Rambling Reviews 4.19.2018: Figueroa Mountain’s Davey Brown, Santa Maria’s Julicious, and Firestone Walker’s Union Jane

davey brownOnce again, it’s time for another edition of Rambling Reviews. This time, the focus is on brews from California’s Central Coast.

Starting with Davey Brown for Figueroa Mountain Brewing, which is, as the name alludes to, a Brown Ale. When was the last time a Brown Ale made you go “Wow”? Now when was the last time a Brown Ale made you go “Wow” that wasn’t tricked up with all sorts of additions like cacao nibs or Kona coffee? It’s just a “regular” Brown, but with all sorts of layers of flavor. There’s noticeable coffee flavors, some nuttiness, caramel, and light smokey character.  Maybe Figueroa slipped some sort of spices or additions into this without admitting it on the bottle or their website, but it just has a few extra dimensions beyond the usual Brown Ale. Really impressive effort.

santa Maria juliciousNext up is Julicious IPA from Santa Maria Brewing.  Santa Maria calls this a New England Style IPA, but it didn’t look that cloudy to me and it’s fortified with pineapple juice. I picked up a bomber bottle of this last week on vacation on the Central Coast, which means it spent an afternoon in the warm trunk of my car all the way, a great way to tamp down those hop flavors. Despite these less than ideal storage conditions, this brew still retained plenty of fresh fruit flavors of pineapple and grapefruit, with sticky resin held up with some solid malt heft.

Last week’s vacation included a stop at Firestone Walker’s Tap Room in Paso Robles where they were pouring Union Jane IPA, a riff on their popular Union Jack.  Union Jane is a collaboration fundraiser with the Pink Boots Society, using a blend of Palisade, Simcoe, Mosaic and Citra Hops from YCH Hops  specifically for Pink Boots Collaboration Brew Day. This one has plenty of bright mango and citrus flavors yielding to a lightly piney finish. Unfortunately, it’s only seems to be available at the Firestone Walker tap room. We can only hope Firestone Walker realizes what it has on its hands and releases it for wider distribution.

fireston walker Union jane
Firestone Walker’s Union Jane

(Figueroa Mountain Brewing sent me a bottle of Davey Brown for review.)

The Session #73: Not Necesarily Better with Age

For this month’s Session, Adam over at Pints and Pubs asks us to itemize all the beers in our cellars, set aside to age, and asks us to indulge in a bit of navel gazing to consider how our beer collections reflect our drinking preferences. 

So here goes.  In my beer cellar are:

That’s it.

I expect this is going to be one of the shortest lists for the session.  It’s worth noting that the overwhelming majority of beer does not improve with age, and only a tiny minority of beer drinkers cellar any beer at all.  And so my meager two bottle list is tiny by the standards of beer geekdom, well over 99% of the world’s beer drinkers have put away less than three bottles to age.

Jeffers Richardson, looking very un-mad scientist-like,
explaining how he creates his world class barrel-aged beers

These statistics aside, my short three bottle list indicates that while I’m pretty fanatical about beer, cellaring beer is not something I get too excited about.  I realized this most recently during an event at Harry’s Hofbrau in San Jose, where the acclaimed Firestone-Walker Barrelmeiser Jeffers Richardson spoke to a small handful of local beer enthusiasts about Fireston-Walker’s Barrelworks Program.

Self-described as a brewing mad scientist, Jeffers Richardson calmly spoke about the unpredictable barrel aging process, as well as art of blending different barrel aged beers to create the wonderfully layered complex intensity beers like Parabola, Velvet Mirken, and XVI Anniversary Ale that are often further cellared by beer aficionados.  As Fireston-Walker’s original brewmaster, it was clear over the course of the evening that Richardson forgets more about brewing in a week than most brewers learn in a lifetime.  He carefully, yet enthusiastically answered everyone’s questions, even a couple of the dumb ones.  The evening was easily one of the more fascinating learning experiences I’ve ever had on beer and the samples Harry’s Hofbrau graciously supplied of Richardson’s highly in-demand brewing creations were every bit as intense and flavorful as the hype.

And yet, as world class as these beers are, they just aren’t beers I would drink very often.  My preferences happen to lean towards the “sessionable” edge of the beer spectrum, and also think there’s nothing better than a recently bottled IPA where the fresh hops sing,  something that is totally lost whenever beer is aged.  It’s odd, feeling a certain indifference to beers lots of people spend considerable effort to seek out and rave about, but I guess that’s just the way I am.

Sure, they are special occasion where I’d happily break out a bottle of Parabola to share with family and friends.  The thing is, special occasions only happen once in a great while.  After all, if they happened more often, then they wouldn’t be special.

