Monday, December 3, 2012

Knee Deep Citra Extra Pale Ale

Forget your winter warmers. Forget your cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Forget anything dark, I'm going fresh, bright, sharp citrus this month and kickin' it IPA. While most people look forward to drinking and  enjoying all the specialty holiday beers that are put out, I was craving something simple and awesome. And I found perhaps the most simple and most awesome IPA I've had to date. Which can only mean that I'm even more awesome than I thought.
The Beer:
For the first time in quite a while, I was surprised by a beer. I had tried several Knee Deep beers in the past but was never overly impressed with them. While they all got high ratings and rave reviews on beer websites, I always found them to be good but not great. Well made but nothing all that special. Enjoyable but ultimately forgettable. So when I was perusing my local beer store, I only knew two things: 1) I was looking for 2 bombers to drink for this month's blog as opposed to a 4 or 6 pack; and 2) I wanted an IPA. When taking into account all the seasonal offerings combined with beers I've already tried, my selection became much more limited than I would have expected. Yet, there was Knee Deep Citra, a beer I'd heard good things about but never tried. While I wasn't about to buy two 22oz beers based on reviews for a brewery I was never previously wowed with, the price point and lack of selection helped push me towards going with this single hop brew. Fate must have been looking down on me this post-Thanksgiving day, as I ended up buying what may be the greatest IPA I've ever had. The aroma, taste, palate, and appearance were all out of this world. It was as if someone created an ultra-fruit made up of grapefruit, tangerine, lemon and orange. Perhaps some melon and papaya in there too. All with a sharp piney bite at the end of each sip. It really was remarkable that these flavors permeated from first pour all the way through last sip. I was giddy with joy over this beer. I wanted to tell all my friends and wish I had bought more than just 2 at the time. I'm unsure if it was a new recipe, extra fresh bottles, or just that this beer was made for my taste buds, but whatever the circumstances surrounding my experience with Citra, I am now a fan for life of this beer and will certainly give the brewery a second look when shopping.
The Buzz:
The thing with great beers is that they go down much faster than bad ones. Simple math really. Or logic? Or...physiology? Whatever it is, I pounded through the first of the two bottles in record time. While the 7% abv that Citra was packing is right in the middle of my sweet spot, it practically drank like a session beer. The carbonation left a mild tingling on my tongue that reminded me very much of days past when a great blunt would make my whole head buzz with pleasure. While those days are long gone (now weed does nothing but create hunger and paranoia...fuck aging...fuck it in the ass!), this replacement was perfectly suitable and enjoyable. And where the first bottle went down fast, furious, and fantastically,  the second bottle took a little longer and created a different sensation --- it made me tired. Perhaps my body was still reeling from a long day over the smoker preparing for Thanksgiving. Perhaps I was still digesting the pounds of brisket and potatoes. Whatever the reason, a sudden sense of fatigue crept in and became quite difficult to fight off. If not for the intense flavors and aromas of Citra, I likely wouldn't have finished bottle #2 and instead just passed out for the night. Thankfully, I pushed through, started a new episode of It's Always Sunny and happily finished my allotted amount before happily entering the world of sleepy-fun-happy-times.
The Hangover:
Being that nearly everything about this drinking experience was near perfect, I was sure that ol' man fate would take his trust karma-rod and rape my soul with it. There was no way a beer this good, this drinkable could possibly allow me to come out unscathed. I was certain when I fell asleep that I was in for a day of hurt ahead of me. Unlike all of my other drinking escapades (as well as every other morning), the dogs managed to sleep in until my wife woke up. They must have been equally tired from the holiday events, as the entire family slept well through the night and into the morning. After finally waking, my body was painfully quenched of thirst. Before any coffee was brewed, a large jar of water was finished as I watched cartoons with the dogs on the couch. Soon after, coffee, breakfast, and a shower followed. By noon, all systems were go and I was ready to tackle another day of this mini-vacation.

The Verdict:
If it wasn't made clear in my opening paragraph, I really dig Knee Deep Citra. What made it an even better experience than just being a great beer was that it fulfilled exactly what I was seeking out this month. And it surpassed my expectations of what a good IPA is like. Whereas, I had previously held Ballast Point Sculpin as the high-water mark of a great readily available IPA, Knee Deep Citra now clearly takes that title.
Now, if only I could find it again...as every attempt to locate a bottle since that day has come up short. So perhaps its not that readily available, and perhaps that's what will make it all the more special when it is.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Surly Wet

It's that time of year when everything really starts changing. The weather outside, the clocks themselves, and of course the flavor of beers. But whereas common logic might be to pick up your favorite pumpkin beer, mine is to take advantage of the very small window for breweries fresh hop offerings. The only question is: are they all hype and marketing? Or is it truly something special?
The Beer:
My decision on which fresh hop beer to choose wasn't all that difficult. While nearly every brewery offers up their own take on the style, I could find only one that offered it in the most fresh packaging available --- the aluminum can. Cans provide better and longer lasting freshness. And there are probably no canned beers more sought after than Surly Brewing. With their distribution limited only to the state of Minnesota, I had to search long and hard to get my hands on some Surly Wet (well, not too long or too hard. All I really had to do was ask around to some of my trading partners). When it finally arrived, I promptly checked the canning date (Oct. 5th, 2012) and got to drinking. This years batch was brewed with 100% Simcoe hops and tasted incredible. The flavors of grassy pine, fruity citrus, and sweet malts blended together amazingly. Sure, the weather may be getting cooler and the impulse for a darker, heavier beer looms large. But in this transition period here in Los Angeles where it can be 85 degrees one day and 65 the very next, Surly Wet hit the spot in every possible way. Oh, the bitter irony that the closest distribution for it is thousands of miles away.
The Buzz:
With so much hops added to the brew, it's no surprise that the level of alcohol had to creep up to help balance the aroma and taste. Surly lists the abv on Wet at a perfect 7.5%. For myself, that is the magic number in creating a drinkable yet decently potent beer. Being packaged in proper-pint sized cans, I also managed to drink my upper limit of beer for this blog by slowly but surely polishing off 3 whole cans. With each pint, the buzz slowly and steadily crept in but never took total control of my senses. Being that it tasted, looked, and smelled great, and it was easy as hell to drink, I certainly looked forward to pint after pint. However, I also got to thinking somewhere during the 2nd or 3rd drink that while this beer was certainly remarkable, was it really all that much better (or different) than any other top-notch IPA? Was this notion of fresh hop beers more marketing than artistry? Certainly there are subtle differences...stronger aromas, sharper tastes, and brighter colors. But, do those slight adjustments make it an overall better version? Without doing a blind side-by-side test of Surly's Wet, Furious (IPA), and even Abrasive (DIPA) it's probably impossible to tell. But being that the entire notion of fresh hop IPAs is the freshness and importance of drinking as soon as possible, such a test may never even be feasable. So, for now, I'll have to rely on sensory memory. Which, after drinking about 48oz. of respectably alcoholic beer, may or may not be all that accurate.
The Hangover:
After a night of drinking Surly Wet, I passed out happily feeling somewhat confident that the hangover the next morning wouldn't be too severe. I didn't feel excessively drunk before sleeping, and I made sure to drink a large glass of water just to be safe. Yet, while I slept soundly, when I awoke to Murdoch my boxer nudging me to feed him, my body felt like it had just been revived from a months-long coma. Although I could not sense any excessive headache or stomach pain that typically accompanies my hangovers, my entire body seemed to be weighed down. My eyes could barely open upon filling the dogs' water dish. I wavered and wobbled throughout the kitchen as if I was drugged. And while the thought of my wife secretly slipping me a roofie did cross my mind, I'm fairly certain that she would not do such a thing (nor know where to procure such a drug). Once I made my way back to the bed after the dogs were done with their business, I passed out once again. When I was awoken next, it was to my wife gently nudging me to inform me of the late hour. Despite my monthly embellishments I'm never one to sleep the following day away. Yet, on this occurrence I remained comatose until almost noon. Once finally getting up and around however, whatever hangover may have been there quickly faded and by the time I finished a cup of coffee, I was completely fine. So for all the freshness that Surly Wet promoted, one possible (and welcome) side affect may also be that of a sleep aid.

