Rambling Reviews 9.27.2017: Brews from Lagunitas, Allagash, and Dust Bowl

It’s been three months since I last rambled on about various beers encountered in my travels and after literally millions of letters, e-mails, phone calls and tweets from readers demanding I revive the series, here’s a couple rambles on recent releases.Sakitumi

We’ll start with Sakitumi from Lagunitas. Lagunitas made news recently when international mega-brewery Heineken acquired the remaining 50% stake in Lagunitas it didn’t already own. For those worried a fully corporate owned Lagunitas would start playing it safe, this ale brewed with Sake yeast and rice malt shoots that theory down. A curious balance of lightly sweetness and complex-earthiness, that’s sort of half-way between beer and sake, it’s one of those beers that’s hard to describe that isn’t easily deconstructed in the typical tasting notes. While it might not be for everyone I found it a pretty mind-expanding combination of beer and sake with a novel mix of flavors and at 9.0% abv, rather potent.

Next up, Brett IPA, a limited release from Allagash Brewing brewed with Brettanomyces yeast. It’s a beer of Asian-style balance of sweet, sour, and bitterness. Just below the surface is a mustiness, with strong citrus and tropical fruit flavors bringing the whole brew together. A study of composition and balance in a bottle. One of those beers you can get lost concentrating to seriously on what’s glass, rather than just enjoying it.

For those not interested in subtle flavor balances and just want to be socked in the mouth with some hops, I give you Son of Wrath from Dust Bowl Brewing. It hits all the West Coast flavor markers, and looking back over my notes, I described it as a well controlled hop explosion. That ought be good enough for most people.

Dust Bowl Son of Wrath

Rambling Reviews 12:06:2016 : A Turn to the Dark Side

It’s that time of the year where the weather turns colder and the beers turn darker. So for this edition of rambling reviews, I’ll take a turn to the dark side to ramble about three pitch- black winter brews.

Let’s start with Drake’s Brewing 2016 Release of Jolly Rodger, which the fine folks a Drake’s Brewing sent over to sample. In a press release, Drake’s Brewmaster John Gillooly describes the 2016 version of Jolly Rodger as a Transatlantic Winter Warmer, and he used “..a hearty concoction of specialty malts, candy sugar and an especially aromatic yeast strain to brew this big, tasty ale.” How would I describe it? Very wintery. It’s a little sweet, with plenty of clove-like aromatics, a hint of spruce, and lots of toffee.  At 10% abv, it’ll warm you up, but the alcohol is well buried underneath all the savory flavors. A nifty winter sipping beer.

To my surprise, Drake’s also slipped in a bottle of this year’s Barrel Aged Jolly Rodger into the sample box. Drake’s Barrel Aged Program Manager Travis Camacho took the 2015 version of Jolly Rodger, an Imperial Porter, and aged it in High West Rye Whiskey barrels. One taste of this, and all I could say was just “Wow!”. It’s just one big, thick, honkin’ slab of flavor. The roasty coffee and bitter chocolate flavors really pop, with plenty of sturdy support from the wood-aging. Despite everything going on, it remains smooth with only the barest amount of sweetness. There’s nothing really new about a barrel-aged Imperial Porters but this one is a real find.

We end with Dust Bowl Brewing’s Black Blizzard Russian Imperial Stout. Dust Bowl Brewing arrived in the San Francisco Bay area just this year.  Located just down the road from Modesto, CA in Turlock, I’ve enjoyed a few stops at their brewpub a few years back when I had family living in Modesto. So I was glad to see a 22 ounce bottle of this at my local bottle shop in Campbell.  It hit’s all the right notes: Bitter chocolate dominates with some lingering coffee, and while it’s fairly smooth, there’s some noticeable graininess but a pleasing alcohol burn enhances the whole decadent experience.

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: 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.