Sunday, December 25, 2016

My Christmas Alcohaul

Thanks to my wife and kids, I've come away this Christmas with five exciting beers from under the tree: Mike Hess Brewing's My Other Vice Berliner Weisse (San Diego, CA); New Braunfels Brewing Company's Bauernhaus Über Weizenbock (New Braunfels, TX); Wicked Weed Brewing's Silencio bourbon barrel-aged black sour ale, and Genesis blonde sour ale fermented with tropical fruits (Asheville, NC); and, Fullsteam Brewing's First Frost foraged persimmon ale (Durham, NC).

Those, and a beer glass filled with orange gummies, and vanilla marshmallows as "foam"!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Review: Drake's 2016 Jolly Rodger "Translatlantic Winter Warmer"

In mid November, Drake's Brewing Co., in San Leandro (CA), released its 2016 edition of their Jolly Rodger Ale, and I was lucky enough to be sent a sample bottle.

For over two decades, Drake’s has held to their tradition of brewing a totally new beer every year for Jolly Rodger. This year’s version --which should be available through January-- is described as a "Transatlantic Winter Warmer."  It is made with the addition of dark candi sugar and a Belgian ale yeast, which account, I suppose for the "trans-Atlantic" part.

In the glass, the 2016 Jolly Rodger Ale is a lovely-looking beer. Dark copper-colored, almost red -thanks, to a great extent, I expect, to the candi sugar.  The head is not long-lasting, but the beer is nicely carbonated, even effervescent upon first tasting. 

It is malty, and spicy --not in a pumpkin pie-kind of way, but to my mind, more reminiscent of ginger bread or spice cake--- but not overpoweringly so.  The Belgian yest character is evident right up front, as is the candi sugar, but in the background there are notes of dried fruits --maybe of  dark cherries, maybe of prunes or raisins.

Both, in terms of flavor, and of alcohol (10% abv), it is indeed a warmer, but it is not a heavy beer.  With how cold it is tonight, I'm indeed glad I decided to pop open the bottle..

Further stats:  31 IBU | 10.0% ABV | 21.0° Plato O.G. | 4.5° Plato F.G.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Beer delivered to your door?

Lunch growler delivery (1909)

In early summer the restaurant take-out delivery service DoorDash experimented in southern California with adding alcohol to the list of items it would deliver.  It seems the results were, by all accounts, encouraging.

In fact, I know someone who tried it in San Diego --a land with many worthwhile breweries-- and he was very pleased. He said that it was as easy as getting online and placing the orders, and a bit later "the guy comes to your door, and says 'hello sir, here's your pizza, here's your beer'. It's great!"

Now DoorDash beer delivery has come to the SF Bay area.  Granted, the geographical area in which it available is still limited; it's basically the Peninsula, down to San Jose, and the East Bay cities (except for a few places, such as Hayward, San Leandro, and Richmond),  and a few cities as far east as the vicinity of the Highway 24-Highway 680 interchange.  However, it is here, and looking to expand.

And it gets better, as now we also have Hopsy

Hopsy is a brand new Bay Area-based beer delivery service.  For the price of the beer and a small delivery charge, Hopsy will deliver 32 oz. growlers right to your door during a window selected by you.  So far, the Hopsy delivery area is basically Alameda County cities west of the Berkeley-Oakland hills, and San Francisco, but they are certainly looking to expand.

They're working with about two dozen local breweries, so there is plenty to choose from!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A new piece of beer memorabilia

I just got this piece in the mail today. It is an advert for Peru's Cerveza Cristal.  It will serve as an addition and a counterpoint to the one for Cerveza Pilsen Callao that I have affixed to the side of the house.

Cristal and Pilsen were for many years Peru's two main rival brands. They are, respectively, the best- and second best-selling labels in Peru today, and are still viewed as competing brands, although they are now, in fact, both controlled by the Union de Cervecerias Peruanas Backus y Johnston company.

Peruvian Beer Cup 2016

In late October, coinciding with Lima Beer Week, the Unión de Cervecerías Artesanales del Perú (UCAP), the association representing the bulk of Peru's craft brewers, held the first Copa Peruana de Cervezas (Peruvian Beer Cup) competition.

The Cup was open to craft berwers and homebrewers, with the requirement that the beer entered must have been produced somewhere within Peru.  The organizers received entries representing 178 individual labels made by brewers from all corners of the country.

