Thursday, July 29, 2010

Colorado Beerventure Part 2

Next stop on the Beerventure...New Belgium Brewing

I heard great things about the New Belgium tasting room called the "Liquid Center" and apparently so has everyone else.    I didn't realize what a pain it would be to get onto the tour there.  The night before we tried to sign up, but it was full, actually it was full for the next 3 weeks.  So we planned to get to brewery early to get onto to the wait-list.

We got to the brewery at 10:30 AM to get put on the wait-list, then headed into town for some grub, then to Odell's for a warm up.  We went back to New Belgium about 1:00 and hung out to see if we got on the tour.  The Liquid Center is quite an experience.  Fully staffed with about 8 people, at about 1:15 this place was hopping like a full fledged bar and we were there on a Wednesday.  Upon arrival at the Liquid Center you show your ID, you get a nice sample pour and two tokens for tastings.  Along with the normal lineup of beers they had 6 Beers from the Lips of Faith series and few of which you can't get in bottles here. 

So at this point we had already tasted a dozen beers from Odell's so notes are out the window on these beers.   I started with new one from the Lips of Faith series, Hagdorn's Helles (not yet available in Ca).  Hagdorn is German style Helles and was pretty good beer, not the best from this brewery, but I haven't had a Helles for awhile it was a nice treat.  Next up I had the Lips of Faith Belgian Style Blonde (again not available in Ca yet).  This was a really tasty beer, stronger than I had expected, with nice bready yeast notes.  I finished up the tasting with the Imperial Berliner Style Weisse (not available in Ca, picture above).  I really loved this beer,  but I originally was not too sure what the style was.  This is an imperial style sour beer that pours golden and has a great sour flavor, what a great treat.

After those tastings we went on the famed tour which was lead by Brad, a former East Bay brewer for Drake's and Triple Rock.  Our tour was the first ever for Brad and he rocked it; the five tastings on the tour didn't hurt the tour either.  I won't tell you about the tour because I wouldn't want to spoil it, but there were a few highlights.  One of my favorite things was tasting 1554 directly off the bottling line.  I am huge fan of 1554, it is by far one of favorites from New Belgium and drinking it right from the line was fantastic.  The final treat were two tastings of their two new beers from the Lips of Faith; the Berliner and their new Belgo IPA, a Belgian Style IPA.  I already discussed the Berliner, like I said before I really enjoyed this beer and because my girlfriend loves sour beers I more than happily passed this to her and had a double taste of the Belgo IPA.
The Belgo IPA
pours out golden copper,
smell:  Belgian yeast, sweet malt and hops.
taste:  initial flavor or sweet malt, Belgian yeast, caramel, and finishes with a strong pine and citrus notes.
mouthfeel: medium to high carbonation, good mouthfeel
Would I drink this again?  Of course I would two of my favorite beers in one.  It is a huge beer as most Belgian IPA's are.  My favorite of this style is still Le Freak from Green Flash, but they have had time to refine that beer, so I'll give New Belgium some time to work on it.

My experience in Ft. Collins was fantastic.  New Belgium continues to press the boundaries of beer by adding another sour to their list as well as a BIPA.   The  hidden gem of this trip was Odell's, a brewery we have not had the benefit of enjoying on the west coast yet.  I am sure they will make their way out here before too long.

Next up the on itinerary was a quick trip to Denver.  I was fortunate enough to be directed to a Belgian restaurant and bar called The Cheeky Monk.  We stopped in and had some Mussels, frites and some beers.  There list of beers was quite numerous, I had Mischief from the Bruery and my girlfriend had a Saison Dupont.  I am not sure why I went with the Mischief when I could have had La Chouffe or Maredsous, but the Mischief was good and went well with the Mussels we ordered.  We ended up talking it up with the bartender and she informed me that The Cheeky Monk had just finished up brewing a beer for the restaurant at Avery Brewing in Boulder.    

Avery Brewing has been a favorite of mine for a couple years now and I was lucky enough to get a chance to taste some amazing brews. Avery is located in Boulder Colorado in an industrial complex just outside of downtown.  We arrived at Avery on Friday for a very impressive tasting of a few of their beers.  They had huge list of about fifteen beers.  4oz. tasters were $1 and pints of 8% and below were $4, 8% and above were $5.   I grabbed a pint of Hand of the Buddha, and tasters of Ballsmack Baltic Porter, Karma Belgian Pale Ale,  17th Anniversary Black Lager and Hog Heaven Barley Wine.

