Category Archives: Sierra Nevada

Thursday Tasting Notes; 12.1.11

Every now and then, I get to try a bunch of stuff out at once. I don’t take notes nearly as often as I used to (or should, for that matter) so it felt like a good enough excuse to post some thoughts as I tried things out tonight. Let’s get going, eh?

Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale (BrownShugga’ Replacement)

We all by now have heard the story of how the gang in Petaluma just plain ran out of capacity to brew the ever-popular BrownShugga’ seasonal this year. In its stead we get this IPA that I swear to Flying Spaghetti Monster is a repackaged version of their Kill Ugly Radio release from a few years ago. Not a compliant, mind you; I loved that beer and I love this one too. Aromas are sharp and spicy–black pepper spicy rather than coriander spicy. The palate is a quick rush of tropical fruits with a firm hop backbone establishing itself and carrying through the finish. I got a feeling we’re going to sell through a ton of this (in fact, we went through about 1/2 the 5 cases we got just today).

Le Bilboquet Mackroken Flower Scotch Ale

Now this is some serious cool. The nose alone, with with its sweet toffee malts and hint of honey, is worth the price of admission. The palate is a real treat, though; amid the sweetness of the honey and malt there’s a restrained roastyness that too many breweries tend to dismiss these days. It’s a beautiful thing when done right, and it’s done way right here. Imagine a richer, more robust Scotch de Silly and you’re starting to get the level of craftsmanship and enjoyment Mackroken Flower brings to bear.

Le Bilboquet La Corriveau Oat Stout

These guys in Quebec know what they’re doing: the La Corriveau is a complex, subtle Stout. With some of the nutty notes that I usually associate with aged Barleywines, Corriveau starts off on the palate a bit confusing. A few revisits reveals a mix of grains, chocolate (with a hint of dark chocolate ‘tang’ contributing to the feel–nice touch), and super-subtle hoppiness building to a rich finish. Between the two, I much prefer the Mackroken personally but I think La Corriveau may end up proving the more popular of the two.

Sierra Nevada Ovila Quad

Before I get to the beer itself: good lord I’ve never fought so hard with a cork in my life. No lie; not in a still wine, sparkling, dessert–nothing was like trying to pry the cork from this monster. Something to keep an eye out for if you pick one of these up.

But should you pick one of these up? I…don’t know. There are many different way too look at this beer, and almost all of them lead to different conclusions about it. As a Belgian Quad, Ovila’s a bit tame and thin; the aroma has a fair amount of the medicinal sweetness expected in the style but on the palate it feels lacking, and that medicinal quality goes almost vegetal on the back palate. The finish dissipates all too quickly. As a beer it’s enjoyable enough, but doesn’t stand out among the vast array of great Belgian options out there. Even as a Sierra Nevada beer, it doesn’t offer anything to the drinker that Life & Limb hasn’t already done (and done much better at that).

It’s not bad. It’s just not outstanding, and to make a mark for itself the Ovila beers need to kick the living hell out of expectations. My advice? Wait for the Brandy barrel aged version coming in 2012. That should be interesting.

Avery Rumpkin

*cracks knuckles*

Ok, let’s do this. How do I start to explain this thing? Let’s try…

Hmm. Good, but not quite it. How about…

Yeah; going with that. It’s got funk, dirt, sweet spice. Boozy as all hell. Will get you completely twisted if you aren’t careful. Rumpkin is freakin’ Go-Go made into a beer.

On the first sniff of Rumpkin, I wondered if something was wrong with it. Where was the spice, the gourd, the Rum? All I got off it was dirt-dog earthiness and nose-twitching heat. So I gave it a couple minutes.

(If you don’t think this isn’t turning into an excuse to post random Go-Go classics, just walk away now ’cause it is on over here.)

So, with a few minutes to air out and warm up a bit Rumpkin lets a bit more of the spice and pumpkin loose. The first taste is where Rumpkin gets you loose; it’s sweet without cloying and the rum barrel makes all kinds of sense in all the right/wrong ways. Beware: Rumpkin doesn’t feel 15.9% ABV and that only encourages you to roll with it. The lack of sweetness and overwhelming alcohol feel lets you enjoy Rumpkin for the great Pumpkin Ale it is. If you can snag some of this, do it.