The Verdict:
I'm quite thankful for the chance to have had this remarkable beer. Surly Wet definitely lived up to the expectations. And while I'm not quite totally sold on the notion of fresh hop beers being any better or worse than the average IPA, I do appreciate the effort that brewers go through to bring the people a unique spin on a typical beer. All the ingredients, work, packaging, and yes...even marketing can't just be for show. There is simply too much labor and resources involved to be anything less than an effort to brew a better beer.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fullers Vintage Ale 2009-2011

As this month's deadline fast approached for me to decide on what to drink, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. With a full fridge of beer, yet none in enough quantity to suffice for the purposes my experimentation, my only option was to go out and buy something at the store. However, I was determined not to purchase even more beer when I still needed to drink down what I had. Thankfully, the genius-lights popped on in the ol' thinktank and reminded me that in the back of my fridge I had 3 bottles of the same beer. Perfect for my needs. The only catch was that these 3 bottles would be my first foray into drinking a multi-year vertical flight.
The Beer:
For anyone not familiar with vertical tastings, it's essentially just a term for drinking different years productions of the same beer in succession to gauge the differences in each vintage. Certain vertical flights have recipe deviations from the brewers but the same base, while others are meant to examine the effects aging a beer has on its taste. Regardless of why or how the session is being conducted, then end result is almost always the same --- pleasantly drunk.
The oldest of my collection, the 2009 version of Fullers Vintage Ale was by far the most unique. Whether it was the variances or the age, this year had the most punch to it. Overall it tasted a little oakey and very malty. It poured heavily carbonated but faded quick. Slight alcoholic finish with a leathery palate. I also wrote down "dried figs, plums" (yes, I did take actual, physical notes. Why? Because I wanted to make it seem like I'm sophisticated and intelligent. I took these notes on a Crutchfield catalog I had in front of me as I watched a UFC fight between a 7 foot tall Dutch fighter and a Croatian firefighter. I am pure class!)
Next up was the 2010 vintage (see what I mean about intelligent...I know how to count!). This one poured out into my glass with a much larger head of fluffy white foam. The aroma was also a bit more fruity than the 2009. It had a more subdued taste profile yet also more hops on palate. And those random notes I jotted down? "Lemon, citrus tones. Slight alcoholic heat in finish." Huh...those actually seem like legitimate tasting notes. I should have had my monocle out when writing them.
Last was the 2011 naturally. And again, the amount and density of head increased from the previous beer. My only thought was that the bottle conditioning of these ales allowed for the carbonation levels to drop off significantly after 2 years or so. Aside from that difference, this year's version was the most IPA-like. It had distinct grapefruit, lemon, and citrus aromas as well as a more bitter, hop aftertaste. The malty base still retained the same qualities as the previous years, however this one seemed a bit thinner than the others. Also, I did not write down any notes as I was probably becoming too inebriated to care or remember to do so.

The Buzz:
Oh, what can be said about the wonderful side-effects to tasting 3 successive years of a finely crafted brew that boasts a pleasant 8.5% abv? Well, for one thing, in ensuring that I not over-drink my allotted amount, I chose to pour out 3 oz of every bottle into a taster glass leaving me with 14oz per beer for consumption  I figured a beer such as this, that lent it self to the medium - medium-high range of alcoholic content shouldn't be pushed to it's max. Nor should it be minimized however, especially considering these beers are one of a kind and would be very difficult to locate again. That all said, I have to say that the buzz I got from these 3 beers was near perfect. It came on slowly at first, creeping its way into my body with ease, and by the end I found myself to be in that perfect space of light-headed, relaxed enjoyment along with a sense of total clarity and recollection. I was happily full and satisfied with the 3 beers I had enjoyed that night. They lasted me a solid 2 1/2 hours and kept me company throughout a night of enjoying Ultimate Fighting.

The Hangover:
With such a great experience both in taste and imbibement, I was a bit concerned that the trifecta of awesomeness simply wouldn't occur. After all, 3 aged Vintage Ales with a blend of different ingredients and an impressive alcoholic content seemed like a likely candidate for a rough morning after. After passing out promptly, I slept through the night well only to be awoken to Murdoch asking for his breakfast. Although I was quite groggy, I managed to feed him and his brother with our normal morning routine before I could pass back out. Before doing so, I managed to drink a glass of water and pop a few Advil as my skull felt slightly fractured internally. Alas, that Advil couldn't put Humpty back together again. When I woke a couple hours later, the headache remained. Neither coffee nor shower alleviated it, nor did more pills that afternoon. Only time would heal this wound. 

The Verdict:
Ultimately, this first foray into vertical tasting flights was a success. All 3 Vintage Ales had their clear distinctions while remaining fairly universal in how they looked, smelled, and tasted. There was clear care taken in brewing these once-a-year specialties. And I felt that the happy & pleasant buzz they created trumped the moderately painful & annoying hangover. I certainly recommend Fullers Vintage Ales to anyone looking for a good brew or starting point in collecting beers. I only regret that it'll be at least another three years until I drink these again!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Short's ControversiALE

Summer is winding down, but drinking is ramping up! As these California days are getting hotter and hotter, I find myself with more and more excuses to have a crisp, refreshing beer anytime of the day on the weekends and many evenings during the week. So, how did I chose what to drink this month for my blog? I let fate decide. And sure enough, the day before I chose to drink this month's test beer, a package from good ol' Elise Oras showed up at my doorstep carrying some tasty Michigan brews!
The Beer:
Sometimes I think that all these different beers are going to just end up blurring into one another. With the increasing variety of beers from all over the country and my disturbing desire to have them all, I begin to wonder if I'll ever tire from IPA after IPA or 2 year barrel aged beers versus 3 year ones. There has to be some ceiling, some limit to what my palate finds interesting. Thankfully, Short's ControversiALE, wasn't that limit. I had no idea just what type of beer this was when Elise told me she was sending it. All I knew was that Short's Brewing has a good reputation in the mid-west and makes cleverly titled beers like Short's Strawberry Cake and Key Lime Pie. So when I opened my first bottle of this toasted IPA, I was definitely taken aback by the uniqueness in flavor. See, all that writing on the bottle says nothing of this being toasted. And the notion of a toasted IPA, while logical, never occurred to me. I always associate roasty, burnt flavors with that of stouts, porters, even lagers. IPAs always come across more fruity and fresh in my mind. ControversiALE had an earthy taste to it, almost even going so far as to say it tasted like dirt was included. But not the scary, shit dirt. No, more like the nutrient-rich expensive dirt that is made from expensive composted materials. Because although dirt came to mind, I had no problem whatsoever in plowing through bottle #1 and straight into bottle #2.
The Buzz:
With Short's ControversiALE, I knew heading into this session that I had the option to max out on volume consumption. Having a 6-pack at the ready and coming in at a relatively low 5.5% abv, I was fairly certain that it'd be no problem having four of these in one night. As with most of my drinking, I chose to do so while watching two people enter a cage and try to knock out or submit one another. Thinking that I'd be able to pace myself and have 1 beer per fight, I inadvertently ended up in quite the quandary when each fight ended in spectacularly brutal fashion. As submission followed knockout, I found myself only just finished with the 2nd bottle and the main event starting. Thankfully, main events are five rounds and can last as long as 30 minutes all inclusive. So as I opened the 3rd bottle with nary a buzz and the bell rang for the opening round, I barely got two sips in when the champion Ronda Rousey nearly tore off the arm of her opponent in under a minute. So much for that plan. Regardless, I continued to polish off the 3rd bottle while watching the replays and highlights. Perhaps the fact that I finished number three so quickly helped both what little buzz I was accumulating build as well as enhance my enjoyment of the beer. Being lower in alcohol allowed my palate (and stomach) to stay in check and finish up all four beers with the perfect amount of alcoholic imbibement for the night.
The Hangover:
Summer is Los Angeles is a tricky time of year. Certain days can be overcast and cloudy until well past noon. Others can reach 90 degrees before breakfast is ready. Oftentimes, that heat can make all the difference in how I handle hangovers. If I can sleep in and not sweat balls the instant that I wake, my body will often heal from the poison I so thoroughly filled it with the night before. However, if I am woken early by a blinding sun and forced into manual labor in the dry dragon's breath, then it's likely that my body shall punish me for the pains I put it through. Thankfully, ControversiALE seemed to be low enough in abv and made from ingredients that agreed with my physiology. Because while my Sunday morning began with the worst of temperate scenarios, my body showed little signs of fighting the alcohol still lingering inside me. Aside from a mild headache and fatigue, all systems were go and I was totally functional throughout the day. I was very grateful to have received a 6-pack of this beer. Not only did it provide me a chance to try a beer otherwise unavailable to me, but (as with all 6-packs I drink for this blog) it gave the gift of extras to enjoy at a later date. The date for ControversiALE however, was less than 24 hours later as I had both after a hot day tending to the yard.

