brewer. The Einbecker brewery was located fairly close to Göttingen, the town where I was an ungraduate exchange student and I toured the brewery as frequently as possible. In fact, I was enjoying a Maibock in my dorm courtyard when I decided to apply to the graduate program in brewing engineering at the Technical University of Munich with the ultimate goal of becoming a brewmaster.“ 

OK, that’s nice, but how does it taste.  Like all Gordon Biersch beers, it’s not a flavor explosion but a beer meant to be appreciated.  It’s got a little yeastiness, with noticeable fruity esters and apricot flavors. There’s light toastiness from malt, and at 7.3% abv the alcohol is slightly noticeable, but not in a bad way bad way.  A great sipper for a lazy afternoon and yet another example of Gordon Biersch brewing precision.

Next is Ninkasi Brewing’s Dawn of the Red India-Style Red Ale.  I knew this was going to be good as soon as I poured it into the glass and all those great hop aromas started wafting upwards towards my nose.  It’s bursting with very tropical, pineapple hop flavors and the slightly sweet roasted malt gives it both a juiciness, and flavor profile of a caramelized pineapple.  Personally, I find Ninkasi beers to be a hit or miss proposition given their rather aggressive use of bold flavors.  Sometimes, I wish they would dial things back a bit or other times I find their big flavors all clashing with each other.  Here, they’ve really nailed it.

Finally, there’s Strike Brewing Big Wall Imperial Stout, their winter seasonal. I enjoyed it so much at their tap room, I made sure to take a 22 ounce bottle home.  Thankfully, Strike avoids the cloyingly sweet “liquid brownie” direction too many brewers take with Imperial Stouts.   Strike’s version is very rich, very dry, with plenty of depth, lots of coffee flavors, with a very sturdy malt base.  It’s very smooth with no noticeable alcohol present despite checking in at 9% abv.  Given that Strike’s usually goes for sessionable, drinkable direction in their beers, it says a lot about Strike that when they go for it in an Imperial Stout, they brew one of the best ones out there.   

Big Wall Imperial Stout in the
Strike Brewing Taproom

Guinness Joins the Holiday Party

Guinness Generous Ale in the wilds of my kitchen counter

One thing learned during in my “research” for an article on California Seasonal Beers is that there’s plenty of good ones out there, from some unlikely sources.

And yes, the big macrobreweries are getting into the act, some of their holiday beers are a lot better than this jaded beer geek expected.  One I really enjoyed was a new release from Guinness, their Generous Holiday Ale. 

A press release describes this beer as:

“Inspired by Arthur’s philanthropic legacy and devotion to generous, full-flavored beers, Guinness Generous Ale is special edition holiday beer that was developed in a traditional winter ale style, but with more body and the distinct roast for which Guinness Draught is known.”

I found it to have a lot of light roasty malt flavors, with a little vanilla, and a fruity character (plums?).  Each sip ends with a noticeable piney hop presence.  Not something I would have expected from the beer, and it works.  It’s “wintery” all right, but has it’s own unique character.  Definitely worth checking out.

(Yes, Guinness did provide a sample for the purposes of this review. I’m glad they did.)

A Great Double IPA Found at an Unlikely Airport

One of life’s more fruitless tasks is trying to find new and interesting beers at an airport. Amid the Bud, Bud Lite, Coors, Coors Light strangle hood the big boys have on most cramped airport bars, usually something Sam Adam’s Boston Lager or Widmer Hefeweizen can usually be found on tap somewhere. And as a fellow Bay Area blogger found, it’s hard to find an IPA in an airport, even when it’s located in a city with a great craft brewing community.

So it was no small thrill when I discovered a great Double IPA last week awaiting my flight back home. And at what airport could one discover a great Double IPA? Would you believe Salt Lake City’s?

