Rambling Reviews 8.19.2016: Dry Hopped Steam from Anchor, 10 Barrel’s Cucumber Crush, and JC Flyer IPA from Iron Springs

Once again it’s time to ramble about three notable beers I’ve tried over the past couple weeks.

We’ll start out with Anchor’s great twist on their iconic flagship. I’m talking about Anchor Dry Hopped Steam Beer. There’s a little more to Dry Hopped Steam than just the dry hopping as Anchor Brewmaster Scott Ungermann also lightened the traditional Anchor Steam recipe for the dry hopped version. “We took our most popular, classic beer and gave it a contemporary twist by introducing a lighter body and an elevated, dynamic hop profile using new and classic hop varieties,” states Ungermann in a press release. The dry hopped version is lighter and brighter than traditional Anchor Steam, with the floral hop aromas you’d expect from a dry hopped brew. It’s still got the classic complex roasty and slightly woody character, it’s just dialed down a bit to let the floral hops through. What’s interesting is drinking the dry hopped version and the traditional one side by side to contrast the deeper, richer flavors of Achor’s traditional Steam with the new, more contemporary version These days, a lot of the older craft breweries like Anchor struggle a bit to remain relevant in the fast moving brewing industry. Dry Hopped Steam shows Anchor has effortlessly overcome this challenge.

Next beer up is Cucumber Crush Sour from 10 Barrel Brewing. 10 Barrel takes a lot of flack from selling to corporate beer giant AB InBev , which reminds me of the time I was at an small coffee shop across the street from a Starbucks. On the coffee shop wall, there were all sorts of signs saying things like “Corporate coffee was evil”, “Starbuck Sucks”, and various other derision thrown at the Starbucks across the street. There was just one small problem: Their coffee was noticeably inferior to Starbucks. Say what you want about the evil diabolical plans of AB InBev, and while I likely agree with you, 10 Barrel is demonstrably one of America’s better breweries, still going strong since the acquisition. Cucumber Crush is yet another example. There’s light flavors of cucumber with a fruity, strawberry-like clean tartness. That’s it.  Yet, this simple, straightforward uncluttered combination is just ridiculously refreshing.

Finally, we come to JC Flyer IPA from Iron Springs Brewing in Marin County’s Fairfax. With family in Marin County, I drop by the Iron Springs Brewpub every so often and have enjoyed this West Coast style IPA. It’s citrusy, with tangerine flavors dominating, with some piney notes and a little resiny stickiness. The malt basically stays out of the way. Just another in the long line of solid-to-great IPA’s you find all over the place in California.

Rambling Reviews 7.28.2016: The New Mexico Edition

You may have noticed a great lull in posting in the early part of July. Of the many reasons for that, one was a family trip to Las Cruces, New Mexico last week to visit my parents in-law. During which, a quick trip to the grocery store turned up so New Mexico (New Mexican?) beer finds so let me ramble about them.

First up, Marble Brewery IPA. I’ve had this beer before on prior travels to New Mexico, and me thinks they’ve tinkered with the recipe. It’s much brighter and floral than I recall, with some earthy and pineapple notes thrown into the mix. It seems rather malt forward with a creamy underlying malt base despite the 95 IBU’s. Despite its slightly heavy malt character, the hop freshness wins the day to create a brew that did a good job quenching my thirst under the hot New Mexico sun.
Then there’s the intriguing De La Vega’s Pecan Beer. They grow a lot of pecans in New Mexico, so it figures someone would try putting some in a beer. De La Vega basically takes their Amber and adds pecan oils to it. And by golly, it works. It’s not the most subtle beer, the pecan nuttiness is pretty front and center but the pecan blends well with the toasty malt.  The flavors are clean, the beer is uncluttered, and it all works.