The Verdict:
Another experiment, another success. It shouldn't surprise me that Short's ControversiALE passed my tests with flying colors. A variation on the traditional IPA with a pretty low abv has little chance of messing with me too much. However, instance like Lagunitas Censored Ale have proven that theory to be wrong on occasion. While I appreciated the chance to have this beer and am glad to have tried an IPA with a toasted base recipe, I'm also okay with ControversiALE not currently being offered around these parts. Sure, if I saw it on the shelves, I'd probably buy it again eventually. But with so many different options these days, it'd likely get lost in the shuffle of other offerings. That said though, for anyone who does have access to this beer who has not yet tried it, I implore you to give it a try. You might just find that that toasted IPA style is your new favorite.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale

There are such difficult decisions on what beers to drink for the purpose of this blog. This month, I literally found myself in front of a cooler in a liquor store flipping a coin. After a lengthy perusal of the selection, I narrowed my choices to two beers both packaged in cans. Heads it would be the well-known and highly-regarded Dale's Pale Ale. Tails, the lesser-known but locally grown Uncommon Brewers Baltic Porter. So, at 9am on a Saturday in a Beverly Hills liquor store, I threw that coin up in the air and looked like a douche when it landed in my hand and I nodded my head in agreement with...myself.
The Beer:
So when fate dictated that I go with Dale's Pale Ale for my monthly drinking exercise, I was actually pretty excited. I've been on a beer can kick lately and Oskar Blues was one of the first in the craft beer business to embrace the American tradition of packaging alcohol in aluminum. While I've had several of their other offerings before, surprisingly, I had yet to ever try the flagship beer of this brewery. Dale's Pale Ale is a fairly well known, well established, and easily attainable beer nowadays. Along with beers such as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Stone Arrogant Bastard, and New Belgium Fat Tire, it represents what many consider to be a "gateway" beverage into the world of craft brewing. And like those beers, it offers a fairly straight-forward taste profile. The hops and malt are well balanced for a pale ale with just the right blend of sweetness over the bittering hop bite. Personally though, I felt as though the beer itself was a bit too heavy. Perhaps it could have been the Greek dinner I had. Or the cookies I chose to eat for lunch that day. But, after just one drink my mouth felt heavy and my stomach full. I knew that I needed to push through at least two more cans, but honestly, before I began drinking I was sure that it'd be a night where I reached my blogging limit of four. Everything tasted just fine from the can, but the overall weight of the beer sat heavily in me and stood in stark contrast with my experiences of other pale ales such as the aforementioned Sierra Nevada Pale. Thankfully, I was watching my dear friends from Bon Temps battle witches on TV to help push me through the night.
The Buzz:
As previously stated, Dale's Pale is likely as good a choice as any to introduce people to who only drink Bud, Miller, and Coors. You can find it almost everywhere and it won't break your bank. Being packaged in a can further cements that notion, as its much easier for someone to bring a 12-pack of Dale's to the beach or park and throw one over to the guy who just ran out of Bud Light. Sure, he may not immediately like your brash attempt to cultivate his palate, but one mention that this can has 50% more alcohol than his previous swill will very likely encourage the gent to finish his can and politely ask for another. At 6.5%, this is one of the more potent American Pale Ales I've had. Yet, it also falls into my personal "sweet spot" of alcoholic content. It's that range where I will often feel a great buzz that slowly comes on and stays just long enough to put me to bed. I'm not hit too hard causing me to stop my drinking abruptly, nor am I left completely unaffected and reaching for beer after beer feeling like I'm wasting my time and money. Like a perfectly thrown dart, this one landed in my bullseye (umm, that sounds way dirtier upon re-reading this). After struggling through the first two beers, my buzz caught up with me and encouraged me to crack open the third. Still relatively sober though, this one took a bit longer to finish. I was pretty full after finally finishing the second episode of Vampire Threesomes (aka True Blood), but also when finally finishing beer #3, I was pleasantly buzzed. So naturally, despite the fact that I was exhausted and my episodes of True Blood were over, I figured I'd at least start the fourth beer while I watched a few late night fights. Thank god those fights ended with quick submissions and record knockouts, because after only a quarter of a pint, I was done. Thank you very much Oskar Blues, but I'll pour you out and call it a night!
The Hangover:
Due to the difficulty I found in trying to finish the fourth beer of Dale's Pale Ale, combined with the fact that the first three felt much heavier than their abv indicated, I was certain that the morning was not going to be kind to me. Surprisingly though, I woke up fairly early and was only suffering from a case of intense dehydration. There was no mistaking that I had one too many beers the night before (or even perhaps two too many?), but there was also no indication that this beer triggered any allergic or severe reactions otherwise. Stomach was ok, headache was fine. I was able to do rather extensive yard work in the 80+ degree weather. And yet, I wasn't ever completely in the clear either. The cloud of alcohol hung over me for the entire day and night. A mild pounding in my head couldn't be quelled with aspirin, coffee, or water. The large mexican dinner I made only satisfied my hunger and not my discomfort. Essentially, I drank too much. Not so much that I was sick, but enough that I probably could have done without opening that fourth beer.

The Verdict:
Ultimately, Dale's Pale Ale is a pretty great beer on it's own. When adding in factors like availability, portability, and price, it becomes even more remarkable. However, that said, I don't think it quite surpasses pale ales from breweries like Sierra Nevada, Stone, or even Dogfish Head for that matter. The difference in my opinion is the hop to malt balance. Dale's opts to go for a sweeter pale ale, resulting in a heavier beer. The others maintain a higher hop profile that keeps things crisp and light. But all things considered, I'd probably still choose Dale's Pale Ale to introduce to someone not familiar with craft beer. If only because the image of throwing someone a can is way cooler in my mind, than hitting them in the head with a bottle. Cans rule!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Bell's Special Double Cream Stout

