Rambling Reviews 11.6.2017: Beers from Headlands Brewing, Hop Dogma and Strike Brewing

Time again to ramble on about a three new brews. We’ll start with Cloudview, a holiday ale from Headlands Brewing in collaboration with Whole Foods Markets.  I don’t know about you, but when I think “holiday ale”, a dry-hopped Belgian-style Wit doesn’t immediately come to mind. But the few twists on the Wit-style, from the citrus aromas from the dry-hopping, the light sweetness with a stronger than usual Wit (6.5% abv), and the airy, pillow-like mouth feel work well with the traditional orange peel and coriander create a unique beer, that says “holidays” in a fresh, harmonious way . It’s another impressive effort for Headlands Brewer Phil Cutti, fresh off his second GABF medal, which he won this year with Wolfpack Ridge IPA.  Cloudview is only available at Bay Area Whole Foods Markets, which provided a sample for this review.

Next up,  Alpha Dankopotamus, an IPA from Hop Dogma Brewing. With a name like Alpha Dankopotamus, you know this isn’t going to be a study in subtlety. And it isn’t, especially when its says “Exquisitely Unbalanced” on the side of the can. I nervously knew I was about to sip a serious monstrosity when I opened this can, and it ended up leaving a big smile on my face. It’s just dank. Really dank. You know that herbal cannabis-like hop character no one can quite describe, so they call it dank? It’s a whole lot of that. The beer works because the underlying malt base is pretty clear and dry, supporting but otherwise getting out of the way of the fresh hop blitzkrieg. Lots a hop bombs fall short due to off-flavors, chalky tastes, or just too much astringency. Hop Dogma finds a way to avoid this. Impressive in its cleans execution of over-the-topness.

Hop Dogma Speaking of hop bombs, we’ll end with Triple Play Triple IPA from Strike Brewing. I found it to be a throw-back to the big, sweet, sticky citrus hop bombs that were all the rage nearly 7-8 years ago. Pine and orange notes emerge from the strong, fresh hop flavors, with everything in balance and no off-flavors. Again, if nuance and subtlety is what you are looking for, you’ll want to go elsewhere. But if you’re looking for an invigorating hop blast, this is your ticket.




Triple Play IPA Strike
Triple Play IPA after a particularly foamy pour at the Strike Brewing taproom

Rambling Reviews 6.16.2017: Three New Bay Area Releases

As we enter summer, Bay Area breweries have gotten busy releasing new beers. Allow me to ramble about three of them.

The big early summer release is 21st Amendment’s Watermelon Funk, a riff on their popular Hell or High Watermelon Wheat. With kettle souring being all the rage these days, it seems inevitable 21st Amendment would take this direction with their popular summer seasonal. During a lively release party full featuring 70’s and 80’s funk music and roller-disco dancers, Master Brewer Shaun O’Sullivan took the mike and told the crowd the story about barrel-aging a batch of Watermelon Wheat for a year to transform it into a barrel-aged sour ale to pour at the Toronado ten years ago.  Of course, the only way any self-respecting beer hipster at the Toronado would ever be caught dead with a pint of Watermelon Wheat in his hand would be a barrel-aged sour version of it. (O’Sullivan left that part out.) Anyway, Watermelon Funk has got a lot going on with the lactobacillus and Saison yeast creating a tangy, aromatic and musty flavor that threaten to overwhelm the watermelon, but don’t quite. This funkified version is distinctly more complex and heavier, and 6.7% abv, more potent. I’ve long been a fan of Watermelon Wheat with its refreshing light simplicity with a watermelon twist, and indeed, Watermelon Funk takes the base beer to an impressive new level. But with so much added in, a certain refreshing simplicity has been lost.

Headlands Brewing photo

Next up, Wolfpack Ridge IPA for Headlands Brewing. It’s been awhile since Headlands added any beers to their small line-up, and this one was worth the wait.  Some of my favorite beers are one’s that defy description and this is one of those.  I honestly don’t have the slightest idea how to break it down into flavor components. There’s a little soft spiciness from the rye blending with hops creating this savory herbal character with some light pine.  The hops are prominent but not overwhelming and I’m getting some apricot.  I liked this very much…how’s that for a brilliantly insightful review? Maybe I’ll just quote the press release from Headlands, where Brewmaster Phil Cutti says “It’s a nod towards the West Coast IPA bitterness, but the focus is on the late addition hops for flavor and aroma. The all malt grain bill is layered but light in body; achieving a nice balance point for the hops.” Does that make it clear?

Winning Saison
Winning Saison at the Strike Tap Room

Finally, we get to Winning Saison from Strike Brewing. This is not your father’s Saison. It’s not your mother’s Saison, nor your brother or sister’s Saison either. In fact, the beer-style police would probably say it’s not a Saison at all, but that doesn’t mean it’s not really tasty. It’s the first beer from Strike Brewing’s Limited Edition Collaboration Series.  Strike teamed with Marin Brewing to create a pretty unique beer that really defies any standard style characterization. Sure, they start with a typical Saison malt-bill with Belgian yeast, and then add a bunch of late addition Citra and Amarillo hops. To further amp up the fruitiness, the condition the brew one orange zest once the fermentation is complete. It’s a pretty big beer at 7.5% abv and stone and citrus fruits dominate. Despite all that, the brew doesn’t taste cluttered or overdone. I appreciate it when brewers take risks like the ones taken in this beer, and appreciate it even more when those risks pay off.  A “winning” Saison.