Finally, every trip to Las Cruces includes a stop High Desert Brewing. It’s interesting to see how the place how evolved over the past nine years since I’ve been coming here. When I first dropped by, it was a quirky locals joint, featuring one of the finest collections of Velvet Elvis paintings west of the Mississippi back by the restrooms. Then a few years later, the Velvet Elvis’s disappeared and the place seemed dominated by a hipster college crowd from nearby New Mexico State University. Just last week, the gentrification of High Desert seemed nearly complete, with trendy art adorning the walls, but the Velvet Elvis painting were back!  As for the beer, it was solid as ever. Over onion rings I enjoyed their clear Hefeweizen, with a snappy wheat tang and light clove aromatics. Now a German Brewmaster might rightfully claim this isn’t exactly the traditional, cloudy yeasty Hefeweizen we’ve grown to know and love. I’d have to agree, but the brew still tasted mighty fine.
This important archive of Velvet Elvis paintings can be found
back by the restrooms at High Desert Brewing

Rambling Reviews 5.17.2016 : Boulevard’s Tell Tale Tart, Anderson Valley’s Briney Melon Gose, and Coronado Brewing’s Berry the Hatchet

It’s the time again to ramble on about some new beers encountered on my travels, this time with a bit of fruit theme,

Let’s start with Tell Tale Tart, from Boulevard Brewing. What a wonderfully balanced composition of simplicity this is. There’s a little musty funk, a little sweetness, some fruity esters and some sourness that create an excellent warm afternoon sipping beer. I applaud Boulevard for resisting the temptation to dump boysenberries, tamarind or some other fruit or spice addition that just doesn’t belong there. It’s nearly perfect as it is.

And then there is Anderson Valley’s Briney Melon Gose. As you might expect, there’s noticeable melon flavors, barely detectable saltiness and almost no sour tang. Well, it’s balanced. When the Gose style came on the scene a couple years ago as, a wonderful breath of fresh salty-sour air. Anderson Valley’s Gose, and I mean just Gose without any fruit added, was one of the best. But it seems like the Gose has now become just a general purpose fruit beer. I was a bit on the fence about Anderson Valley’s Blood Orange Gose and really under whelmed by Sierra Nevada’s Otra Vez Gose.  Briney Melon Gose works as fruit beer and I enjoyed drinking it.  But I’m missing that yin-yang salty/sour balance that made the Gose style so enticing. Now, breweries are just dumping fruit and spices into their Gose and upsetting that balance. German brewers buried in Leipzig have every right to be spinning in their graves.

Finally, we come to Berry the Hatchet from Coronado Brewing, which sent me a sample of this beer to try. They take a light touch with the fruit and wisely brew this with little sweetness, lest this become syrupy tasting. There’s a nice complexity to the berry flavors if you concentrate hard on them, and they end with a satisfying tartness. I suspect beer geeks will be a little underwhelmed, but the other 99% of the population will be just fine with this summer thirst quencher which at 4.6% abv, is rather sessionable.

Rambling Reviews 3.14.2016: Anchor Brewing’s Go West!, Off Color Brewing’s Le Wolf, and Almanac Farmer’s Reserve Blueberry

Running a marathon, plus lots of work and family commitments have slowed down my beery explorations lately. However, I’ve still had time to sample some new brews to ramble about them in my little corner in the online world. So let’s get to it!

We’ll start with Anchor’s new IPA foray, Go West!. Anchor has an interesting history with IPA’s. Anchor arguably launched the whole IPA thing in America with their Liberty Ale.  Even though it was released in the 1970’s, Liberty Ale still holds up today as a strong example of the style. A not so strong example of the IPA in my seldom humble opinion is Anchor’s unnamed IPA, which I find rather timid  and underwhelming. There’s no such problem here, Go West! hits all the classic West Coast IPA notes, full of punchy grapefruit and pine flavors, and a slightly resinous finish. Presumably, the marketing folks at Anchor hope an exclamation point does a lot more for this beer than it did for Jeb Bush.

Next up, Le Wolf Biere de Garde from Chicago’s Off Color Brewing. I found this toasty, yeasty, estery concoction just a real pleasure to sip. It’s a little on the sweet side, and at 7.3% abv, offers a real kick. Fruity esters dominate. I picked up some apricot and peach, but it was more one unique flavor not easily broken down into components.  A few folks on Beer Advocate noticed pear. It’s one of those beers you can analyze for hours, or one you can enjoy without thinking about it at all.

