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 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 6.27.2017 : Session IPA’s from Drakes, New Bohemia and Deschutes

When Session IPA’s first hit the scene a few years ago, I was a little indifferent to them. Some of them, like Lagunitas Day Time, were a breath of fresh air at a time when everyone was brewing Imperial This and That. Unfortunately, the trick of combining lower alcohol beer with less malt with high rates of hopping eluded more than a few brewers, creating beers that I found tasted either chalky or tasting like hop water. Given quite a few misses on this style came from breweries I hold in high regard, I generally avoided this style. But with summer’s heat coming on, I’ve discovered three of them that made for great summer sipping on my back patio.

Let’s start with Kick Back IPA, which the fine folks at Drake’s Brewing sent me a sample of.  It’s thin in the body with light carbonation, with the Mosaic, Simcoe, and El Dorado hops creating great mango and other tropical fruit flavors up front with some grassiness towards the ending finish. Despite the low malt heft and 4.3% abv, all the flavors seem in balance and it’s quite refreshing. The Kick Back name comes from the fact a portion of the proceeds of Kick Back goes to the East Bay Regional Park District. Last year, Kick Back earned $10,000 for the park district and Drakes is hoping to exceed that donation this year.

Nubo
I recently enjoyed this pint of Old Cabin Classic at Spread in downtown Campbell

Next up, Old Cabin Classic IPA from New Bohemia.  Named after a Santa Cruz Mountain Bike race, I find this nifty brew checking in a 4.8% abv to be full of fresh tropical flavors and with a slightly piney finish. End of story.  Sorry, no detailed tasting notes, this was just hoppy freshness in a glass from a brewery that’s been doing plenty of solid, no nonsense excellence for the past couple years.hop slice

Finally, we get to Hop Slice Summer Ale from Deschutes, which isn’t really a Session IPA, but it’s awfully close to being one at 5.0% abv and only 35 ibus, but it’s my blog, and I’ll make arbitrary beer style classifications if I want to. Deschutes uses Lemondrop hops in this one, creating plenty of lemony citrus and lemon peel flavors. Once it warms up after a few minutes sitting in the glass, the other hops open up and tropical and  floral flavors start joining the party. Don’t let the 35 ibu’s fool you, this is a highly hop driven brew but a great example of hops creating wonderfully accessible flavors that you don’t have to be a hop-head to appreciate.

Rambling Reviews 4.19.2017: Explorations on the Lighter Side

Last Monday, I rambled about craft breweries finding commercial success with some of the lighter beer styles. Now the craft brewing revolution would definitely be over if small breweries started pumping out bland and tasteless light ales and lagers chasing the almighty dollar. Thankfully, there’s plenty of great beers on the lighter side from small breweries proving these styles that are still interesting and flavorful when done right.

We’ll start with the weirdly wonderful G&T Gose from Anderson Valley Brewing. The first weirdly wonderful thing about this Gose is that it tastes absolutely nothing like a Gin and Tonic. Sure, there’s a lemon-lime thing going on, with some saltiness, a slight funkiness and a barely noticeable sourness. It’s really more like a Margarita, if anything, than a Gin and Tonic. The thing is, this unexpected combination is fun, refreshing and somehow works. I’ve gone on the record as not particularly liking Gose beers with all sorts of non-traditional additions that would make old world German brewmeisters spin in their graves but I really enjoyed this one.

Two brothers Golden AleNext, we go to a beer I discovered last week on vacation in the Chicago area where I grew up. It’s Prairie Path Golden Ale from Two Brothers Brewing. Described as “crafted to remove gluten but not flavor”, I was pleasantly surprised how lively and complex it turned out to be. It’s solid bready malt base with some light yeasty aromatics balanced with an earthy hop bitterness created a very pleasing composition of flavors. Walks the fine line between effortlessly drinkable without being boring.

 

Tooth and Claw Off Color

 

Finally, there’s is Tooth & Claw Dry Hopped Lager from Chicago’s Off Color Brewing, a beer inspired by Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus-Rex skeleton.in the world Sue is prominently displayed in Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History where the wife and I took the kids last week. It’s a cracker crisp Lager with a sharp, grassy T-Rex sized hop bite. In my book, lagers are defined by how well they hit these notes without extraneous and off flavor and Off Color just hits things right on the head with this one. I just loved the well executed simplicity.

 

Sue_at_Field_Museum
Sue, the T-Rex at Chicago’s Field Museum (photo credit)

Rambling Reviews 3.27.2017: New releases from Magnolia, Sapporo, and Alpine

Enjoying a can of Kalifornia Kolsch
on my back patio

This edition of Rambling Reviews features beers from three breweries who successfully persuaded me to sing the praises of their beer to the millions of readers of this blog tuning in breathlessly to learn what beers they should be drinking. That’s right, today’s reviews are all about free beers sent to me in hopes I would write nice things about them.