Headlands Brewing in Adventure Sports Journal

Phil Cutti (on left) and Patrick Horn, co-founders of
Headlands Brewing

There aren’t a lot of endurance athletes in the brewing community, but Phil Cutti, Brewmaster of Headlands Brewing is one of them. I’ve know Phil for nearly four years and enjoyed plenty of his beers over that time so I was glad to interview him for the latest issue of Adventure Sports Journal. You can read how has life as an outdoor endurance athlete has guided his brewery at the link below.

Headlands Brewing: Endurance Athlete Phil Cutti tinkers his way to top brew

Talking with Phil Cutti and Patrick Horn about the new Headlands Brews

Phil Cutti (left) and Patrick Horn, co-founders of Headlands Brewing

There’s so many new breweries these days, it’s hard to keep track of them all.  One that’s definitely been on my radar screen is Headland’s Brewing.  Co-founder Patrick Horn was part of San Francisco’s legendary Pacific Brewing Laboratories, sort of an underground brewery/large scale home brewing operation run out of a San Francisco garage producing an eclectic and tasty mix of brews of every possible description.  Horn has recently left Pacific Brewing Laboratories to start Headland’s Brewing three months ago with Phil Cutti, head brewer at Southpaw Barbecue.  Phil is also an endurance swimmer and former exercise physiologist at Stanford Sports Medicine.

The brewery is named after the Marin Headlands, and they are currently seeking a permanent brewery and tap room location in either Marin County or San Francisco, which is where most of their beer is distributed.  For now, they are brewing under contract at various Bay Area breweries, and as far as the South Bay goes, the only place you can find Headlands is at Campbell’s Spread and Liquid Bread.

I caught up with Phil and Patrick at Campbell’s Spread last week where they graciously introduced me to their beers.  Somehow, they’ve developed the unique and all too rare talent to put subtle twists on traditional beer styles in such effective and effortless ways, you end up wondering why brewers haven’t been doing it that way all along.  So without further ado, let’s delve into the beers of Headlands.

Point Bonita Rustic Lager (6.2% abv, 40 ibu)
Lager’s are decidedly unsexy in the craft beer world, the style suffering from guilt by association with tasteless lagers from soulless multinational corporations.  Beers like Point Bonita go a long way in changing that perception.  It has a substantial, almost creamy mouth feel and 17% of rye malt in the grain bill gives it a peppery character that melds nicely with the Liberty, Crystal, and spicy Saaz hops.  Quite possibly my favorite Headlands Beer.  If it’s possible for a brewery to make a sexy lager, Headlands has done it.

Groupe G Belgian RyPA (7.6% abv, 65 ibu)
Rye makes another appearance in this riff of the IPA style, and Belgian yeast lends it usual aromatic qualities.  A unique blend of Mosiac, Warrior, Glacier and Ahtanum hops impart a tropical and slightly floral character to the brew.  There’s a lot of flavors going on there which isn’t always a good thing, but here, they all come together really well.

Hill 88 Double IPA (8.8% abv, 90 ibu)
As Patrick Horn poured this one, he declared, ” Lots of breweries make double IPAs by cramming as much hops as they can into them.  There’s a time and a place for that, but it’s not what we wanted to do here.”  True, any new craft brewery is almost obligated to release a double IPA and there’s effectively an ibu arms race going on amongst a lot of craft breweries which thankfully Headlands has declined to participate in.  Believe it or not, at 90 ibu’s, this one comes seems quite balanced.    A malt bill including Crystal, Victory,  and Carapils    results in a pretty dry double IPA, and the blend Summit, Chinook, Centennial and Ahtanum hops shine through without becoming overwhelming.

Those three beers comprise Headlands’ current line-up available in both cans and on draught.  Now we get to the really good stuff, the special releases Headlands has available only on draught.

Bay Trip Triple
This Belgian Triple is brewed with coconut and demerara sugar.  As Patrick Horn explains, “Coconut sugar has a high level of unfermentable content, so it leaves behind of a lot of coconut character.”  The result is a coconutty, tropical flavored Belgian triple.   Just when I thought I’ve tasted pretty much everything, Headlands comes up with something totally new and original, at least to me.  Absolutely delightful.

Liver Let Die Smoked Black IPA
The name is an odd homage to boxing great Smokin’ Joe Frazier who passed away due to liver cancer last year.   Black IPA’s are always a difficult balancing act between the strong roasted malt flavors and bitter hop flavors.  Headland’s ups the degree of difficulty by adding yet another strong flavor to balance with 4.7% peak smoked malt added to the mix.  And it’s smoky!  The malt also lends a strong chocolaty character which the Simcoe and Centennial hops match in their intensity.  Quite a balancing act and they pull it off.