Yep, smack dab in the middle of one of the most alcohol adverse states of of the Union is a Squatter’s Brewpub at Salt Lake’s Airport, and I was fortunate to find their excellent Hop Rising Double IPA there. There’s lots of big floral and citrus hop flavors, with a dominant note tangerine in this one. The malt side of the brew held it’s own, with a slight caramelly character to it, and at 9% abv, this is an intensely flavorful brew, that isn’t overly aggressive or downright assaulting, like too many Double IPA’s I’ve tried.

Don’t let anyone tell you there’s no good beer to be found in Utah, or in an airport for that matter, either.

Getting Primed for Jelly Bellies at Blue Frog Grog and Grill

I took off last week from work to spend it with my kids on a so called “stay-cation” about Northern California. One of our destinations was the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, CA and wouldn’t you know, Blue Frog Grog and Grill is only about a five minute drive for the factory. Anyone with small kids will tell you well fed kids tend to function on these sort of outings a lot better than unfed ones. The same goes for parents. So it seemed like a win-win situation to stop off at Blue Frog for lunch prior to the factory tour.

We already had some familiarity with Blue Frog, as Linda and I had enjoyed Blue Frog’s Red Ale we picked up at our nearby BevMo! about a month prior. I’m not a big fan of red ales, but we both enjoyed its citrus and tangy flavors, its strong malt character, and slightly grassy hop finish, and it was one of the better Red Ales I’ve had. So we figured we’d each have a different pint to sample during with lunch with the kids.

Blue Frog Grog and Grill is located in one of those sun drenched retail areas that seem to dominate the Fairfield – Vacaville area, where shade seems to be a precious luxury. Linda and I choose the place mostly for the beer, but we also found the food was every bit as good as the beer. And of course, family outings are great opportunities to take slightly out of focus family pictures in bad lighting, where at least person has a funny look on their face.

Linda had a flavorful portobello mushroom sandwich, and I was pretty happy with my smoked salmon fish and chips. Linda and I also appreciated the slightly tangy, crunchy red cabbage slaw included with both of our lunch entrees. My six year old daughter Verona proclaimed cheese pizza on the kids menu as “really good”. Brandon, my eight year old son, has autism and so is a man a few words, but when asked if his grilled cheese sandwich was “yummy” or “yucky”, responded with “yummy” in his high pitched voice. Looks like Blue Frog gets Brandon’s thumbs up as well.

But you’re probably reading this about their beer, not the kids menu, so here’s what Linda and I thought about the beers we tried.

Blue Frog IPA
This dark yellow, fresh tasting IPA had plenty of piney hop goodness, with some floral character in there for good measure, and just a little malt to balance it. A good example of West Coast IPA style done well.

Blue Frog Pub Ale (Seasonal)
This was our favorite beer of those we tried. It’s got a little caramel taste to it, a little sweetness, a little piney hops, and a little dry finish and all these little things add up to a lively little session ale.

Blue Frog Hefeweizen
Linda and I split a 12 once glass of their hazy yellow, unfiltered hefe, and found it to be a rather light and wheaty with some aromatic clove-like notes.

Blue Frog Double IPA
We purchased a 22 once bottle of this before we left, and Linda and I split it a couple days later. A strong citrus aroma greeted us immediately upon pouring. As one might expect from the aroma, this one had a very strong grapefruity hop character to it, as well as a little sweetness. There’s a good amount of malt in there, which gave this a slightly creamy mouth feel, and this brew really went down smooth despite the strong hop flavors. We really liked the well controlled strong flavors here.

The Jelly Belly factory turned out to be a blast for everyone. I’m always proud of my children, but special mention should go to Brandon, since the large chattering crowds, sudden loud noises, and large spinning and repetitive motions of the factory equipment during the tour pose all sorts of challenges to an eight year old with autism. He handled it really well, and has won yet another small battle to overcome his autistic behaviors.

Does anyone have any ideas of what to do with the bag of jalapeno Jelly Bellies I purchased?