We’ll start with long time San Francisco brewery Magnolia Brewing, who want you to know their Kalifornia Kolsch and Proving Ground IPA can now be bought in cans, as they roll out their distribution in the San Francisco, Portland, and Los Angeles areas. That’s right, no longer do you need to venture into the Upper Haight neighborhood full of stores selling bongs and Grateful Dead T-shirts to get a fresh pint of Magnolia. I’ve enjoyed a few pints of Kalifornia Kolsch and rather than go into a detailed flavor decomposition of the brew, let me just tell you this: It’s a damn good Kolsch. As for Proving Ground IPA, Brewmaster Dave McLean describes it in a press release as “showcasing a hybrid approach to IPA, marrying an aggressive, American hop profile with an English malt backbone built around our favorite malt, Marris Otter.” And indeed this brew has the wonderful solid biscuit-like malt and subdued, leafy, grass hop character one finds in a good English IPA, with some citrus in the background to remind you it comes from California. Magnolia’s website claims this IPA checks in at 100 ibu’s, but it seems more like 60 in this refreshingly well balanced brew. At any rate, it’s not the usual West Coast hops and alcohol explosion. Instead, Proving Ground is a creative yet traditional dimension to the IPA style.

Then there’s Sapporo Premium Black Lager. Now I’ve enjoyed Sapporo’s regular Lager with sushi a few times, but it’s never really been one of my “go-to” beers. Unfortunately, lot’s of other people feel the same way about Sapporo, and they’ve faced declining sales in the US as the brand is largely limited to Asian restaurants. Sapporo Black Lager, released last fall, is an effort to reverse that trend, which explains in part why Sapporo touts their Black Lager for pairing with “traditional German, Asian, Cajun and Latin cuisines and crème brûlée”. One thing going for it is lots of nice chocolate aromas. It’s crisp with very deep roasted flavors on a broad spectrum from a little toasty up until the point burnt notes are detectable.  This good news it’s mostly bitter chocolate flavors that dominate in the light brew. Nice beer, but will people choose to drink Sapporo Premium Black Lager with Wienerschnitzel or enchiladas? That seems like kind of a stretch.

Finally, we end with Alpine Beer Company’s Windows Up IPA, which debuted just this year.  “I am especially excited for our newest IPA addition, Windows Up, to hit the market,” excudes Alpine Head Brewer Shawn McIlhenny in a press release.  “It’s got big hop aromatic and a really bold flavor profile with very little bitterness; this beer is a home run.” Given that Alpine has made their reputation on big hoppy beers, it’s no surprise this one is a real dank monster. The good news is there’s plenty of complexity and depth to round out all danky, cannabis-ness character, with as some fruity apricot, light tart cherries and piney finish also in the mix. All those big flavors get plenty of support on a solid malt substrate. It’s not just a beer crammed with a bunch of big flavors, it’s an impressive composition of all those flavors.  Yes, I do believe Alpine hit one out of the park.

Rambling Reviews 1.4.2017: Brews from Santa Clara Valley Brewing, Hermitage, and Discretion Brewing

Tasting flight of SCVB’s Loma Prieta Oatmeal
Rye Imperial Stout at the SCVB taproom

Let’s start off 2017 by rambling on about beers from some local breweries in and around San Jose.

We’ll start with Loma Prieta Oatmeal Rye Imperial Stout from Santa Clara Valley Brewing (SCVB). The tallest mountain in the Santa Cruz mountain range, Loma Prieta is most associated with the legendary 1989 Northern California earthquake. Loma Prieta means “dark hill” in Spanish. As for the beer, it’s a subdued, smokey, smooth, and slightly peppery stout, with the complex roastiness forming a nice substrate for the Bourbon and Rye barrel-aged infusions the folks at SCVB introduced into a couple version of the brew. My early beer blogging inspiration and SCVB Marketing Manager Peter Estaniel invited me over to the brewery for a four-sample tasting flight of Loma Prieta on nitroro, all by itself, and aged for ten months in Rye and Bourbon barrels. I would love to give you detailed tasting notes on all the different nuances and subtleties of Loma Prieta, but after a few sips of Loma Prieta, Peter and I started chatting away on sports and beery subjects that taking tasting notes seemed pointless. Loma Prieta facilitating all that engaging discussion is perhaps the best endorsement I could give.


Next up, Topaz Single Hop IPA from San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing. Hermitage’s single hop IPA series has long been a great way to experience new hops to understand the unique characteristics they impart into beers. That sounds like something only a hard core homebrewer could love, but strangely enough, hops like Topaz prove many hops work quite well all on their own without the usual blending brewers obsess over.  The high alpha acid content of Topaz makes this a rather straightforwardly bitter IPA, but its light tropical fruit and apricot notes save the day. Nice IPA.

Finally, we end with Uncle Dave’s Rye IPA from Discretion Brewing, just over the hill from San Jose in Soquel. I enjoyed one of these last week on a family drive up the Pacific Coast when we stopped at the small seaside town of Davenport for lunch. Having many an IPA chock full of as much dankness, piney-ness, and grapefruity bitterness as the brewer could cram into the beer, it was rather refreshing to enjoy an IPA with some flavor and balance to it. It’s light rye peppery flavors work well with the stone fruit flavors in this well composed IPA. There’s probably a reason this brew has won a bunch of awards for Discretion including a Bronze medal in Rye Beer Category in the 2016 World Beer Cup. Instead of my usual blurry, out of focus beer picture, I’ll leave you with a nice shot from Bonny Doon Beach just south of Davenport.

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.