I’m genuinely stunned at how much I dig this beer. I was expecting an over-the-top booze/sugar bomb with some pumpkin and spice thrown in to justify its existence–and I would’ve been down with that, if not totally enamored. But this is a legit creation with nuance and soul.

And it’ll make you want to get up and shake your ass. Can I just say, in summation: Goddamn I love the Northeast Groovers. ‘Til next time.

Cheers!

-Beermonger

The Beermonger Review: Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Vol. 1

So here in the DC area we got a bit of a surprise last week: A handful of cases of Sierra Nevada‘s first of what will be four 30th Anniversary beers arrived unexpectedly. I was fortunate enough to have someone pull a bottle aside for me and after a weekend spent working and at my cousin’s wedding (more on that later) I got around to popping the cork last night.

This first 30th Anniversary was brewed along with Anchor Brewing‘s Fritz Maytag. He and Sierra’s Ken Grossman decided to brew a ‘Pioneers Stout’, built to age by two of America’s brewing legends. The label claims the beer is “worthy of your finest snifter”, which is true, but I’d already broken out my trusty Sam Adams glass so I decided to go ahead with it.

The first thing I noticed was the gorgeous packaging. The cork-and-cage bottle is elegant and the back label looks better than about 90% of other beers front labels. Well played, Sierra Nevada. The second thing I noticed is that the 30th has a very active carbonation to it. I poured what I thought was a moderate amount of beer and watched as a milk chocolate colored head quickly rose to the top and over the glass. I gave it a couple minutes to settle and dove in.

Aromas were really exactly what one might expect from 30th‘s appearance; heady notes of mocha and roasty malt greet the nose. Impressions on the first sip are that of a very rich Stout, with the textbook chewy dark grain and sweet cocoa flavors. There was something different, though. The feel. I’ve written before about I believe Sierra’s yeast strain contributes to it’s trademark easy drinkability across all styles. I don’t know if that’s what is being used here, but 30th drinks nothing like the ‘stone in your gut’ Stout it smells and tastes like. It was almost refreshing. I was delighted and frightened at the same time—sure, I loved being able to put down the whole 750mL bottle without feeling weighed down, but the beer is 9.2% ABV. I’m a veteran beer drinker to be sure, but this is not a weak beer. I sometimes want to be protected from myself but that’s just the more liberal part of me that I try not to listen to since it tries to get in the way of beer enjoyment. All in all if this is only the first beer in the series, it’s a hell of a start and I can’t wait to see the others. In the meantime I might go scrounging around for another bottle.

Final verdict: Breaks little new ground but is a beautifully made beer that expresses all of the Stoutiness you can handle without being overbearing on the palate or stomach. If you can only grab one, drink it withing the next 6 months-1 year. If you can grab more than that, pop one now and enjoy.

The Beermonger Review: Van Twee, Life & Limb

‘Collaboration’ is the word. It’s a word that honestly bothers the hell out of me, mostly from overuse. Ever since the 90′s, people have been popping up on each others records and calling it collaboration when really it’s just a joint promotional play between two media entities. If Mary J. sings the hook on your record, that’s not a collaboration. She’s just singing the hook on your record. Sting and Dire Straits didn’t ‘collaborate’ on Money for Nothing. He just sang a background part as a favor for a friend.  Let me drive this home before I go on a real rant….

NOT a collaboration: Close, but no. You just had dudes lay down new tracks in the background for a song that was already a hit. Congrats, you made Diet Cherry Vanilla Coke:

Technically collaboration: All bands are collaborations, but these guys (Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones) are well known outside of this project (by the way get this album now!!!):

THE collaboration, also one of the best rock songs ever written:

So, collaboration demands a certain level of recognition and prestige of the parties involved. It’s a rare thing in these days where everyone is an expert in every field (just ask me or any of the thousands of beer and wine bloggers out there). There aren’t many opportunities for true collaboration in an era where most industries and arts are devoid of masters. Except, it seems, for the wonderful world of craft beer. It’s become de rigueur for brewery folks to come together, hang out, talk shop and then release a special beer they thought up together.