Last, but hardly least is Almanac Farmer’s Reserve Blueberry. Ho hum, Almanac put out another excellent barrel-aged brew. Almanac first brews their house sour ale, and then racks it to a secondary fermentation in wine barrels filled with Northern California blueberries. There it sits for a few months, picking up the blueberry flavors and a nice purply color. Sipping the result, the blueberries served as a light accent to the wine, oak and moderately strong sourness. It’s balanced, all the flavors playing nicely together rather than popping out on their own. What else can I say, it’s another example of the usual Almanac magic.

Rambling Reviews 11.17.2015: Sierra Nevada’s Hop Harvest #3, Lucky Buddha, and Half Moon Bay’s Calf-eine

One again, it’s time to ramble on various beers I’ve had lately.

First up, none other than the 3rd batch of Sierra Nevada’s Hop Harvest Series made with newly developed hops. In fact, they’re so new, they’re only known by the numbers 472, 05256, 431, and 06300. Hopefully someone will give these hops some sexy names, as they coalesce to create unique pear-like flavors, with some melon and pine for good measure. It’s a wonderfully soft tasting IPA, which like others in this series, redefine what can be accomplished with hops.

This next review presents a serious challenge to maintaining my beer karma. It’s Lucky Buddha, a beer from China (*) sold in cool looking green bottles shaped like the laughing Buddha. Only recently could you find this beer in the United States. The nice Lucky Buddha PR person offered me a sample for review and I said “yes”. Without going into a long story, this remarkable persistent and determined PR person finally got a six-pack of Lucky Buddha delivered after weeks of effort and when anyone works that hard to get me some free beer, it would seriously damage my beer karma to say anything bad about the beer she represents.

But of course dear reader, it’s also bad beer karma to going around saying great things about a beer just because someone gave me a free six-pack, hence the dilemma. Now it’s a pretty safe bet the small segment of beer geekdom that reads this blog is probably not breathlessly awaiting the next lager from China sold in green bottles. And no, my expectations were not the greatest either. However, both my wife and I liked Lucky Buddha on it’s own terms. Sneer all you want at the rice adjuncts, they gave the beer a clear freshness in between the initial light striked skunkiness and a slightly muddled grassy hop note at the finish. It’s not one of those “nothing” lagers totally devoid of flavors, there’s actually something going on in this brew. It’s an easy drinking beer if I say so myself and works well with Asian food. OK, beer karma remains intact.

Finally, when it comes to beer karma, you can’t go wrong drinking a beer that combats human trafficking. It’s Calf-iene from Half Moon Bay Brewing, sales of which supports Not For Sale a charity fighting human trafficking. Calf-iene is a coffee, milk stout, that tastes like coffee and milk in a stout. Yes, that’s the brilliant culinary commentary you’ve come to know and love from this blog. Seriously, the flavors really come together nicely, with a light sweetness and low level of carbonation. It’s a little grainy going down with just a faint whisper of hops that stays out of the way of those wonderful roasty, creamy flavors. Packs a lot of flavors for just 6.3% abv. Just a really nifty sipping beer.

(*) OK, Lucky Buddha is actually brewed in Australia.

Rambling Reviews 10.12.2015 : Mammoth Brewing Wild Sierra Farmhouse Saison, Ninkasi Noir Milk Stout, and Cucapa Runaway IPA

Time once again to review some of the more intriguing brews which crossed my path.

First up, Wild Sierra Farmhouse Saison from Mammoth Brewing Company.  Our family’s fall annual camping trip to Yosemite is not complete with picking up a few Mammoth brews at the Yosemite Valley store, since in and around Yosemite National Park is the only place you can find Mammoth’s beers. In this one, the fruity esters with plenty of apricot character blend well with the moderately toasty malt. Mammoth Brewing adds local pine needles to the brew, literally injecting the piney breezes of Yosemite into the mix, creating a clean freshness in the brew to bring it all together. Be forewarned, packs a bit of a punch for the style at 7.5% abv, yet I found it wondrously stimulating and refreshing sipping this on my front porch.