Once again, I choose to go against the seasonal grain and feature a beer that is the complete antithesis of warm summer months. Forget those IPAs and saisons. Give me a hearty stout any day of June and I'm a happy man. Make that stout somewhere in Michigan and I'm even happier.
The Beer:
This month I tackle another beer that doesn't see any distribution here in Los Angeles. Luckily, I have friends in low places who hook a brotha up in the black market, on the backstreets, and secretly, dangerously through the magic of UPS. Thanks to my BFFF (the extra F is for "fool"), Elise, I got my hands on a six pack of this great mid-western beer. Bell's is a well known and well regarded brewery, but most unfortunately not distributed anywhere west of Missouri (save Arizona --- but everything is so ass-backwards in that state, chances are they don't even know they have it). Their Special Double Cream Stout is only available in the winter as a seasonal offering. The bottles I received have a bottling date of January 4th, 2012. Which means, while certainly out of season, it was also within its recommended consumption window. Additionally, the time between creation and consumption seemed to do little to the beer's overall taste. While there was not as much aroma as I would have expected, there were little hints of smoke to the smell. As far as taste goes, if I was limited to one word it would have to be "roasted". Thankfully I'm the mayor of blogtown here and other words I'd attribute to Special Double Cream Stout's taste are chocolate, slight coffee, and a little bit of biscuit. Although it was not quite as smooth as a cream stout should be, it was however great on the palate with a pleasant, welcoming aftertaste. After drinking two of these beers while watching my weekly night of fights, it occurred to me that this is very much a near perfect representation of what an American stout is. Sure there are bigger, more intense stouts made by nearly every well respected brewery. Bell's itself makes one with their Black Note Stout. However, many of those stouts are aged in barrels or use coffee, vanilla, or smoke to achieve their uniqueness. Special Double claims to achieve it's depth of flavor from a blend of 10 different malts without any added dairy. The result is a rich and flavorful drink that doesn't let you forget it's alcohol without overwhelming you in any way. It has an intense flavor profile for such a comparatively mild beer. And it comes in six-pack, which means enough for this blog's purpose with extras leftover to save.
The Buzz:
Being that I did have an entire six pack to commit to this review, yet adhering  to my blog limit of 48 oz, I went into this month's drinking experiment planning on going through 4 of them and reaching my maximum amount. After two, however, I began to rethink that strategy. Even though Special Double had a modest 6.1% abv, it drank heavy and thick. Unlike the Milk Stout Nitro from last month, there was no carbonating assistance to speed up the rate of consumption. In fact, due to the nature of this particular beer, it actually slowed down just how quick I could drink. These was a definite thickness to each glass I drank. And despite being free of dairy, I could still taste a bit of tang with each sip. The combination of malty heaviness and creamy thickness slowed my drinking to a crawl. Whereas last month I was able to put down a similarly alcoholic beer three times as fast, this month I was well aware of just how much I had drank and how much more I had to go. Nevertheless, I persevered and pushed through. Taking my time, I continued to drink sip after sip, beer after beer. Before I knew it, I was into my third hour of fights and opening my fourth and final beer. Sensing the creeping symptoms of drunkenness, I was sure to drink a water between numbers three & four. However, it did little to tame the raging beast of beer inside me. My head was happily buzzed, my spirits were pleasantly lifted, and my bladder was achingly full. Special Double Cream Stout did everything a good beer should. And there were still two more left in that six pack for a later date.
The Hangover:
As with any and every morning after a drinking test, I was awoken earlier than my body had wanted by two hungry dogs. Unlike other mornings though, this time I woke up excessively tired. Symptoms of a hangover weren't exactly present at this early hour, but my body and brain were so unbelievably spent that it was hard to get through the morning routines I am normally able to complete on autopilot. Fearing that this intense fatigue meant a more dastardly hangover was to come, I went with my old hangover cocktail of an antacid, a Benedryl, and two Advil before I passed back out. When I woke up a few hours later, the dreaded hangover hadn't fully reared it's head, yet there was still some exhaustion and a slight bit of gastronomical unease. I pushed through the desire to just lay on the couch and went to the park with Murdoch, followed up with a stop at McDonalds for an Egg-McMuffin and then back home to finish some chores before another epic day of drinking with beer-buddy Mark began in my wife's new art studio. If nothing else, I suppose the mere fact that by 1pm the following day I was going through a mini-tasting with Mark of other mid-western and rare brews meant that Special Double Cream Stout didn't debilitate me with a hangover severe enough to merit inclusion on my list of beers to avoid. Which was good to know considering I still had two more left to drink.


The Verdict:
Although there were moments the day after when I began to question the intensity of my hangover, ultimately the fact that I was able to: a) function normally; b) maintain productivity; and c) get thoroughly day-drunk with my buddy, lead me to the conclusion that I am not in any way negatively affected by Bell's Special Double Cream Stout. In fact, much like last month's beer, this is a brew that I wish I did have more access to. It's easy drinking, great tasting, not too heavy but certainly hearty enough to keep you warm on those chilly winter nights. Or, in my case, keep you warmer on these mild summer days. Thanks again to Miss Elise for providing the beers, it's great to have a hook up for instances just like this. And it's even greater to be drinking my extra two as I finish up writing this month's post. Unfortunately for me, now they're all gone and I haven't a clue as to when I'll get to drink some more.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro

Another month, another beer. This time, it's one that came all the way from the mid-west. One that isn't available out here in Los Angeles. But one that I procured nonetheless through the magical, wonderful world of beer trading --- my latest and greatest addition to the ever expanding world of getting drunk as a hobby!
The Beer:
Milk Stout Nitro is a beer that I've long been curious about. It's been around for a little while, slowly expanding its distribution footprint across the mid-west and outwards. But the closest it ever got to me was somewhere in Colorado. So, I decided to go the internet route and seek out an online store that would ship it. I had several successful hits, but all listed only Milk Stout as being available --- not the Nitro version. What good is that? Who wouldn't choose a variety with the super-hype moniker "nitro" added to it? It's like saying to a kid: "Hey, do you want to watch Power Rangers? Or Power Rangers NITRO?" Check and mate! But with beer, apparently that might not necessarily be the case. For the uninitiated, when beers are advertised as being on nitro, that typically means that they are being served from kegs that are pressurized with NO2 as opposed to CO2. The carbonation from nitrogen dioxide is significantly smoother than that of carbon dioxide. The air bubbles produced are much smaller and thus result in a much smoother drink. Most people are familiar with this from beers like Guinness or Murpheys. The "cascading" of the carbonation that is visible on the glass is the clear indication of a beer served from a nitro tap. And away from the bar, most people know of Guinness' patented "widget" which works through the magical process of tiny elves inside the can fluttering their hands as fast as possible to stimulate the beer. Yet Milk Stout Nitro has found a way to incorporate this process into a glass bottle without the requirement of any widgets (or elves for that matter). And part of the process in creating the cascading effect is adhering to their "proper pour" technique. That technique is actually quite simple. You, 1) pour hard, and 2) admire & enjoy. That's it. No angling the glass, no slow pours, no confusion. You pour it hard and quick and watch the magic happen. The result from said magic...pretty awesome! Milk Stout has a thinner quality to it than many of the bigger, boozier stouts. But it still retains strong notes of coffee, vanilla, and biscuit. There is also a tangy aftertaste to it that I imagine is slightly imparted from the lactose added in that gives it it's name. And it goes down nice and smooth...and quick.
The Buzz:
As one may have inferred from my previous statements about the scientific properties of nitrogen versus carbon dioxides, the smaller air bubbles and smoother carbonation result in a silkier drink. The cool temperature combined with viscous texture reminds most people of drinking a milkshake. With Milk Stout Nitro, you take things a step further by imparting many similar flavors and aromas. Yet unlike a milkshake, this drink has alcohol to speed you up and no ice cream to slow you down. So despite the fact that this beer has a modest 6% abv, I think I drank a pint of Milk Stout faster than any other beer I've had since beginning this blog. The resulting factor was that the first 3 beers went down in the same amount of time it often takes me to drink 1 more alcoholic stout of another nature. All factors considered, I think that the resulting buzz was probably equal to one of those barrel-aged 12% monster stouts that I have aging in my beer cellar (which is really just a crawlspace storage closet I have in my office where I save some of the more rare and special beers I've collected). When it was time to go for the 4th (and final) beer for this experiment, I had to pause and take a break. Not only did I not want to completely diminish my supply of Milk Stout, but I also wanted to let my palate cleanse, my senses straighten, and my thirst build. For this was the last bottle I would get a chance to have for a long while, and I wanted to remember it.
The Hangover:
After a night of drinking the maximum allotment of beer I allow myself for this blog's purpose in a record time, I wasn't sure what sort of hangover I'd wake up to. Typically, I can get a good sense of what hangover awaits me based on how much alcohol I can sense in the beer. Something that's 15% aged in bourbon barrels that has a burn to go with each sip often lends itself to a worse hangover than an English mild sporting something under 4% abv. But with the combination of easy drinking and nitrogen delivery, I really had no clue how this particular beer would affect my body. As it turns out, I hit the jackpot with this beer. After pounding through 48oz of Milk Stout the night before, I awoke with absolutely no symptoms of a hangover whatsoever. There were no headaches, no stomach ailments, not even any dehydration. I even got a pretty decent amount of sleep and woke up ready for a full day of renovation work on our garage. If I hadn't known better, I'd assume that this beer is actually a nutritional requirement delivering all sorts of vitamins and minerals to my body through the tiny, microscopic nitro bubbles. It's quite unfortunate that I have none left and won't be getting any more any time soon.
The Verdict:
Milk Stout Nitro more or less lived up to the hype that I had created for it. Although, I can see some downsides to this beer. I'm sure that the nitro effect fades over time. The longer the beer sits on the shelf or in your fridge very likely diminishes the subtle carbonation provided by the nitrogen. That particular element for delivery seems to be less forgiving to improper storage, temperatures, and even pouring methods. Which, unfortunately means that this isn't a beer I can just trade for en mass. And trading is not a very econimical method of obtaining beers. You must not only buy beer to send in exchange for what you'd like to receive, but you must actually send it...which is expensive as shit. That said, should Milk Stout Nitro ever find it's way here to Los Angeles, it will probably become a regular-ish purchase off the shelves for me. If for no other reason, it's always fun to share with people and show them the proper way to "pour hard" and "admire & enjoy"