Not that this is anything I’m complaining about. Some of the most interesting beers of the past few years have come from this phenomenon. The Brooklyn and Schneider breweries practically rewrote the book on Hefeweizen with their dual efforts. Bel Proximus was the culmination of years of study for the Brett Pack and a signpost of American craft brewing’s coming of age through it’s understanding of Belgian brewing techniques. It’s this Belgian/American link that we’ll be exploring first today.

I hadn’t heard of Dirk Naudts until about a year and a half ago, when the beers of his De Proef (Dirk’s nickname, ‘The Prof) brewery arrived in Northern Virginia. It turns out that Dirk is something of a legend over in Belgium; one of the most renowned brewmasters in the whole country. I’m still trying to find out how many recipes from how many breweries are Dirk’s. If you’re enough into beer to be reading this blog, you’ve probably had something Dirk came up with, even if you don’t know it. Well, Dirk eventually came to open De Proef as his own brewery, a small super-precise computer-monitored place that turns out the magic potions that this sorcerer comes up with. My first experience with De Proef was with their excellent Reinaert Flemish Wild Ale, which is just about the most intensely Bretty thing I’ve ever seen. It had great balance and flavor, though, and I knew I’d found a new brewery to be a fan of.

Not all of Dirk’s beers are his alone, however. Not long after first carrying his beers, we received the first in a series of collaborations he was doing. This first one was made with Tomme Arthur of Lost Abbey/Port Brewing. It was a beer with a Brett level approaching the Reinaert but hopped like an American DIPA. The result was tropical, rich, smooth goodness that found a surprisingly large following. When I finally made it out to Cali earlier this year and visited San Francisco’s world-class Toranado, the first draft I had was the Port/De Proef Ale.

Now we have the release of Van Twee (‘from two’), made with John Mallett of Michigan’s legendary Bell’s brewery. I had heard whispers about this one for about a year, but had no idea it was coming in. I happened to notice it on the shelf where I bought it (no I’m not telling—I want to try to get another bottle or two) and immediately grabbed it. The back label describes it ‘broadly’ as a mix of the Porter and Dubbel styles, using Belgian candi sugar and the dark, sour cherries that Michigan is known for as well as some of that cherry juice. The sugar used for bottle conditioning came from Michigan sugar beets and it was finished with a Brett addition and the Nelson Sauvin hop from New Zealand (!). Even the ingredients are in the spirit of collaboration.

Van Twee pours a dark brown hue; in certain light you can detect a hint of red but I really had to look to find it. It looks like a Belgian Stout more than a Dubbel, but the viscosity is consistent with Porter and Dubbel. The nose was doubly tart with the cherry and Brett. Anyone familiar with Bell’s Cherry Stout knows what I’m talking about when I say that I knew there was a malty beer under the cherry aroma, but it’s almost too much work to get past the intensity of the fruit. I feel like it worked a little better in the context of the Belgian beer; perhaps there’s a familiarity we have with sour Lambic beers that makes it a little easier to handle such a sharp cherry smell. Either way, I couldn’t glean much of the beer’s character from the nose, so I dove in.

The palate is full-bodied and very smooth. It’s a great balance of rich malty flavors and the tartness of the cherries. The sugars and Brett are used more for texture, for evenness of flavor, with neither having a heavy influence on the flavor. What they do, though, is add elements that seem to come from nowhere: The sugar on the front palate makes you think immediately of a Belgian Dubbel or Stout, and the Brett combines with the cherry on the finish in a way that made me think for an instant of Rodenbach’s Grand Cru. I love Rodenbach Grand Cru. All in all, an interesting one-0f-a-kind brew that you should seek out. Highly recommended.

The collaboration everyone was talking about in ’09, though, was Life & Limb, the long-awaited beer from Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head. Beer Geeks everywhere got all tingly when this was announced, and the speed with which the bottles flew off shelves here in NoVA spoke volumes about how big the craft beer scene has become here. I managed to snag one for myself (only one, unfortunately) for a review.