Hog Heaven is Tap room only beer.  It pours golden copper.  Smells like Belgian yeast and caramel malts.  Taste was something different, I am not sure what was added to the kettle, coriander, maybe kaffir lime.  It had a herbal floral quality that was new to me for a Belgian Pale.  It didn't finish particularly well for me, but the initial flavor was surprising and for that I have to say I enjoyed the uniqueness of it.    It had a good mouthfeel and medium carbonation.  It was a very drinkable beer.  I am assuming this was an attempt at a light style of Belgian Pale, maybe a Belgian Summer beer. 
Would I drink it again?  I sure would, it would pair well with some spicy Thai food for sure.

Next up was another Belgian, Karma which is available in bottles as well.  This is a traditional Belgian Ale and it really didn't surprise me.  It had good yeasty nose, tasted of sweet caramel and had a nice spicy finish.  Overall it was a good interpretation of the classic, but knowing the kinds of beers Avery can make I was actually disappointed in this beers simplicity.  I blame myself for the poor review, I guess not every beer can be "Extreme".  It was a good beer and I would drink it again, but only if they didn't have any Ballsmack which was my next tasting.

Ballsmack is a Baltic Porter and available only at the tap room.  Pours out dark black.  Smells of roasted malt and chocolate.  Tastes are sweet malt, chocolate and finishes with some strong roasted malt flavors.  Mouthfeel was nice and light for this style.  Overall this was a lighter more drinkable version of the Baltic Porters I am used to drinking, but for the Climate I think it worked out well.  I would drink this again, but do prefer my Baltic Porters to be a bit bigger.

Avery brews an anniversary beer every year for the past 7 years and this will be year 17.  So to celebrate with them I enjoyed their 17th Anniversary Black Lager.  I have had the pleasure of doing a tasting of 14 and 15 with my brother a couple years ago.  I thought 14 was the better of those two beers and luckily my brother loved the 15 so for the first time in history we didn't have to compromise on something.  The 17 pours nice dark with nice off white head and a little lacing.  Smells are roasted malt and licorice.  Taste, malt forward with licorice and caramel and a nice smooth hoppy finish.  This is a tasty brew and very drinkable.  I love a good anniversary beer, especially one that doesn't cost $18 (sorry Firestone Walker).  I would drink this again in a heartbeat.  It is good to see these Black Lagers making an impact in the beer world.  I love 1554 and Linden St. in Oakland makes a Black Common as well.  Rich, malty, dark beers don't have to be big to be good and this beer was a testament to that.

Next up was the Hog Heaven Barlywine, this beer is available in bottles.  This beer pours dark amber with little to no head.  Smells of sweet malt, pineapple and of course he 9.7% of abv comes through.  Tastes sweet malt, pine and grapefruit, nice balance of hops to balance the alcohol finish.   Overall I loved this beer, I thought all the flavors were in great balance.  The hops really mellowed the hot finish and I felt the drinkability of this beer was very good.

What a great ending to a great trip.  Not only the beer, but Colorado in general is beautiful place. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Colorado Beerventure Part 1

I have had the opportunity to do some beer tasting and beer sight seeing on a trip to Colorado.  My travels started in Steamboat Springs, then we went to Boulder and spent a day in Ft. Collins and some time in Denver.  Colorado definitely does not disappoint when it comes to great craft beer.  Because of the extent of this trip and the many great places we went to I am breaking this up into a two part series. 

Our first visit was Steamboat Springs, which is a resort town, know for skiing during the winter and hiking and mt. biking in the summer.  On our second night there we went to Mohagany Ridge Brewery and Grill in Steamboat.   I was with my girlfriends family and taking pictures at the dinner table would have been a bit of a scene, but I was able to get two beers with dinner.   

The first beer was their Porter.  I wasn't able to take notes, but I can remember it was really good.  Good roasted malt flavor, medium carbonation, good mouthfeel.  I would consider this to be a traditional Porter and it was very drinkable and I would definitely order another if I had a chance.

