Sunday, October 30, 2011

Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' IPA

There's a precedence with this one, and I regarded it fondly before I took a sip.

Bias? Maybe, but I have a special bond with this brewery, silly as that may sound. Earlier in the year, my family hosted a backyard "Beer Fest," our first annual beer tournament where participants brought a favorite brew to compete in a single elimination round robin. The "battlers," as we were called, clambered around a small table adorned with two trays - succinctly labeled "A" and "B." And we, amateur beer enthusiasts that we were, would sip thoughtfully, discuss, and, if we thought that maybe our beer was up to bat, campaign. A scribble on a small piece of paper and our vote would go into the little metal bucket on the table. We'd then cleanse out pallets with the crackers and pretzel sticks and eagerly await the next round. As the rounds progressed, this became a more boisterous and wobbly system. They might have been just a single chug's worth of beer, but even that had a tendency to add up...

Our interest and expertise in beer varied wildly from largely disinterested (there was a small collection of my sister's friends, for example, that would not so subtly gag down some of the porter and stout contenders and giggle as they voted for "The Crackers!") , but I was the resident beer snob, the guy who turned his nose up at beer pong-grade beer, the dude who, you know, would eventually think enough of his beer taste to start a damn beer blog, I wanted this victory.

My entry was Anderson Valley's Summer Solstice. Think of one of the better sumer ales you've had and then melt a caramel-dipped creamsicle in it and you're in the right ballpark. It's a brilliant beer, and I had a lot of confidence in it. Though I had more or less forgotten the taste of my beer when the tournament came, there was one little cup of joy that I was enamored with every time it came out on a little tray. "I don't know which one this is, but man, it's good," I said after I unknowingly gulped down my own beer.

At the end of it, I stood victorious, Anderson Valley Summer Solstice my winning race horse, and I felt that my infatuation with beer as an artform was maybe a bit more validated. Maybe I did know beer. And I had the tacky awesome plastic necklace trophy thing to prove it.

Me and my tournament-winning beer. Pardon the broski-overload. 

Anyway, this brewery is quite great, and I was excited to try another from its respectably concise collection:

Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' IPA
Anderson Valley Brewing Company. Boonville, CA
Pint bottle, though it comes in regular bottles, too. 7% ABV

I'm noticing that the beer of choice around here seems to be the love it or hate it IPA. While beerhouses don't appear to be immensely common around here, those that exist seem to have a healthy collection of IPAs on draft. For the uninitiated, IPAs, India Pale Ales, tend to ramp up the hops in their brew, the portion that gives the beer its "floral quality," or, if you're my mother, the part that makes it "taste like glue." Regardless of what you taste, the amount of actual hop flavor in an IPA can vary wildly - from the relatively restrained (like this one, which we'll get into in a minute) to the ones that taste like they dumped a bag of potpourri in it and called it a beer (The Exit series from Flying Fish comes to mind).

Hop Ottin comes in at the more reserved end of the spectrum, and while it out-hops your average Pale, there's still a lot more going on here than just the flowery notes. It may starts as an IPA but by sip's end there's a great sweetness, almost as though they went a "half-and-half" route with something a bit more sugared, like a brown ale. While this might not necessarily be the case, there's a great combination going on here. "Hop flavors prevail," claims the label, and they do, but they're complimented by a lot more than the relative brashness of the typical hop flavor.

This is another one of those beers that is best a bit "warm" - 44 and 50 degrees, the company recommends - so it lends itself great to sipping during dinner. Chugging for drunkenness, probably not. But hey, don't let me stop you.

So, IPA enthusiasts rejoice. This one's great. But for the hop weary, try this, it just might be the gateway you need into the more "advanced" beer tiers.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Firestone DBA

Firestone Double Barrel Ale
Amber Ale/British Style Bitter
Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Paso Robles, CA
12 oz., 5% ABV

This is an unapologetically, unequivocally, beer's beer. Sans gimmicks, flavorings, or quirks, this DBA is a beer for the sake of being a beer. And you know what? It's pretty solid. The company claims a "passion for the pale," and it shows through here. It doesn't hit you over the head with a floral mallet like an IPA would, obviously, but the hops are even more subtle than you'd have in your average Pale. It's got a simple, crisp, cleanness that holds off its mild bitterness until the very end of the sip. The company may call it a British Bitter, but there's not much of a bitterness here. Also, the company claims I should pick up on some "vanilla and toasted oak." Not so much. But I didn't miss them.

It drinks a bit heavier than its mild ABV would suggest, but it goes down quickly (that is to say, it lends itself pretty well to chugging, if that's your thing).

Availability note: The website claims that this guy has an availability limited to the West Coast, Nevada and Arizona.

So that only leaves one of the great beer drinking mysteries; when a beer like this - a reliable, perfectly drinkable beer full of great, unadulterated beer flavor that won't fill you up or make you a drunken mess - why do people keep drinking the standard garbage?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Hazelnut Brown Nectar

This one has been sitting in my fridge for a bit. Not because of trepidation, or intimidation, but rather expectation. Not to suggest that I thought this would be the Holy Grail of beers, per se, but I found it very tempting to work into some sort of food pairing. That, and there's a certain connection to the season that I felt the beer could possibly have, and I was excited about that.
Well, I never got around to developing any sort of pairing (soon!), and it's a Saturday evening and it remained sealed which is clearly a situation that needed to be remedied.

Even here in Southern California, Fall has taken grip on the weather and I like to adjust my beer tastes accordingly. Back home, Fall meant a yard full of leaves, and a quickly encroaching briskness that I find myself missing. Here, there's a completely different version, but it still resonates as fall: thick dampness and gray fog that hangs heavy above everything with a foreboding that somehow falls just short of being dreary.