Life & Limb is a strong dark Ale (10% ABV) made with Chico estate-grown barley and maple syrup from Dogfish boss-guy Sam Calagione’s family’s farm in Massachusetts. The brew is bottle-conditioned and naturally carbonated with Alaskan birch syrup (!). I cracked my bottle and dove in…

The first thing I noticed was the color. Life & Limb pours a deep nutty brown, with a fine but firm head. It looks more like a potion or elixir than a beer, like I should take one of its 24 oz bottles with me into a Legend of Zelda-like dungeon. I got a lot of the maple and birch syrup on the nose, with a hint of that classic unmistakable Sierra Nevada yeast strain (more on this in a second). I lingered on the nose for a bit, because I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I was intrigued for sure, but I didn’t quite get it yet.

After the first sip, I got it. Not nearly as heavy as it looked, not very hoppy at all (even though it clocks in around 50 IBU). Sweet maple syrup and birch notes are kept in check by the richness of the grains. The feel, thanks to the birch syrup, is almost soda-like. I’m a HUGE root beer/birch beer fan, and this was a revelation for me. In a master stroke, the house yeast strains of BOTH breweries was used, avoiding a common knock I’ve heard many people throw at Sierra Nevada beers: That their yeast strain is so neutral and easily accessible as to be a bit dull. I agree that the SN yeast is distinctive and very approachable. Personally, I think that’s where its brilliance lies: In the early days of SN, wouldn’t you want to develop a strain that appealed to as many people as possible? It’s the common thread that lets you know no matter what the style, you’re drinking a Sierra Nevada beer. However, for Life & Limb, the SN strain alone would’ve simply been overwhelmed and even if it wasn’t, it would’ve been a shame not to take advantage of the mad science going on in Delaware. The combination makes this unique Ale drinkable to the Beer Geek and novice alike, and adds an edge to the palate that keeps the whole experience from being cloying and too rich. Variety of notes and flavors as well as its uniquely ‘big tent’ feel for such a robust beer lead to food pairings that are almost endless. This beer could be an ambassador for craft beer if it stays in production.

In the end, I found Life & Limb to be maybe the best collaboration I’ve come across yet. It’s a true melding of styles and philosophies yet is more than elements of the different breweries. This is an independent beer with a life of its own. Something new and alive and undeniable. In fact Life & Limb has its own website, as well it should. I don’t know what the situation is as far as bottles are concerned, but I’ve been seeing bars and restaurants in DC having events and putting Life & Limb on tap, so good luck with that.

And good luck to everyone reading for a happy, healthy, beery 2010! Thanks for taking the time to stop by.


Next time: If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!

Beermonger



Harvest Time

So, it’s Fall already. Hell, it’s not far off from winter. I just wanted to give a quick rundown of some of my favorite seasonal beers from this Autumn:

Sierra Nevada Fall Harvest & Chico Estate Harvest: My first taste of the Estate Harvest, which I had only heard about until this year. The Fall Harvest was pleasant as always, finding a great balance between the intensity of the wet hop and that classic Sierra Nevada smoothness. The Estate was more robust with fruit notes and earthiness, but still managed to restrain itself from being ‘one-note’.


Bell’s Oktoberfest: This has been my favorite Octoberfest beer for the past 3 years now, and no one is stepping up this year to change my mind. Awesome fall beer; maybe not entirely traditional, but it works for me. A bit more malty and structured than you may expect from the style, which makes it perfect for a session. Now, if we’re at an Octoberfest celebration and I’m about to put down brats by the pair and beers by the stein, give me something lighter…


Founder’s Harvest Ale: A strong showing. We just started seeing the Founder’s beers in VA earlier this year, but they are making their presence felt quickly. From the very cool Red’s Rye IPA to Breakfast Stout to this wonderful wet-hop ale, I haven’t been let down yet. Sharp, resiny hop flavors are supported by an appropriate amount of bitterness. Like stumbling into a pine tree in a morning-after stupor: Alerting yet comforting.


Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale: We have a special place for the pumpkin beers here in our home, this one in particular. It’s my wife and I’s favorite and we look forward to seeing those 4-packs every fall like little kids at Christmas. What that says about us I’m not willing to think about right now, but I’ll tell you that no beer combines the spirit of strong American craft brewing with the rich flavors and spices of pumpkin ales in better harmony than the Weyerbacher.


Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale: My #1-A pumpkin beer. Always a treat, especially when my wife talks about how ‘meh’ it was last year before asking me to bring home 4-packs of it (happens every year, BTW). To clear the air, the recipe is pretty much consistent year-to-year now, so no year should be better than another. Back in 2004 or so, I don’t know for sure. I think it wasn’t until about 2006 or ’07 that the Punkin’ was carved in stone, so to speak. Either way, grab one if you see one—they seemed to have finally brewed enough to make everyone happy but it still won’t last all that long.


Southern Tier Pumking: The Monster. The Prince of Pumpkin flavor, the Sultan of Spices, the Chairman of the Gourd. People, I try a lot off stuff and I’m not bragging when I say something has to really work to make an impression on me. Like I used to say to vendors and brewers alike, “I only have so much room on my shelves—you have to earn your spot”. So for me to immediately recall every nuance of aroma and flavor in a beer on command tells you something about the experience. My not being able to handle a bottle of it myself (even if it’s a bomber) says something too. Their Creme Brulee I can put down alone; give me a snifter or a tulip glass and I’m in. Pumking is too much goodness for one human being. I split the bomber I got with the Mrs., and the smaller portion allowed both of us to enjoy the dead-on pumpkin pie impression Southern Tier pulls off here. It’s not a drinker, it’s an experience. One worth having.


Boulder Brewing Cold Hop: Not necessarily a Fall seasonal, but this is when it gets released so I’m including it. My favorite Boulder beer by far, Cold Hop is a clever blend of American IPA hoppiness with a traditional English-style Pale Ale (recipe courtesy Charlie Papazian). The result is literally the best of both worlds. It’s like Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale and St. Peter’s English Ale made sweet love and had a baby. A delicious, wonderfully drinkable baby.


Ok, that’s the quick rundown of beers off the top of my head. Honestly this was going to be a longform review of the Sierra Nevadas, but this was also supposed to be written about 3 weeks ago, so there.

Next time (and this will be soon, as I am tasting and taking notes tonight): A surprise from Bell’s? Stay tuned, hop fans—same Beermonger time (whenever), same Beermonger channel.

Don’t forget to follow your friendly neighborhood Beermonger on Twitter for my thoughts on what I’m drinking, news as it breaks and pretty random observations usually relating to the NFL, comic books and TV.


Beermonger

Weekend Tastings and the Joy of Gov’t. Regulation

So I was trying to get this stuff posted last night, but I had some issues with our internet…

I’ll be doing a rare Friday Night Tasting May 9th from 5-8 PM. I’ll be pouring the Gouden Carolus Grand Cru Van De Kaiser from 2000, 2004 and 2007.

This is going to be something of a ‘make-up’ tasting since I was trying to do this one a couple of weeks ago, but that got nixed when the ’00 and ’04 didn’t show from my distributor. This led to me getting far more worked up than the situation deserved and got me in a little hot water with the distributor that I get the beer from. You see, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we have what’s known in the business as a “three-tier system”. That means in order for you, the consumer, to purchase a sixer of beer there has to be an entity that imports the beer into the state, buying it directly from the producer. After that they distribute the beer, meaning they sell it to retailers and restaurants. After these middle-men and the government get their cut of money and taxes they deign to allow the average citizen to purchase the product they wish to buy.

As I understand it, this system came to be after the repeal of Prohibition. Essentially, it is an alcohol tax without actually having an alcohol tax. On its own I don’t necessarily have much of an issue with the system except for it seeming awful Puritanical and greedy. But then again, this is America and the Commonwealth of Virginia to boot, so…

My real issue is that distributors purchase “rights” to sell certain beers within certain areas of the state, or for the entire state itself. As a business practice, this is done to ensure that, say, two distributors who handle Sam Adams don’t undercut each other in the same marketplace. Although where the damn problem with that is is beyond me. You see, in practice these Rights create little monopolies, wherein the restaurant or retailer (such as yours truly) is forced to buy a product from a certain company regardless of their pricing or regard for their customers. If you guessed this is a snapshot of the situation I ran into a couple weeks ago, you are correct.