The second beer was their IPA, and I was very disappointed in this beer.  It had a weak hop aroma and the bittering hops were way to pronounced, not enough balance with the malt.  It had no hoppy finish at all, it was slight bang of hops and then the flavor was muddled.  I guess I am a little spoiled with all the great IPA's in California.  I expected a lot more out of this beer and was happy I had the chance to at least have a decent porter with dinner.

Our next stop was Ft.Collins home of New Belgium, Odell's and Ft. Collins Brewing.

Odell's was our first stop. Picture above is of the basic taster, as you can see I couldn't wait to try one.  The basic came with a Easy Street Wheat, Levity Amber, 5 Barrel Pale, 90 Schilling Amber, IPA and Cutthroat Porter.  The basic tasting was just that, basic, but not in a bad way.  All styles were created beautifully and were extremely drinkable.  I especially like the porter and the 5 barrel had a great hoppy finish which I loved.  But the star of this show was the Co-Pilot tasting.
The Co-pilot tasting (left)  is a selection of their specialty beers and I was very surprised at the flavors and styles that were in this flight.

Starting from Left to Right:

Double Pilsner, coming in at 8.1% abv this Pilsner starts out like your ordinary classic Czech Pils, then the 8.1 hits the back of your throat and you ask yourself for a second what the hell was that.  I have to admit that a Pilsner isn't that exciting of a beer, they are drinkable and tasty, but usually nothing else.  This beer is the exception, what a great surprise and what an amazing beer.

Next St.Lupulin is their summer seasonal.  Coming in at 6.5% and 46 IBU's you may think this beer may not cut it as an Extra Pale.  I was first greeted by an amazing hop aroma, thanks to the dry hop additions.  The taste was a great balance of malt sweetness and a nice hop bite with a melding of hops and alcohol finish.  This a very well balance beer and was excited to get my hop fix for the day.

The Rauchbier come up next.  Honestly not a fan of Rauchbier after my experience with the classic German style.  To me it usually tastes like smoke and I like a little more complexity to my beer.  But this was different.  A good amount of sweetness, balanced of the smokey finish.  Not a favorite of mine, but a more drinkable version of a Classic German Rauchbier.  I would recommend it to those that have never tried one.

Amber Recluse was our next tasting.  This is an Imperial Amber.  I have to admit I wasn't too fond of this beer, not sure why exactly.  I took a couple sips and passed it on to my girlfriend.  It could have been palate fatigue, but wasn't too impressed.  Aroma of sweet malts, caramel and toffee.  Tasted sweet with a hot finish.  Again, not my fave.

Next up the India Barley Wine, yep that's right.  I forgot to get the IBU's but this bad boy comes in at 9.7% ABV.  What a great Barleywine, great floral hop nose.  It starts of with a huge hop bite and balances well with the high alcohol.  Because of the hops, it didn't have a hot finish.  I am used to drinking Bigfoot from Sierra Nevada and have to say I found a new favorite in the Barleywine catagory.

Finally Saboteur.  A Brown Ale fermented with Brett and aged in American Oak Barrels.  I have some mixed emotions about this one.  I love wild ales, and being accustomed to RR beers, I have learned a lot about barrel aged wild ales.  Now with this being said, I am not sure that using American Oak on this beer was the right choice.  I say that because sour beers have a very fragile flavor and using  the barrels they used masked that tartness that makes a sour so good.  I felt like I was drinking a barrel aged stout instead of a sour.  I will say it was the last tasting of 12 and because of this I decided to buy a bottle. I will try it again in a few months after a little aging and see how a rested palate feels about this beer.

In a couple days I will follow up with Part 2 of by Colorado Beerventure, which will include New Belgium Brewing, Avery Brewing and Cheeky Monk in Denver.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Beer Review Dieu Du Ciel! Aphrodite

I had the pleasure of shopping at City Beer Store a couple months ago and was directed to a few beers by Dieu Du Ciel.  I originally passed them by, mostly because of cost, $6.99 for a 11.5oz. bottle.  Now, I am all for supporting craft beer, but to pay that much for a small beer seemed a little ridiculous to me.  Luckily for me, my girlfriend has fallen in love with craft beer, like me, and was willing to fork over the cash to try this unique brew. 

Aphrodite is a Stout brewed with cocoa and real vanilla beans and comes in at 6.5% abv.