Judging was conducted by Beer Judge Certification Program-certified beer judges and the beers were judged with reference to the BJCP beer style guidelines. The results were announced on October 23rd, at a ceremony held at the Hops brewpub in Lima's historic Pueblo Libre neighborhood.

The big winners overall were: Cerveceria del Valle, with 6 medals (4 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze); Barbarian, with 5 medals (2 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze); Maddok, with 3 medals (2 silver, 1 bronze); Cumbres, with a silver and a bronze medal; and Invictus with 2 bronze medals. Eight  other breweries earned 1 medal each.

Barbarian came away with a First and Second Place in the Best of Show category for, respectively, "Chicha Tu Mare Sour Ale" and "Mañanero Café Pale Ale", while Cusco's Cerveceria del Valle walked away with Third Place Best of Show for its "A Very Complicated Case - Oak-Aged Blueberry Sour".

Detailed results can be read HERE.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Lima Beer Week, Oct. 14-23

Between Oct. 14 and Oct. 23, Lima craft brewers will host the first Lima Beer Week.  There will be a full schedule of events is organized by the Union de Cerveceros Artesanales del Peru (UCAP), which represents the main craft breweries in the country.

More info at:  and at

Opening: Shadow Puppet Brewing Co. (Livermore, CA)

After keeping all waiting for what seemed like forever, founder and CEO, Brian Blackburn, and headbrewer, Craig Danielson, have thrown the doors to Shadow Puppet Brewing Co. open to the public starting this weekend.

Things started off with a soft-opening Family and Friends Night on Thursday, and Homebrew Club Night on Friday, to which members of Blackburn and Danielson's homebrew clubs, the Mad Zymurgists and the Diablo Order of Zymiracle Enthusiasts, as well as of the Bay Area Mashers, were invited.

The tap room space, largely designed and built by Craig himself, are roomy and inviting.  There is plenty of comfortable seating - at the bar, several large tables, and a few couches. The brewery is fully viewable through a pair of large doors, and patrons can watch the goings on from a bar set up for that purpose. Not only is the tap room attractive and comfortable, but little details such as a well-appointed kids' playroom and shelves in the restrooms where one can set one's glass, attest to the care with which it was planned.

The beers -of which there are seven currently on tap- are all good, although from talking to others on Friday night, the Amber seemed a clear favorite, at least among homebrewers. On the other hand, on the previous night, the Down Under Extra Pale Ale -made with several New Zealand varieties of hops- had been a favorite.  The brewery has even set up an iPad where patrons can rate the beers and help Brian and Craig fine tune the beer lineup.

Shadow Puppet is well worth a visit.

Shadow Puppet Brewing Co.
4771 Arroyo Vista, Suite B
Livermore, CA 94551


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Beer Review: Muy Malvada Peruvian Porter

Muy Malvada Peruvian Porter -whose name literally translates to "very evil one", but could be read as "very naughty one"- is a collaboration beer brewed by Lima's Cerveceria Barbarian, in conjuntion with Two Roads Brewing, out of Stratford, CT, and Evil Twin Brewing, with HQ in Brookly, NY.

Muy Malvada is brewed with jora, sweet potato, and aji panca. Jora is the germinated corn that is also used to make the Andes' traditional corn beer, chicha. Aji panca is a variety of chile pepper, specifically a variety of Capsicum baccatum, which is a staple of Peruvian cuisine. It has little to no heat, and mostly adds a bit of red tint and deep pepper flavour to dishes.

In Muy Malvada the pepper flavour is evident in the background, as a very, very tiny spiciness at the back end. Much more mild, in fact, that I've tasted in the US in beers brewed with ancho or chipotle chiles.

As porters go, Muy Malvada is actually quite nice, and coming in at 6.5% abv and 20 IBU, it is falls quite nicely within the definition of porter. Although it is more like an American porter than its British counterpart, the panca and perhaps the sweetness imparted by the sweet potato, do set it a bit apart.

I really liked this beer, and when I met one of the owners of Barbarian, Diego Rodriguez, I made it a point to ask about it and its genesis.

Diego explained that it came about as a joint project with the other two breweries, and the specialty ingredients were selected as a way of making the beer a Peruvian porter. I would say that they succeeded in giving it a local character. (In fact, when I read Stan Hieronymous' recently-published book, Brewing Local, this beer is one that kept coming to mind as a successful example of a beer with an evocation of place.)