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Surf Brewery Black & Rye


After last month's barnburner of a duel review featuring Pliny the Edler and Younger, I decided to continue with that line of thinking and do another two-for-one review. This month however, instead of two seperate beers, I tried a 50/50 blend of two brews from one of Southern California's newer breweries.
The Beer:
Early last month, I was able to procure a growler of Surf Brewery's Black & Rye. It's an even mix of their Surf Patrol Black IPA and their County Line Rye Pale Ale. Similar to my review of Lagunitas Fusion, this a beer that can only be had by those who actually visit the brewery. Or at least in theory, it can only be attained this way. Surf has very recently started bottling their beers and distributing them across much of Ventura and Los Angeles countries. So, I suppose, one could make this themselves by combining a bomber of each. But where's the fun in that? Ironically, this particular beer wasn't my first or second choice to take home in a growler. But choice number 1 was only available on cask and choice number 2 wasn't available in growlers at all. I guess that's part of the deal when you're a small, but growing, brewery. You can't offer everyone everything all the time. Fortunately, the server on hand suggested one of their blended beers they regularly serve, the Black & Rye. Not wanting to go home completely empty handed, I tried a taste and had him fill me a growler's worth. About a week later, I opted to break open this baby and enjoy it over a night of Walking Dead episodes.
The beer itself was pretty interesting. While the growler held it's corbonation well, the first few sips were remarkably smooth almost like that of a good porter or stout. But there was certainly a bit of kick to the overall taste as well. I assume that came primarily from the rye portion of this blend. I'm not typically a big fan of rye beers, they have to be done exceptionally well for me to choose one over another available style. I know that rye is a common brewing ingredient, but its not just beer where I pass on rye. I'm one of those obnoxious bastards who asks for patty melts to be served on sourdough instead, and I almost never buy ruben sandwiches for that very same reason (and don't EVEN get me started on pumpernickel...uhhhggg). Back to the beer though, the Black & Rye hid its spice well and mixed nicely with the strong hops-forward flavor of the Black IPA. My palate wasn't overwhelmed like it can be with double IPAs and it wasn't lacking definitive flavor that I've experienced with some pale ales. There was definite "taste" to this blend and the texture that resulted either from bottling it in a twist-off growler or due to the unique mixture of the two beers made it remarkably drinkable for the first pint or so.
The Buzz:
The drinkability of this beer easily continued into the second pint. At 6.2% abv, its neither a session nor a big beer, but sits nicely in that range of weighty alcohol without being overwhelming. I find that the 6-8% abv range has been the most successful for me in these tests. They produce a nice, noticeable buzz without too much of a detrimental hangover. And they allow me to remember accurately the events of a zombie-infestation on a small southern farm that I watch throughout the night. Towards the end of the second pint, however, things began to turn for the Black & Rye. I can't quite be sure if it was the beer itself or the fact that I had tried some Himalayan food earlier in the night in the form of Yak Chili. While, the Yak was indeed a tasty meat, the chili was more akin to a stew. And although I ate it all and enjoyed it very much, washing it down with a few pints of blended beer from a growler may not have been the smartest of ideas. My stomach began to fill quicker than I had expected and finishing beer number 2 took some time. Additionally, the taste of the rye began to come forward and the hops of the black IPA receded. Carbonation still held strong with the pour of pint 3, but it took a good nursing to finish it for the night. The mild spice from the rye continued assert itself in the palate, and mixed with the lingering yak (as well as visually digesting images of zombie corpses on screen), I wasn't chomping at the bit to pour myself one last drink.
The Hangover:
After 3 solid pints of Black & Rye, 2 excellent episode of The Walking Dead, and 1 quality serving of Yak Chili, my stomach felt exactly like the sum of those parts the next morning. As with many beers (and many chilis), the gas internally produced from too much consumption is often less than desireable. Still, I have a decent stomach and with enough water and an antacid before bed, the results the following day are never too harsh. This time however, no amount of Tums were going to quell the beast that was raging inside me. When my wife came in to the bedroom to wake me after she had been up for a few hours, I didn't even try to hide my shame in the foul odors that I had created. There would be no blaming this on the dogs, for no canine could replicate such stench. No...this was mine to claim! And yet, unfortunately, this preview of gastronomical unease only grew as the day went on. While my hangover was not in the "red alert" phase of debilitation, that was merely because I did not have the 1-2 punch of stomach and head aches. Rather, all the pain and discomfort rested solely on the former. Worse, it lingered for almost the entire day. Neither water nor bread, fresh air nor medication helped ease my intestinal ails throughout the day. And though I probably can't nail down which party was most guilty of bringing this pain to my body, I think it's safe to say that had I not consumed the Black & Rye, I would have at least felt 50% better.