For our next beer, we turn to the dark side. It’s Ninkasi’s Noir Milk Stout with Coffee, part of Ninkasi’s Special Release series which the brewery sent over for a sample. Upon first sip, I detected the usual rich, creamy, and roasty characteristics of this style. But as the beer warmed and the flavors opened up, dark under currents began to emerge. Buried deep beneath the strong dark chocolate and coffee flavors, came the faint sounds of hops, scratching and clawing to break free. This is no easy sipper, it’s a compelling conflict in a glass as the characters struggle for flavor dominance in the darkness. An arresting experience.

Finally, beer karma compels me to write some nice things about Cucapa Cerveza since they apparently sent me some of their beers to sample. I say “apparently” because one day coming home from work, I find this big box on my porch and inside are 20 bottles of their different beers. No one wrote me from the brewery ahead of time asking me to try a sample, nor was there any letter in the box. For the most part, I enjoyed all the different beers from this Mexican brewery, which all had their own soft earthy quality to them. Of the bunch, I found their Runaway IPA highly exotic in its unabashed malt-forwardness. You can tell it’s an IPA with its noticeable floral, earthy bitterness poking through the slightly sweet malt background.  Maybe that’s just the way they do IPA’s south of the border, but I really appreciated how they resisted the temptation to smack you in the face with a bunch of hops like only 27 zillion other IPA’s do. Refreshing in both its restraint and soft edges, while it’s not mind blowing, this IPA’s may well force you rethink the possibilities of the style.

Rambling Reviews 8.31.2015: The Fireman’s Brews

These two firemen started Fireman’s Brew
(photo from Fireman’s Brew)

Fireman’s Brew certainly has the feel good story. Back in 2000, two firemen stood exhausted on the Glendale Mountains in Southern California at midnight after putting out a brush fire looking into the night, wanting a cool beer to quench their thirst. They go on to create Fireman’s Brew, a self described “craft brewery” with a portion of their profits going to the Fallen Firefighters Foundation, which support families of firefighters lost in the line of duty.

But look deeper and you’ll find more corporate slant to the folksy tale. While the company is headquartered down in Los Angeles, the bottles read “Ukiah, CA” as the city where the beer was actually brewed.  So it figures the beer is brewed under contract at Mendocino Brewing’s facility. Two years ago Fireman’s hired industry veteran Don Lake, who’s had stints at corporate brewing giants Anheuser-Busch, Coors, Labatt USA, and to run their North American Sales Force. Fireman’s recently announced a private offering of up to 4 million shares of Common Stock, along with the declaration on their website of an “aggressive growth plans…focused on building Firemans Brew into a National Brand”.

Apparently part of that “aggressive growth plan” is to provide beer samples to bloggers like me in hopes I’ll write nice things about it. On that score, their investors should be happy as I’m here to say the beer of Firman’s Brew tastes pretty good for the most part. The three bottle line-up of a Blonde (Pilsner), Redhead (Amber) and Brunette (Double Bock) is not wildly creative and nothing about any of these beers breaks new ground. None the less, Fireman’s Brew has recently won awards with these beers and I can see why.

(Fireman’s Brew product shot)

I enjoyed the Pilsner Blonde with its clean, sturdy, and slightly caramelized malt with a nice little spicy finish. Nothing fancy here, just a good Pilsner which is a highly underrated thing. It won Gold at the 2014 Los Angeles International Beer Competition.  Even better was the Redhead Amber, an unlikely malliard bomb with plenty of depth, running the roasty spectrum from light caramel to a barely noticeable ash. It’s my favorite of the bunch and took Silver at the 2014 San Diego International Beer Festival.  Least successful of the three was the Brunette Double Bock.  It’s got the malty and smooth thing down, but consisted of a bunch muddled roasty flavors without much depth and vibrance, resulting in a rather flabby beer. Someone must have liked it more than I did since it took Silver at the 2014 Los Angeles International Beer Competition.

With brewing’s continual renaissance, some interesting animals can be found within our country’s zoo of breweries.  Fireman’s Brew is an interesting and often tasty animal.