Now, I grant you that this review comes a bit late, given that I was in Lima in July, but as Diego Rodriguez explained, the plan was that Evil Twin and Two Roads, and perhaps a rep from Barbarian, would rebrew the beer in the USA this Fall.

In the USA it is set to be marketed as Pachamama Porter (they had intended for that to be the name in Peru as well, but "Pachamama" was already registered to another brewery).

I have not seen any references to it on either Evil Twin's or Two Roads' websites or FB feeds, but if you live on the east coast or have access to their beers through a distributor, bar, or bottle shop, keep your eye out for this one. I think you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Danville Brewing Company

Last Tuesday, the Danville Brewing Company opened the doors to its taproom and brewpub in downtown Danville, and lines have been around the block to get in since day one.

The location the pub -Danville's first brewery- prime and the space is large, but friendly. The owners have done a very nice job in designing the place. There is a variety of seating options, including at the cool horseshoe-shaped bar with the wrap-around beer tap column.

I had a chance to view some project images for it when the pub was still in its design stages, and if it looked cool then, it is even cooler in person.

The food is good and nicely presented.  The wait staff knows their stuff, and one thing that we particularly appreciated was that our server had a list handy of all the menu items that were gluten-free.

Despite the crowds, the food was delivered promptly.  The restaurant is designed with an open kitchen as well as an open brewery.  What that means, in fact, is that the brewery is behind a glass wall, and is fully viewable by the public.

The brewery runs on a 10 barrel system, where head brewer Matt Sager has already begun to produce the pubs' first run of on-site produced beers (what is being served now was contract brewed for opening day in accordance to Sager's recipes and specifications).

Of the five beers on tap right now, most noteworthy are the CHUX Double IPA and the Coconut Stout.   The stout is smooth, and very subtly flavored with coconut, which makes it a very nice either-way stout -it has something for regular stout drinkers and for those who like flavoured beers.

The CHUX, despite being a DIPA, does not hit one in the face with hop bitterness, although it is definitely there, as befits an IPA.  Matt has done a nice job at crafting a recipe that packs a lot of hop aroma, flavor. and character in a tidy, smooth package. The servers are selling it as a beer that "will change your view of double IPAs."  It's marketting, but for the average beer drinker it may well be true.

For me the bottom line came when I was tasting the flight, and I exclaimed that the beers were "nice", and immediately thought to myself "duh, of course they're good. They're Matt's beers!"

Danville Brewing Company

200 Railroad Ave Suite A
Danville, CA 94526 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Northern California Hombrewers Festival

My homebrew club, the Diablo Order of Zymiracle Enthusiasts (DOZE) has been voted as serving the Best Club Beer at the 19th annual Northern California Homebrewers Festival (NCHF), held in Dobbins, CA, this weekend.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Session (#115): The Role of Beer Books

For today's Session, Joan Villar-i-Martí -of Blog Birraire- has asked us to reflect on the role of beer books in our lives.

Probably like many homebrewers of a couple of decades ago, I got my introduction to homebrewing not via a club or another brewer, but through a book.

Back in those days -late 1992-, being in Santa Cruz, California -home to a vibrant alternative and DIY culture- it occurred to me that it might be feasible for me to make beer at home. Other people had done it, and had been doing it for ages --I had never met anyone who had, but I knew such people existed-- so, just maybe, I could try my hand at it as well...?

The problem, of course, was how to gain the knowledge of how to do it.

In those pre-WWW days, when most mail-order was just that, mail order, from printed catalogs, finding sources was not as intuitive or simple as today.   So, I turned to the University of California's computerized library catalog system to see if there even were any books on the subject.  Among the results returned was one with a friendly-looking title: The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing.

I placed my interlibrary loan request and waited the several weeks it took for the book to arrive, and when it did, boy was I in for a treat! It was exactly what I needed --clear, simple, instructions; explanations and descriptions; photos; recipes; and best of all, the injunction to "relax, don't worry".

Faced with having to return the treasure within the week, I photocopied as much of it as I could afford at the moment (I've since made up for that by buying a brand-new copy!) 

For the next year I tore through those pages, reading and re-reading them. Pondering recipes with names like "Toad Spit Stout" and "Elbro Nerkte", and trying to imagine the flavor all those beer styles I'd never heard of, and for which there as yet were no local sources that I knew of.