The Verdict:
Oh irony, you are quite the potetic bitch! Surf Brewery was a place and collection of brews that I had long been interested in. The location, the lineup, even the artwork they use for their beers all spoke to me long before I had even tried any. And once I did, I was pleased but still yearned to vistit said brewery to enjoy that beach town vibe of a small but hopping taproom. And once I did that, I was still pleased with the overall experience. Yet ultimately, their blend of Black & Rye just didn't do it for me. Sure it was good for a taste...even a pint. But more than that? I don't know if it's something I'd recommend over another of their offerings (I'm looking at you Oil Piers Porter on nitro!). I suppose however, that it's almost karmic that unless a local bar has both components on tap, you can't really suggest it to someone anyway. Unless you bring them to the taproom or mix some at home I suppose. But if you do, and you enjoy it, whatever you do, don't pair it with yak chili...you'll be sorry.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Russian River Pliny the Elder (and Younger)


When I started this blog a few years ago, never did I think that I'd find myself writing a review such as this. One which pits titan against titan, son challenging father, junior versus senior, Elder opposite Younger! If you haven't figured it out by now, I had an opportunity to drink both Russian River's Pliny the Elder and more impressively, Pliny the Younger within a day of each other. Though I did not plan on reviewing the two, I couldn't help but write about them in comparison and contrast as to what makes each unique; And if at all possible, to find out which one reigns supreme.
Pliny the Younger at Library Alehouse
The Beer:
Without delving too much into detail, I happened to come across Pliny the Younger through a raffle offered by Santa Monica's Library Alehouse. Myself and two drinking friends all won tickets for a pint of this elusive and epic beer. Since it was only 1 pint's worth, obviously I couldn't use this as an opportunity to measure the typical Beer Hates Me parameters of 'beer', 'buzz', & 'hangover'. However, on my way to the event, I stopped off at a local Whole Foods to pick up some lunch for the following day. Never one to pass up the beer isle in this massive store, I took a quick peek to see what they might have in stock. To my surprise and delight, there were bottles of Russian River's Pliny the Elder available (and at only $4.25/each!). I quickly snatched up three bottles paranoid that there was going to be a stampede of sorts to pillage their supply and headed to check out. Leaving the store on my way to the Alehouse, I immediately knew that I'd be taking serious mental notes on what was to come as this was a chance to analyze the differences between the two related brews.
Kopek leading us in a Pliny cheers.
First up to bat was obviously Pliny the Younger. It was served to the three of us in proper glassware at what appeared to be the correct temperature. With such a rare beer, it was nice to see the establishment get all the details about serving it up correct. Right off the bat, Younger had an incredible aroma. Fruity hops and sweet citrus notes seemed to be dancing off the glass. However, the first sip was...anti-climactic. This was a good beer for sure, great even, but the best in the world? I don't know. Hype is a fickle beast. It creates something intangible that likely can never be achieved. Chuck D and Flavor Flav had it right so many years ago...Don't Believe the Hype. But not because you won't find something great, you'll just always be disappointed. That said though, Pliny the Younger was in fact impressive. An amazing accomplishment in brewing when you take the time to savor each sip, which was hard to do being that all the notes blended together so seemlessly that I found myself halfway through the glass without even realizing I had drank so much. The balance in this beer is astonishing. Not too bitter or sweet, not alcoholic at all (an amazing feat being that it clocks in at 11.5% abv!), and crisp and refreshing as well. As I came to the end of the pint, I had great respect for this beer and I understood why it was a White Whale for so many beer aficionados. Would I consider it the best in the world? Maybe...maybe not, but it did earn my accolades as something that I would drink again if only it were easier to do so.
The following night, I couldn't wait to continue this exploration of Russian River's premeire IPAs, and I propmptly opened a bottle of Pliny the Elder after work. Unlike at the Alehouse, I chose to drink the beer in a glass of my own preference right out of the fridge. Whether or not this had any impact on comparison between the two didn't really matter to me. After some thought about Younger during that day, I came to realize that there are intangibles to any product that one reviews. Whereas "hype" affected my initial thoughts on Younger, price and availability may have done the same for my impressions of Elder. So, in order to think about what these beers really had in common and contrast, I had to step back and try to remove any pretenses that were affecting my judgements and evaluate the beers on their merit alone. With that established, I proceeded to enjoy what I felt was a more accurate representation of an IPA. Elder had a much more pronounced hop-forward profile. Pine and grass were present in the aroma along with a bit of fruit. The taste was considerably more bitter than Younger but with that same clean and crisp finish. This was a more powerful beer in terms of taste yet considerably lighter in the alcohol (though not exactly a lightweight at 8.5% abv). However, unlike my experience with Younger, I didn't find myself as eager to drink more and more, quicker and quicker. Younger seemed to have a more drinkable characteristic to it than Elder. Perhaps the strong bitterness in Elder reigned in the rate at which my palate desired more beer. This is not a bad thing at all though. Often, I prefer to take my time with a beer and appreciate it's complexities. Elder seemed more suited for that but only because the flavors were more bold. Younger, on the other hand had many, many subtlties and nuanced ingredients going on that the balance Russian River was able to achieve is absolutely astonighing. And so, thinking about both beers side by side I could really tell that the Younger was a more refined and intense brewing experiemnt than Elder. Which was better though? That seems to be the question that can't be avoided no matter how much I want to.
The Buzz:
The what? The buzz? Oh, right, this is the Beer Hates Me blog. The place where I write about beer's ill affects on my physiology and try to narrow down what ingredients or brewing processes make me feel sicker than others the following day. This is the blog where I try to answer questions like why a light beer such as Anchor Small Beer fuck me up so unbelievably worse than something like Sierra Nevada Double IPA. And as a part of that monthly experimentation, I like to evaluate the inheriant buzz that may or may not accompany each beer. So, as I stated earlier, Pliny the Younger was ineligable for proper testing for my blog due to its limited quantity. Pliny the Elder, however, was ripe for the picking! And after taking my time with the first bottle, I moved on to bottle number 2. Again, another pour into my glass of choice and a gradual consumption as I worked on my computer. I am not sure if the slow rate at which I was drinking this beer had anything to do with what appeared to be a lack of any buzz, but I know that none of my work suffered from any inebriation. All the T's were crossed and I's dotted. No drunk emails were sent and I did not enter into foolish ebay auctions. Nope, everything seemed perfectly fine...that is, until I stood up after I finished the second drink. That was when I had my Benny moment (see approximately 1:15:00 into "Dazed & Confused" for reference). It was as if all the alcohol in my body had been backed up somewhere and standing released it throughout my bloodstream instantaneoudsly. I was not fall-down drunk, but I was caught by surprise and unaware of just how potent Pliny the Elder truly was. After shutting down my computer and making my way downstairs, I opened bottle number 3 with the intent of having just a taste worth of beer. Just enough to meet the 36oz minimum requirement for my testing purposes. I ended up drinking closer to half the bottle but still stayed under the maximum 48oz limit in one sitting. That last bit of beer however was just the right amount to put me out for the night. Put me out on the couch with the TV still on AMC playing reruns of The Walking Dead.
The Hangover:
      There isn't much to write about this hangover because there wasn't one at all. I was as shocked as you. nearly 40oz of a beer that is twice the national average in abv and not a hungover symptom in sight. I suppose it could be due to the slow rate of consumption, the large protein-heavy meal I ate that night, or magical anti-hangover elves that came to me in the night and rid my body of any toxins. Whatever the cause, it was a welcome result. The sweet and unfortunate irony of this however is that a) Pliny the Elder is a difficult beer to find in bottles where I live, and b) when one does find it, it says specifically on the label that the beer is not for storage and meant to be consumed as fresh as possible. So much for stock piling this awesome IPA for future magical consumption where I get pleasantly buzzed with no after effects whatsoever. Oh irony, you're such a bitch!
Three drunks who can't pose for pics.
The Verdict:
      Where a typical verdict from me about a beer is whether or not I can drink it safely without any sever hangover side effects the following day. Then I usually give a snappy little summation of said beer and cheers you all in a freeze-frame ending credits sequence ala 1988 sitcom TV. But for this post, let me cut straight to the answer that matters: Which beer was better? The answer: Pliny the Younger. To be a triple IPA and seem so light, fresh, and balanced is a phenomenal feat. It must have been quite a different beer when it was first brewed because I can not imagine how a brewer would nail this sort of depth and complexity and balance right off the bat. Even professional brewers who have been doing it for years would be hard-pressed to manage that sort of mixture of flavor, aroma, texture, and alcohol. The only thing that Pliny the Younger has going against it is the absurd level of hype behind it. Due to things like raffles, tickets, 2 hour lines and such, no matter how amazing a beer is, unless it gives you an orgasm upon hitting your lips, you will be disappointed. And if your disappointment stems from not being able to secure a pint of it, then Pliny the Elder is perhaps one of the greatest alternatives you could ask for...if you can find it, that is!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ballast Point Sculpin