Peace, Love, Beer and Barbecue in Haight-Asbury

I must admit to being a bit of a tourist whenever I go up to San Francisco, having moved to San Jose from Detroit nine years ago. Linda and I try to take a day off from work once a month for a little exploring, and often we spend it in San Francisco. We’ve been talking about going to the HaightAsbury neighborhood for sometime now, and yesterday we finally went. I had never been there, and was eager to see the neighborhood, a focal point of the 60’s counter-culture revolution, that gave the world Janis Joplin’s powerful soul, as well as The Grateful Dead’s tedious banality.

As I suspected, HaightAsbury is a good place to buy stuff like Tibetan crafts, Buddha statues, Jerry Garcia t-shirts, and ornate glass bongs. But I wasn’t there for that. I was there for the beer at Magnolia Pub & Brewery.

We walk in and they’re playing what seemed to be a 60’s-era recording of Bob Dylan in concert, a promising sign. We take our seat at one of the large, black booths, and as it is our first time here, order a couple of their tasting flights. The menu looked interesting, but besides a couple of luscious cheese stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, we didn’t order any of the food. Here’s a brief run-down on the notes we took of the beers.

Kalifornia Kolsch
One of our favorite beers of the afternoon led off the flight. It’s hazy yellow brew, with a strong peppery flavor and we also noted some notes of lemon. Despite the strong flavors, has a feathery lightness to it. Really nice.

Half Step Hefeweizen
Strong, rich bread dough like flavor, without the fruity esters one normally associates with the style. Maybe we picked up a little banana in there, but there was also a little underlying sourness. Still a good beer, but a reminder that California brewers seem to struggle with this style.

Blue Bell Bitter
A toast bomb? Lot’s a toasty malt here, with some nuttiness to the overall flavor. Couldn’t detect much hops here, but with all that toasty goodness, who needs them?

In the New IPA
This was a more restrained, balance IPA than one usually found in West Coast brewpubs, much more like the East Coast style. Had a citrus-like aroma, a grassy bitterness, and a decent amount of malt to balance the hops. Well crafted and balanced IPA’s like this one are way underrated.

Proving Ground IPA
We’re back on the West Coast with this one, and in a good way. Lot’s a bitterness, at 100 ibu’s, but there’s more going on than just the brewer punching us in the face with a bunch of hops. We detected some aromatic spice notes and a little sweetness in the malt. Linda’s is a big hop-head, so when we were done with the tasting flight, she had a half-pint of this.

Gallows Hill Porter
Part of Magnolia’s summer long project to brew various beer styles using artesional Maris Otter malt, in collaboration with Teddy Maufe of Branthill Farms from Norfolk, England. Lot’s of bitter roasted coffee bitterness in this one, with a really sturdy mouth feel to it. Sorry to miss the earlier releases of this project.

Afterwards, we walked down the street into the Lower Haight for an early dinner at Memphis Minnie’s barbecue. I like the fact that they don’t use any sauce in the preparation of the meats, but leave a few bottles of traditional barbecue sauce styles at each table for each person to add to their liking. Way too much barbecue is buried in sauce, but Memphis Minnie’s puts their expertly smoked meats front and center. Inspired by San Francisco’s multi-culturalism, Memphis Minnie’s serves sake to pair with their barbecue, which we didn’t try having been a bit beered out by the time we got there. Sure, Memphis Minnie’s is located in barbecue Siberia, but having been to national barbecue shrines Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City, and Angelo’s in Fort Worth, I assure those dismissing it as “hippie-cue”, it’s the real deal.

Linda likes taking photographs of flowers, so this shot taken as we walked back to the car seemed like the appropriate way to end this post.