Aphrodite pours out dark with a light brown head.
Aroma:  roasted malt and vanilla
Taste:  chocolate, caramel and a nice roasted malt and vanilla finish.
Mouthfeel:  nice medium body, with medium carbonation 

Overall:  Very drinkable beer.  Would I buy it again?  Maybe not, but I would have my girlfriend buy this again.  The vanilla and cocoa are great balance to that roasted malt flavor.  It's a super great stout and would definitely recommend this to stout lovers.  Enjoy! 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Beer Review The Lost Abbey Avant Garde

This is the first tasting in what I hope is a long happy relationship with The Lost Abbey   Lost Abbey is the second brewery headed by Tomme Arthur who is also head of brewing operations at  Port Brewing in San Marcos.

Avant Garde is brewed in the Biere de Garde style of Northern France and fermented with a lager yeast strain which is different.  I found this bottle at BevMo on Camden Ave.  BevMo has started carrying quite a few of The Lost Abbey and Port Brewing beers.

Avant Garde pours cloudy with a golden orange color.
Aroma: yeasty, notes of pear/apple and honey.
Taste:  sweet malt, honey and pear/apple and straw.
Mouthfeel:  nice light body, medium carbonation, very drinkable

Overall:  I really enjoyed this beer.  I would buy it again is a second.  I have to make another trip over to BevMo to get the rest.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Beer Review Port Brewing Hop-15

Celebrating the 4th this weekend is great for a number of reasons, my favorite of course is enjoying great beer.  I have had the fortune of trying Hop-15 a number of times, last time was at City Beer, this time in Stockton with my girlfriends family, both times didn't disappoint. 

Hop 15 has 15 different hop varieties added to the beer every 15 minutes. It has won two silver medals at the Great American Beer Festival and received a first place award at the Bistro Double IPA beer festival. 

Hop-15 pours cloudy with amber color.  Aroma:  There is a huge hop nose, pine and grapefruit.  Taste:  Hops, Hops, and even more hops pine and grapefruit again.  The sweetness of the malt is crushed by hops and the high alcohol.  The beer finishes with an alcohol bite and the lingering hop bitterness. 

Honestly not one of the best Imperial IPA's on the block but a good one.  It doesn't have the balance of Pliney the Elder, Green Flash Imperial IPA or a new favorite of mine Mission Brewing Double IPA.  The hot finish really can be off putting and as the beer warms up the alcohol took over.

Rating:  I would drink this again, but not by myself.  This 22oz bottle comes in at 10% abv and after one of them driving is not an option.  So grab a friend, pop one open and enjoy.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Beer in Review Mission St. Brown Ale

I guess I could write about other things aside from beer reviews, but they are so fun and tasty I guess I will role with it. 

I am sure you have seen Mission St. beer at your local Trader Joe's, but you may not know what you are actually drinking.  Luckily for Trader Joe fans we are able to enjoy Mission St. beer brewed by Steinhaus Brewing Co. in Paso Robles.  Steinhaus brewing a.k.a. Firestone Walker Brewing Company has been named mid-sized brewery of the year 3 times and contracts a variety of beers for Trader Joe's; including Mission St. Pale (GABF Gold medel winner), IPA, Blonde, Hefe (also in 22oz.) , as well as Fat Weasel and Jumping Cow brands.  My friend that works at Trader Joe's told me about this 22oz bottle for $1.99 and I had to get it.
I am not a huge fan of browns only because there aren't a whole lot to choose from, aside from Newcastle and Lost Coast we don't have a huge selection to chose from in the Bay.  I have a small hatred for Newcastle because when I drank it for the first time 10-12 years ago I really didn't like it.  My tastes have changed over the years, but I still feel that Newcastle is still an extremely overrated beer.  But Mission St. Brown is different and therefore better than Newcastle (in my opinion).

Mission St. Brown is an English brown style and is classic to profile and favors.  I guess I could try and go into color and head and mouth feel, I could describe the subtle sweetness and the aroma of hops as it warmed up.  But I won't, I will tell you this is a very drinkable beer and for 2 bucks is a very reasonable beer to buy.  It's not going to blow you away with complexity or amaze you with new flavors. It costs $2 and for that, you can't go wrong. 

Rating:  Hell yeah I would drink it again.  A tasty drinkable brown is hard to come by for a reasonable price and it's brewed by Firestone Walker, nough said.