After a month of analyzing my own branded beer, I return to the world of craft brewing in an ongoing effort to experience, experiment, and enjoy different brews. This month, I decided that I was long overdue in reviewing a beer from one of my absolute favorite breweries, Ballast Point. It's one that I've long enjoyed and even got to visit this past September. In choosing just which beer to review, I went with their most well-known and awarded, Sculpin IPA.
The Beer:
Ballast Point is very clear and concise with how they brand their beers. Each one is nautical in theme, cleverly alluding to the specific beer style and taste profile they present while also tying in to the overall identity of a brewery focused on all things sea. This particular beer, Sculpin, sounds like a familiar fish; but to be honest, if it's not named Salmon, Bass, Catfish, or Shrimp, I really couldn't explain to someone how the beer and it's namesake are related. So, after a trip to my local Wikipedia, I discovered that a Sculpin is a brightly colored bottom feeding fish that has sharp spines rather than scales and large, sharp teeth that can inflict serious bites on people. Okay, I can jive with that in relation to this beer. Ballast Point's Sculpin is an IPA with a strong bite and sharp hoppy notes. It's color is a beautiful and clear orangish copper hue that alludes to the layered aromas of apricot, grapefruit, and lemon layered throughout. The taste is initially quite bitter and piney but quickly settles in with a sweeter aftertaste that doesn't linger or sticky up the palate. Simply put, the Sculpin is a crisp and tasty brew! I can see why it has won countless awards for the brewery. It's a perfectly balanced IPA in my opinion.
The Buzz:
Before I sat down to drink my two 22oz bottles of Sculpin, I thought long and hard about even doing a proper review this week. I wasn't entirely in a mood to drink for one (quite rare, but possible), and secondly, I didn't know if I'd even make it to the second bottle before passing out on my own. You see, the night before I had stayed up late brewing my second batch of beer while sipping on a bottle of another Ballast Point brew (the seasonal and intense Sea Monster Imperial Stout) and foolishly followed that with a bottle of the rare (and disappointing) Faithful Ale from Dogfish Head Brewery. So, as you might surmise, I was a little hurt when I awoke that day and certainly quite worn out from so much beer the night before (making and drinking and reading about beer was becomming to be a bit much). Additionally, throughout the day, in an effort to cure my Sea Monster/Faithful hangover, I devoted myself to outdoor activities in the beautiful 70 degree weather we have almost year-round in Southern California. I manicured our lawn, walked our dogs, trimmed the hedges, played with the dogs, and weeded the yard. While my plan worked and I avoided any pitfalls of the dreaded hangover that I was sure I'd suffer, it had backfired somewhat in that my body was completely spent before I had drank a single drop of the beer I intended on enjoying all along. Yet, with help from a healthy and hefty Mexican dinner and the promise of an epic night of UFC fights, I mustered up the courage to crack open a bottle of Sculpin and enjoy my hard won sobriety. Whether it was the fatigue or mole burrito, I found that the buzz from the first bottle of Sculpin was very minimal. I took my time in drinking it, choosing to enjoy the developing tastes as it warmed in the glass; but found that the lack of any overpowering alcoholic presence allowed me to open bottle no. 2 about halfway through the night of fights. With a 7% abv, Sculpin measures in perfectly as far as I'm concerned in alcoholic content. It doesnt have the double IPA/imperial stout/barely wine punch that usually makes me balk at drinking more than one glass, nor does it have the minimal session beer levels that sometimes make me feel robbed when I'm looking for a nice mellow buzz. At 7%, and being so incredibly crisp and drinkable, it's the sort of beer that I wish I could have on hand at all times. It's no wonder that this is the most wanted beer from Ballast Point and the measuring stick of success for them. Between the awards and (presumed) sales, it's certainly a proud beer to stand behind.
The Hangover:
As with the morning of my review, the morning after my review started out quite rough. Upon waking too early due to a restless dog, my head and body were completely broken. Fear that such a wonderful beer from a favorite brewery could find itself on a no-drink list filled me with dread as I popped some Advil and Pepcid to try and remedy these ailments. I couldn't possible have another Lagunitas on my hands, could I? Had I just avoided this pitfall with other Ballast Point brews before by temperng my consumption? Or was this pain specific to Sculpin itself? Whatever it was, I put it out of my mind, drank a large glass of water and went back to sleep for a few hours. When I awoke again, the body had healed somewhat, but the brain was still fractured. Optimistic, I took to the same remedy that had worked just 24 hours prior --- I went outdoors. Whereas the day before I consumed myself outside with activity, this time I opted to relax and enjoy fresh February air. A walk with Murdoch, our boxer, through the neighborhood was the most taxing thing I attempted throughout the day. And after a coffee and small bite to eat around noon, any remnants of a hangover disappeared. The brutality that other beers have punished me with in the past was not to be found from Ballast Point. Instead, a "normal" hangover, very likely a result of overindulgence two nights before combined with general weariness from work and chores, is all that I experienced. And the overall success of Sculpin was complete.

The Verdict:
Simply, briefly, Ballast Point's Sculpin is a beer that I will always buy a bottle of anytime I see it on the shelves of a store. Just one to have. Maybe two to share. But something I'd like to constantly have "in stock" anytime I feel the need for a supurb IPA.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Kolsch No. 01

This month's Beer Hates Me post is a special and unique one. It's not a beer that anyone reading this can get and one that only a handful of people have tasted. It's also the next step in the evolution of my personal beer education. This...is an honest and open evaluation of my first successful homebrew. My Kolsch, No. 01.
The Beer:
First things first, I never intended to become an avid homebrewer (nor am I one...yet). It is something that organically grew from my appreciation of beer, the current social climate around craft beer, and some good friends & their passion for the hobby. Being surrounded and interested by all those elements led me to take a crack at making my own beer. I kept it simple though. I brewed using an extract kit and chose a style that only required one short fermenting period. Essentially, I just brewed a fancier, fresher version of what one would get if they purchased a Mr. Beer kit. To be honest, I didn't even know specifically what a Kolsch was or how it tasted. So, naturally, before I began brewing, I hit up the internets and researched just what a Kolsch was and how it should taste. Interestingly enough, true Kolsch beers are a specialty to the Cologne, Germany region much like the way that true champagne comes only from Champagne, France. But whereas the latter has to do with the grapes associated with the drink, this is simply defined by the "K├Âlsch Konvention", an agreement between the members of the Cologne Brewery Association. All that said, I got me a Kolsch and by golly, I was gonna brew the fuck out of this beer!
So after a quality brew day with some friends who are far more advanced and working on all-grain systems, this beer sat in my closet until it came time to bottle and consume. But before doing so, I opened up a store-bought Kolsch (Reissdorf Kolsch) to compare the two side by side. While the Reissdorf was considerably clearer, crisper, and better carbonated, it's taste was nearly identical to my own. In fact, I actually preferred my own after a few sips. Where the Reissdorf came across tasting very bready and almost stale, my Kolsch had a slightly more hoppy bite to it that went along with the malty characteristic inherent to the style. However, I also felt that my Kolsch was more watery than the Reissdorf. Both beers were very drinkable and a growler of my Kolsch went quickly when presented to my homebrewing buddies on their next brew day the following month. And to add a meta element to this post, a pint of it is quickly being consumed as I write this now.