What’s next for Headland’s as far as the beer is concerned?  They have a Fall Saison in the works, brewed with green peppercorns and fresh chanterelles to give it an earthy character.  Phil Cutti has brewed with chanterelles many times before but admits, “I’ve never brewed with them as large as this one, so ramping up will bit of a crapshoot”.  Considering the various risks they’ve pulled off in their other brews, I wouldn’t bet against him.

While they clearly know brewing, Cutti and Horn have a strong business sense as well.  I asked them point blank, “With all the new breweries and the market in danger of over saturation, are you concerned?”.  Patrick Horn conceded, “I think we’re going to see a consolidation.  But we’re smart enough to navigate through that.”  Horn went on to say, “We have hop contracts in place which is important.  Hops are a big expense in making beer and a lot of new breweries don’t have hop contracts, and either unable to get them, or have to pay high prices for them when there’s a shortage.”    Phil Cutti added, “We have investors who know our business well, have dealt with things like market bubbles before, and they give us a lot of good direction.”  Headlands has also recently hired Inna Volynskaya to handle the finances.  Volynskaya brings an MBA from Presidio Graduate School and supply chain experience from Lagunitas to Headlands and as Horn casually explains “she yells at us when we’re being idiots.”

It’s encouraging to hear about their solid business foundation because I looking forward to enjoying many a Headlands brew for years to come.

Rambles: Slowly Reading Through "The Audacity of Hops" and other new happenings


I’m enjoying a slow meander through “The Audacity of Hops” by Tom Acitelli this summer.
  Time being a precious commodity for me this summer, I’m only getting a few minutes here and there for reading.  I’ve found The Audacity of Hops, Acitelli’s  new book on the American Craft Brewing revolution an enriching read, due primarily to the impressive amount of research Acitelli puts forth in an engaging style on each page.  He’s really captured the people and events of the movement quite nicely.   Books like this often degenerate into “bus schedule” of one tedious event after another.  Instead, we’re given bit sized chapters of a certain place and time in the movement that connect to provide the whole picture.  I’ll post full review once I’m finished.

Some Good Beers I’ve Had Lately
On a recent searing hot day, Bison’s Brewing Chocolate Stout was an unlikely choice but it turned out to be good one.  This dry stout has an impressive depth and complexity to its roasty character.  I’ve also recently enjoyed El Toro’s Awesome IPA. It’s a little sweet and sticky with plenty of grapefruit peel character in the best tradition of West Coast IPA’s.

Headlands Brewing Company Debuts
Headlands Brewing Company, named after the famed Headlands of Marin County, is set to debut in the Bay Area with three beers: Group G Belgian RyePa, Pt. Bonita West Coast Lager and Hill 88 India Pale Ale.  Headlands is co-founded by Patrick Horn of the highly respected Pacific Brewing Laboratories, and Phil Cutti, head brewer at Southpaw BBQ head brewer who is also a well known Bay Area endurance athlete.  (What’s this nonsense about “never trust a skinny brewer?”)

In a press release announcing their new brewery, Cutti declares “Beer is a social and cultural thing and part of our objective is to bring that concept to life by connecting people and maybe even playing a part in their new adventures. It goes without saying that we also look forward to producing some fantastic and thoughtfully produced beer in the process.”  Patick Horn adds  “We are excited to combine our love for the great outdoors and high quality beers. The craft beer scene has a lot of momentum right now in the Bay Area and we are thrilled to be part of this community.”

More information is available on the Headlands website and of course, you can follow them on Twitter.

San Francisco’s W. G. Barr Beverage Company Launches T.W. Pitcher’s Snake Bite
Formed this year by Wilson Barr and Tommy Hester, San Francisco based W. G. Barr Beverage Company enters the world of beer cocktails with T. W. Pitcher’s Snake Bite, based on the traditional British pub mix of lager and cider.  “During my time in the U.K., I saw people at pubs ordering round after round of this mixture of lager and cider called Snake Bite,” says Barr in a press release. “It was flavorful, crisp, and really easy to drink. I quickly realized Snake Bite had the potential to be a successful beverage in the United States.”

An e-mail from W. G. Barr CEO Wilson Barr confirmed Snake Bite is bottled and brewed in the Midwest for eventual distribution on both coasts, adding “Snake Bite is only available in the Bay Area at the moment, and we will focus on building a solid base here in San Francisco before expanding.”

Circle the Calendar

The organizers of the 408k Race are expanding into new Bay Area codes beyond the South Bay.  On July 21st is the Marin 415 mile (a five mile race) to benefit Girls on the Run.  And then the series heads to the East Bay for the Let’s Go 510k (a 10 k race) October 19th on Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley, with the race finishing on the horse race track. 

This year’s debut of the Muscle Milk Woodsy trail race series includes a race this September 7th in Oakland’s Joaquin Miller.   It’s an 8.5 mile trail race, and you can check out the event website for further details and registration.