I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to spend the vast majority of my (not nearly as big as it could be) budget on product from one company, only to have the beer I need, that I’ve promised my customers that I would have, sent to some other shop hours away because (are you ready?) they took their delivery sooner. No one gave me the heads up that “Hey, other guys want this stuff, maybe you should take the delivery early”. No. Just sent it out and scolded me like I’m supposed to know.

But that’s what comes along with “Rights” in the three-tier system. You get the right to sell a certain breweries products and with that you get the right to do pretty much whatever you feel like with it. It’s great for them: they can go ahead and not worry about people skills or customer service when hiring, because it doesn’t matter! The customer has no choice but to give their money to the distributor! I could call in an order and they could go ahead and say “Go fuck yourself” and I’d still have to pay them if I wanted to have the stuff in stock that I need to compete with every goddamn chain and big-box store trying to put guys like me out of work!

I’m using this situation as an example: The distributor and I have both said what we wanted to say to each other, and I’m ordering as usual. Really, what choice do I have? It’s not like they have competition. My rep from them and I are cool; I’ve known the guy for a while and it wasn’t all his fault. Bygones and all that stuff you need to say so that people don’t think you’re an uppity retail guy who thinks he’s more important than he is. Trust me, dealing with distributors on a daily basis lets you know exactly how important you are. All I want to say is that there is a word that my mom uses way too often: asinine. It’s not that she uses it too often because it doesn’t apply; she uses it too often because there’s so much in this world that is against all common sense that it seems a shame to throw around such a great descriptor.

The three-tier system and the distributor “Rights” monopolies are asinine. I wish I had a widget that you could click and hear my mom say the word just so you get an idea of how it feels. Asinine.


Anyway, Saturday I’ll be pouring from 12-5 PM as usual. I’ve got Weyerbacher Muse (a cool Belgian-style Saison), Rogue Mom Hefeweizen, the new Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale and Dogfish Head Immort Ale.

Come by if you’re in the hood. Until next time.

Cheers,

Beermonger

The Beermonger Review: I’m an Arrogant Bastard (and you should be too)

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single sip.

Ok, so they don’t say that, but I do. In fact, I just did. It was about ten years ago ( I won’t say how old I was exactly; I’ll just encourage young people everywhere not to drink illegally). I went to visit my best friend in Tucson. At this time I was but a novice Beer Geek: Aware of better beers but not exclusive. I’ve always managed to find an interest in the finest of all crafts, be it in music, art, writing, or beer. I was already a regular Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams drinker. I’d discovered the joy of Pete’s Wicked Strawberry Blonde. On this initial trip to Arizona (which I thoroughly enjoyed and have made myself a promise to live in for a couple years in this life) I enjoyed many new experiences. Most of those I won’t name here. Among those I will are pints and pool at the Red Garter, a 1/2 sandwich and bread bowl at Bisonwiches and Fat Tire Ale (more on Fat Tire in the near future).

At some point in my trip, my friend, knowing I was into good beer, told me there was something I needed to try. It was a beer from an at the time new brewery called Stone. That beer was Arrogant Bastard Ale. I don’t know what to say about that night except that Arrogant Bastard is the beer that got me into craft beer.

For the uninitiated, Arrogant Bastard is a full-on assault on the senses. It smells of bitterness, is bright angry red in color and tastes like sharp earthy goodness forcing you to wake up and know that the truth is out there. It literally changed my life. From then on, I went looking for the next, the new, the different.

I had an Arrogant Bastard tonight for the hell of it, knowing I was going to write about it. It’s still the same angry red. It’s not an IPA: Rather a strong ale, with an alpha acid hit that leaves you a slight bit cotton-mouthed. It coats the glass with a sporadic, ominous lace. The flavor is that of a different type of hop; earthy, almost smoky. There is enough malt to support the hoppiness, and enough hop to make you reconsider every beer you’ve ever had in your entire life.

I’m a comic book geek, and I read something in a book recently that definitely applies here: I’ve had bigger, I’ve had better (though not many), but you never forget your first. Arrogant Bastard was my first true craft beer experience, and after all these years it seems we just know each other better. Every move, every twist and turn. This is truly a beer for the ages.

Long live the Bastard.

’till next time,

The Beermonger