Regardless of coast, though, the feel has an affect on food and beer habits. If I wander into a coffee shop (or rather, when; where as beer might be my favorite addiction, coffee is more socially acceptable to chug immediately after waking up), I find myself now needing some other flavor in there. It's more subtle than Christmastime, perhaps, when I shrug off the extravagance of an eggnog latte with a mirthful "Hey, it's the Holidays!", but still, something else needs to be in there. Hazelnut is one of my go-tos for that.

Which is why this sounded interesting:

Rogue's Hazelnut Brown Nectar
Brown Ale. Undetermined ABV (seems somewhat formidable)
Rogue Brewing Company, Newport Oregon
22 oz bottle (I shared, dammit)

Rogue calls it a "nutty twist to a traditional brown ale," and it delivers soundly on that promise. It sports a sweet, creamy head (I supposed if I'm going to reach any level of professionalism I'm going to have to learn to not giggle at that sort of thing, huh?), a medium body and a great deep amber color, and most certainly a great nut-like flavor. Bummer is that it's not particularly the hazelnut flavor that shines.

The hazelnut flavor, which you get a hint of at first sip, along a pleasingly tame bitterness, comes from "hazelnut extract," according to the label. I appreciate the subtlety of flavors, of course, but I wish they had pushed it a bit more here. As someone has only recently come unto the wonders of hazelnut (I was deterred for years by an anti-hazelnut mother. After years of assuming that it was disgusting, an accidental encounter with a Rocher candy proved that my mom was perfectly incorrect about the humble little hazelnut), I see the potential for a great flavoring agent of beer. Rogue has hinted at it, without embracing it as much as I wanted them to.

Still, Rogue's Nectar - an interesting an fun descriptor, by the way - is a great sipping beer that stands well as a fun Autumn brew. Chill it, but don't allow it to get "ice cold," but go ahead and give it a try. It's a great beer, even if the hazelnut aspect doesn't shine as I would have hoped.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Red Trolley Red Ale

Anyone even remotely in the know has been kept more or less up to date on my life (and, really, if you're not, who do you think you are?) knows that I've landed in California recently for a second round of effort in finding work. While leads are few and hope may dwindle, I, at the very least, now have an absolutely wonderful excuse to buy beer on a regular basis.

Which is quite easy here, as it were. No, I don't mean easy in the way that a hopeful 17 year old sweet-talks his way into purchasing a 30 pack of Natural Lite, but rather that you can get it pretty much anywhere, including the Ralph's grocery store a few blocks from my apartment. The selection isn't tremendous, but the humble aisle they do have has already presented me with a few new beer experiences. So, here we go.

Red Trolley Ale
Irish Red Ale.5.8% ABV
Karl Straus Brewing Co., San Diego CA.

This is a local boy. The first one I had was preceded by a "few other" beers earlier in the evening, and my instant opinion wasn't so glowing. Warbled with the tastes of IPAs, the Red Trolley didn't win my adoration immediately. The next day, with a cleaner pallet (and a clear BAC), it stood a bit better, as a solid, if not particularly elaborate Red Ale.

Lesson time!

Here in the US, the title of Irish Red Ale doesn't actually denote much more than a beer's color. It more or less tends to be your basic lager that sports a stylish red color that comes from the special malts they use.
Which seems to be the case here, too. The strongest flavor is certainly the caramel note that sneaks up on you towards the end of the sip. Sip. Cold spark then the subtle sweetness and crispness at the end.

According to the brewer's description (, they "brew it with a half ton of caramelized malts for a rich copper color and toffee flavor." True enough, this. The caramel flavor is the most notable aspect, and it does resonate nicely. "After adding the perfect mix of hops for balance, we warm ferment the beer to bring out a hint of dried raisins and currants." Oh. Missed that part. Side note...dried raisins? Is this not redundant? They claim that the beer started out as their Holiday Ale, but to me it's a far-cry from the expressive, spicy, soothing beers that I like to experience at Christmas. As a by the numbers Irish Red, Red Trolley is a solid option that would lend itself well to backyard barbecues and alongside burgers. As the weather turns crisper though I'm looking for something a bit more of a deeper beer experience.

And Let There Be Beer

Well, there was always beer. For a significant part of history at least (and I don't particularly care to think about the scary, dark time that existed before beer did.

I'm sure there's some great opportunity here to delve into the history of beer (which, as it were, is pretty fascinating, actually; go wiki it sometime), but this blog is about beer as related to my history. Or, at the very least, how it became one of my greatest interests and passions.

Really, I'm not sure why I hadn't started something like this before. I suppose it's because I knew there was for sure a supersaturation of random dudes and broskis who decided that they were probably qualified enough to start a blog about beer. That this background, for example, that artsy depiction of beer bubbles, was one of the available default selections from the interface designer was not a promising sign that I was blazing any new ground. But that shouldn't suggest that I'm going to be any more qualified than any of those other guys who started this sort of endeavor. But I am fairly certain of two things 1. I enjoy experiencing beer, and 2. I'm a halfway decent writer, and that seemed like a potent enough combination to, at the very least, give this a shot.

I suppose from the outset that this will begin as your average Boy-meets-beer, boy-drinks-beer, boy-tells-unenthusiastic-masses-what-he-thinks-about-the-beer blog. Eventually I would like to evolve this into a sort of beer-pairing blog, as a complement to my burgeoning interest in cooking, and a further consideration of the blossoming significance of beer in the realm of fine dining, a relatively recent phenomenon that I for one feel is well overdue. Beyond that, if the stars align, I'd like to foray into actually brewing my own beer.

But for now, please join me as I give this blog thing a shot. And, of course, thanks for the interest.