The Buzz:
With other beers that I consume, I'm always fully aware of the alcoholic content of it before I ever open the bottle. With a beer that I brewed myself, I could only go off the targeted gravities of the recipe that I was following. The gravity, of course, is essentially what measures the alcoholic content of a beer. And my Kolsch was supposed to have an original gravity of 1.048. Although I measured it at around a 1.050 before leaving my brewing buddies, you're supposed to check the gravity again after a few weeks to see if the beer has stabilized and is ready for the next step. However, being that I'm at the most novice of steps in homebrewing, I neither have the instruments to take this reading nor do I fully understand how to properly take the reading itself. However, when it came time to bottle, cool, and ultimately drink, the Kolsch did a fine job of providing a mild buzz after a couple pints. Of course the fact that it was noon and I hadn't eaten yet could certainly have contributed. But at least I was sure that this beer had properly set up and the yeast ate the sugar like the good little buggers are supposed to. Ironically though, when it came time for me to drink this for the purposes of the blog (48oz worth on a full stomach over the course a a few hours), there was little buzz to speak of. That isn't all surprising, being that most all kolsch's are low in alcoholic content and mine in particualr should have been roughly 4.5% abv according to the recipe that I followed. That would put this beer near the bottom of the list for potent beers that I've had for purposes of this blog. Not a bad thing per se, but if I want a session beer, maybe next time I'll try making a mild.

The Hangover:
Before brewing this beer, my good friend Mark (see Wipeout IPA for more on Mark) mentioned to me one night how he's like to just spend an evening moderately drinking his own beers to see how they held up in getting him drunk and how they affected him the next morning. Did the fresher ingredients and controlled environment of every step heighten or lessen the drunken aspects of consuming beer for a night? Would they make a normal hangover better or worse? Longer or shorter? All things that were (and are) perfectly tailored for myself and this blog. And so, the morning after I lined up my Kolsch for testing, I got an answer. Homebrews give you hangovers! Not neccesarily crippling, death-knell hangovers. But certainly accute nausea and aching headache hangovers. When I first awoke at the sound and nudging of two dogs eager to eat and pee, I was extremely dehydrated with a pounding headache and weary stomach. As they ate, I drank a massive jar of water (I drink normal drinks---and the occasional brew---out of jars). While they pee'd, I popped pills. When all three of us were done, we retreated to the couch together to promptly pass out until the wife and foster dog awoke us all a couple hours later. The water and pills helped in managing what at first appeared to be a miserable reaction to my own beer but they certainly weren't a cure-all for my ailments. The rest of the day was a gradual decline in sickness as I ate, showered, and got outdoors into fresh air. The stomach returned to normal and the headache faded away. On a level of 1 to 10, this post-experiment hangover fit right in to the middle. And for a beer that I made on my own, the good news is that I'm not afraid to try again out of fear of a bad hangover. The bad news is that I'm no closer to nailing down just what specifically about certain beers affects me so bad.


The Verdict:
And so my review on my first attempt at brewing comes to a close. I'm quite pleased that I brewed a very drinkable beer. I did learn a lot. And I enjoyed the enitre process overall. I also subsequently learned that the Kolsch style, while very good, isn't neccesarily one that I'd drink again any time soon. It lacks the hop-forward quality I like in most pale ales and the malty sweetness I enjoy in porters, stouts, and ambers. So it kind of lives in this middle ground of beer stylings that don't satiate my palate or appetite. More importantly though, this beer is responsible for kicking a new interest into high-gear. I'm more eager than ever to brew my next batch of beer. I've been perusing homebrewing websites, kits, and equipment on a near daily basis looking for what to do next. And I've decided, that much like this blog, brewing a beer on a monthly basis is going to be a very enjoyable experience.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Anchor Brewing Our Special Ale (2011)

It's the end of another year and the begining of another beer blog post. I tried to be thematic with this month's selection and go with something...festive. Something...celebratory. Something...special. Ironically (or not) I chose exactly that, both literally and figuratively.
The Beer:
Anchor's Our Special Ale 2011 was my choice for a holiday beer to review for my blog. I traversed the aisles at my local beer distributor (who I am no longer patronizing due to some shoddy customer service) seeking something that was both iconic in it's tradition of producing well-known ales, while at the same time providing an offering that is both sought out and collected. And Anchor's seasonal selection fit that criteria perfectly. This is an ale that they have produced consecutively for 37 years often slightly adjusting the recipe but always remaining true to the intent behind providing a beer to be celebrated at the end of the year. And all that means just about nothing to me if the beer sucks. I mean, who cares about intent and tradition and legacy if you don't like the thing created just to fit those standards. It's kinda like the Charlie Brown holiday specials for me. I get it. They're tradition. They're nostalgic. They're...sweet? But I can't for the life of me stand them. I just don't get the appeal. Ok, the music was always enjoyable in those cartoons. But the whining, the complaining, the utter lack of humor. How the hell do these specials bring in such powerhouse ratings on TV year after year? I'll never understand it.
But back to the beer. As a whole, I was underwhelmed by this beer. But not due to it being bad or lacking anything. It was a perfectly acceptable spiced ale. Notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice were present. The taste was malty and sweet with a little kick of pine. The color was a deep, dark amber and it smelled just like Christmas (if that makes any sense...but it's exactly what I expected). Yet, because this is a beer that I had built up as being more than it was, I ended up let down. You see, year after year (uhhh...for the last 3 years) I had picked up a 6-pack of Our Special Ale with the intent on drinking one and saving one. Yet at the last minute, I'd always be invited to a holiday party without anything to bring. So, upon opening the 'fridge, I'd see it sitting there and take it with me. And every year, I'd drop it off on the counter of said party and before I could have one, they were all gone. So naturally, I believed that this beer was so good that merely upon seeing it, people were rushing to drink it. And although I was disappointed that I'd never get to sample it, I was content at being the party hero for bringing the greatest beer imaginable. After having it this year though, I've come to realize that I was simply going to parties with lots and lots of drunks happy that someone was bringing more alcohol to drink.
The Buzz:
There isn't a whole lot to talk about in regards to a buzz for this beer. It doesn't have a high abv, only 5.5%, and yet due to the heavy spicing of this ale, I had little desire to drink much more than the minimum 36oz. The combination of those two factors resulted in a night with little more than a minor tingle in the brain. I appreciated the fact that this beer wasn't an alcoholic bomb since it came in a 6-pack and therefor could allow for maximization consumption for this month's test. Often, with beers that I drink in 12oz intervals, I find myself pining for just a little more once my limit is reached. Yet, this time --- and possibly the first time --- I was happy that the opposite scenario presented itself and I could stop once the minimum was reached. Once again, this experience reminded me of those damn Charlie Brown cartoons. Where I was just happy to get to a commercial break when watching them with others so that I could flip the channel to something...ANYTHING...more entertaining. Seriously, I could never get past the first 15 minutes of listening to the bald bastard bitch about the most insignificant of issues. What a pussy...
The Hangover:
I suppose the one thing that I should be thankful for in regards to Our Special Ale is that (unlike other Anchor beers) when you just don't feel the need to drink a lot of it, you aren't punished the following morning.with an unjust hangover. When I awoke the next morning, outside of feeling a little dehydrated, there were no other symptoms pointing towards that of a hangover. I was able to function regularly throughout the day and even operated heavy machinery (that is, if you count a lawn mower as heavy machinery. I do, those fuckers are heavy). So, in continuing with my Charlie Brown analogies, this hangover felt much like the end of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" or "Charlie Brown, You're My Hero". When they're over, I'm both parts relieved and frustrated that I wasted my time with them.

The Verdict:
And now for a surprising twist...I really liked this beer. I really appreciate it on many many levels. The fact that it is tradition and an annual release in a small window around the holidays adds a certain level of panache to it that can't be quantified or judged. The same way eggnog sells like hotcakes from November to January, I understand the need to brew, buy, and drink a beer made just for this time of year. And even if it isn't perfect or lives up to your expectations, it's the anticipation that matters. The excitement to see a familiar product on the shelves year after year knowing that you can only get it for so long before it won't be around ever again (until the next year of course). The comfort, the reliability, the familiarity with something you have made into a tradition is immeasurable in terms of being good or bad. It just is. It reminds us that no matter how much has changed for better or worse, some things will always be there for you. Kinda like the way those damn Charlie Brown movies seem to do.
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