Jeffers Richardson, with his back to us, holding court in
San Jose’s Harry’s Hofbrau

The Session 51.5: It’s An Aged Wisconsin Cheddar Battle Royale

For this special Session, Jay Brooks of Brookston Beer Bulletin fame has asked us to try the beer and cheese pairings selections from the great Session beer and cheese pair-off and pick a winner.

Now it gets intense. After giving it their best shot, some great beers have fallen by the wayside. Only the surviving champions remain to fight this epic battle. A lifetime of drinking beer and eating cheese has prepared me for this very moment, so stand back because I’m about to announce the Ramblings of a Beer Runner Session Beer and Cheese Pairing Intergalactic Champions!

Well, sort of. I cannot possibly buy all the beers selected in the Session’s first rounds. Even if I could find and purchase all the beer listed for all three cheeses, my wife Linda and I didn’t think it was a wise career move to call in sick two weeks straight working our way through all the cheese pairings, and then gleefully posting the results on the Internet for everyone, including our bosses, to see. We tried to pair up with some of our friends to help us out with the final decision, but unfortunately our schedules didn’t match so well, and those plans fell through. So Linda and I soldiered on, focusing on the aged cheddar cheese pairings, since we thought these were the most intriguing variety of beers selected by Session participants. So with our leftover slab of 3-Year Aged Wisconsin Cheddar cheese, and yes, I know this isn’t the “official” Aged Wisconsin Cheddar Cheese for The Session, we picked three beers selected by other bloggers to rumble with the beer we picked in The Session’s first round. After an evening drinking beer and eating cheese, we picked our winner . So without further ado, here is the line-up for The Aged Wisconsin Cheddar Cheese Battle Royale.

The Combatants

Speakeasy Brewing’s Payback Porter
The tall, dark, mysterious stranger hiding in the shadows was Jay Brooks’s pick. Would his shady underworld connections strike fear in the hearts of his opponents, giving him the edge?

Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA
This precocious IPA from the rustic bucolic wine town of Paso Robles, CA was the choice of Sean at Beer Search Party. Union Jack might play well in the sticks, but how would this country boy do when it got to the big city?

Paulaner Hefeweizen
The Thirsty Pilgram declared this beer a cheese slut. Could she overcome her much stronger flavored competitors through crafty seduction and allure to take victory back to the beer fatherland of Munich?

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA
Our champion we picked in the first round, fresh off its victory over a furious Bear Republic Racer 5. This big bad strong brew from the East Coast was primed and ready for fresh blood to take the title!

Let’s get ready to rumble!

The first thing Linda and I noticed is that Paulaner Hefeweizen goes with cheese the way a wheat cracker goes with cheese. Sure it works, but it just isn’t all that exciting. Its banana fruit esters likely blend well with many cheeses, but they weren’t working all that well with the cheddar. Linda and I appreciated the pairing, but found it a bit underwhelming. As this point, I am tempted to try and write a clever and witty sentence combining the words “my wife and I” and “cheese slut” but common sense tells me this isn’t a good idea. So instead I’ll just declare Paulaner Hefeweizen will have to shack up somewhere else!

Next up was Speakeasy’s Payback Porter. Porter is one of my favorite styles, and Payback Porter is one of my favorite porters, so I was quite curious how it would pair with cheddar. One sip of all those intense, roasty coffee flavors reminded me why I like this beer so much. Problem was, all those great strong flavors overwhelmed the cheese, and clashed with its tanginess. As much as we appreciated the great beer, the pairing just didn’t work for us. Payback Porter gets whacked!

So it came down to Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA and Firestone Walker’s Union Jack. Two muscular IPA’s going mano a mano in a hop fueled death match! We liked both pairings and it was really close, with both of going back and forth about which one we preferred. In the end, it was the sweet malty goodness of the Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA that was its undoing. The pairing seemed a little heavy, the cheese feeling a little flabby in the mouth. On the other hand, the bright, intensely floral hops of the Union Jack coupled with its light malt character really blended well certain elements of the cheese, but each maintained its own unique character. Each seemed to do its own riff on a common flavor theme like an experienced jazz duo. Union Jack takes the title!

We learned a lot from this little exercise. The little nuances and characters of each beer is really enhanced when paired with cheese, and we often chose a beer over one we normally like better, the lesser beer creating a better flavor experience when mingling with the cheese in our mouths. For all the IPA’s we tried, the flavor profile of the hops made a huge difference on how the beer paired, and sometimes, the flavors clashed badly. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a slightly different tasting cheese resulting in a completely different set of pairing results.

But most important, we learned that when it comes to beer and cheese pairings in the relaxed and open spirited beer community, where culinary elitism is rare, just have fun with it.