Beer Running Baltimore: Max’s Taphouse

Baltimore is one of those cities that typically elicits shoulder shrugs. Nobody seems to really know or say much about the place. It’s the weak East Coast sister to splashier Boston, New York, and Washington. Having been there before, I understand some of the ambivalence. But spending the past week at a trade show, and making a special effort to get to know the place, I’ve got to say, Baltimore doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

One of the best ways to get to know a place is to run around in it, so Monday morning, I’m out the door of my downtown hotel room to go for a run. I’m part of the morning downtown hustle and bustle, dodging and weaving through pedestrians and cars, making my way down to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor district, where I know clearer running paths await. I’m also planning to scout out Max’s Taphouse in the Fell’s Point neighborhood, which brags about having Maryland’s largest beer selection, and has drawn raves from various online beer review sites.

I get down to the Inner Harbor and follow the running path eastward past an enormous building with towering smokestacks. This imposing building was once a power plant for the city, but now houses an ESPN Sports Zone, Barnes and Noble, and Hard Rock Cafe. Baltimore is a city that has come around to embrace its traditional brick and mortar, port city roots. While it may not be flashy, it gives Baltimore an unmistakable character. Working my way through the Little Italy neighborhood behind the former power plant, I finally make my way to the Fell’s Point neighborhood, and find Max’s Taphouse.

I stop, take a quick glance inside, and see plenty of taps. The menu lists some pretty basic brewpub fare, but I doubt many people go there for the food. Well, I’ve scouted out the place and know how to get there. So I finish up the run, set up for the trade show at the convention center in the afternoon, and then make the 40 minute walk from the hotel to Max’s for dinner.

I cannot independently verify Max’s claim of Maryland’s largest beer selection. But after looking at a list of no less than 74 taps, and a bottle list that’s really an eight page pamphlet, it’s a good bet that no other place in Maryland, or in most other states, can top what Max’s has to offer. I decide to start off with the Aecht Schlenkerla Helles, a German Smoked Helles.

Smoke is a very dangerous flavor because it gives such a great dimension to food and drink, but just a little too much smoke can easily destroy everything. The brewer’s touch here is simply outstanding with such a light style. You can sense the smoke, but the brew remains light, refreshing, and nuanced.

Now on a smoked beer kick, I decide to give Victory Rauchbier Porter a try. I’ve been a fan of Victory Brewing, and always make a point to have their beer when I’m on the East Coast. Victory Hop Devil is one of my favorite IPA’s, so have high expectations for the Rauchbier Porter. I’m not disappointed, as once again, the brewer’s touch is excellent. The smoke really adds the right dimension to the rich roasted malty goodness going on here. Smoked porters go well with barbecue, so I order the pulled pork sandwich

I finish the smoked porter before the sandwich arrives. I could order another one to pair with the sandwich, but that would deprive me an opportunity to try something else, so order a pint of Smuttynose IPA. Not a great pairing with a pulled pork sandwich in my opinion, but Smuttynose is a brewery I’ve heard a lot of good things about. I also appreciate the East Coast style of maltier, more balanced IPA’s, in contrast to the blitzing West Coast style, which hit you over the head with a bunch of hops. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

The Smuttynose IPA tap handle has a picture of two friendly old men sitting next to each other in rickety lawn chairs, apparently about to commence shooting the shit about something or rather over a beer. This IPA is like those old guys, just hanging out and in no hurry to go anywhere. It starts out welcoming, with a malty, a little fruity and slightly floral taste, and then the hops start picking up steam at a leisurely pace with a warm bitter goodness. I feel like pulling up a lawn chair and joining those guys. The pulled pork sandwich arrives as I work my way through the Smuttynose IPA. For a place where the food is an afterthought, this is a well done barbecue sandwich. Nice tangy sauce, and not too much spice so the pork flavor comes through.

Polishing off the sandwich, it is time for dessert. And yes, the right beer makes a great dessert. And it’s hard to beat Southern Tier Mokah as a dessert beer. It’s a sweet, creamy beer milk shake with plenty of rich and well blended chocolate and coffee flavors. I’ve had beers with coffee in them that taste like someone just dumped some strong, leftover coffee into the brewing vat, so really appreciate the skillful brewing here.

What else can I say? A great end to a great day of exploration through beer and running.