When I finally started brewing in October of 1993, my well-thumbed photocopy of the Joy was right there beside me, telling me what to do next, and specially, to relax and not worry.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Anchor Brewing launches membership drive for California State Parks Foundation

Announcement from Anchor Brewing:

Anchor Brewing Company Extends Partnership with
California State Parks Foundation

San Francisco, CA (August 24, 2016) – In a continued effort to preserve and protect California’s natural heritage, Anchor Brewing Company launches a membership drive for the California State Parks Foundation (CSPF). In February of 2013, Anchor Brewing initiated a partnership with CSPF in conjunction with the release of Anchor California Lager®. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Anchor California Lager supports conservation projects in California State Parks that help enrich the state’s innate natural beauty. In the past year, Anchor Brewing has funded three important grants distributed by California State Parks Foundation.

“Enjoying our state’s natural beauty is a fundamental part of the California lifestyle,” said CEO and President of Anchor Brewing, Matt Davenport. “Here at Anchor we embrace and celebrate that lifestyle, making beer to be enjoyed in valleys and on peaks, taking in the landscape with a cold brew in-hand. We strive to make beer that inspires people to go outdoors and Anchor California Lager is a perfect example of that, given our partnership with the California State Parks Foundation. Anchor Brewing is dedicated to its role as a steward for environmental conservation, preserving California’s natural heritage and outdoor lifestyle for generations to come.”
Expanding on this, Anchor is now hosting a membership drive for CSPF, encouraging the public to visit California State Parks and become a member of CSPF, helping their efforts to preserve and protect state parks. Anchor has also recently funded three important CSPF grants, benefiting Citizens for East Shore Parks, Jack London Park Partners and Santa Barbara County Trails Council.
Citizens for East Shore Parks is funding a study on land birds and their habitat in the Albany Bulb, a historically and geographically significant parcel on the East Bay shoreline. The study will advise and guide the Albany Bulb Transition Plan's habitat and wildlife conservation and restoration goals as the area becomes part of McLaughlin East Shore State Park. It is expected to be completed by late summer 2016.

The Jack London Park Partners grant will help update and modernize The House of Happy Walls Museum, which serves as the main visitor center and museum for the park. It was built by Charmian London, as a memorial to Jack London and contains artifacts and mementos attesting to this world famous author's literary success and adventurous lifestyle. The project is anticipated to be completed by November 2016.

Finally, the Santa Barbara County Trails Council will add an entrance sign, kiosk, trail markers, and maps for a significantly underutilized area of El Capitán State Beach, improving access to the land. The grant will have a direct impact on visitors’ experience and as it was just awarded work is expected to begin immediately.

In addition to fundraising efforts, Anchor employees have joined CSPF staff for Anchor volunteer days at California State Parks, which have helped to support conservation projects at Fort Ross, Half Moon Bay, Candlestick Point and China Camp State Parks, with additional projects planned in the future.

Actively embracing California’s brewing traditions, Anchor California Lager is a re-creation of a historic beer; the first genuine lager brewed in California.  The label features a California Grizzly Bear, an icon for the state, as well as California State Parks. CSPF works to provide care for the state’s 279 parks and ensure that everyone is able to enjoy these national treasures. In this way, California’s enduring natural heritage is celebrated and protected.

Join Anchor Brewing in supporting the California State Parks Foundation by becoming a member today. The drive runs through September 30, 2016.

1      Visit
2      Save $5 on your Membership Fee
3      Receive a FREE hiker’s guide to California’s State Parks

Anchor  will be also hosting "Party for the Parks", a membership-drive event for the California State Parks Foundation:

Location: Anchor Beer Garden at The Yard --100 Terry A Francois Blvd., San Francisco
Date: Thursday, September 15th
Hours: from 5 pm 'til 7 pm

The CSPF will be onsite to sign up new members.  Sign up and receive $5 off of membership, and a free copy of the CA State Parks Hiker's Guide.  Anchor Brewing will also be offering deals on pints and growlers of Anchor California Lager, and will donate $1 to the CSPF for every pint of Anchor California Lager sold at the event.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Another opening: Loma Brewing in Los Gatos (CA)

Loma Brewing Co. has announced the opening of its brewery and pub in downtown Los Gatos on Thursday, August 18th.

Details can be found at  the brewery's website:

Monday, August 8, 2016

Farm Creek Brewing opens in Walnut Creek (CA).

After a three-year effort, Randy Janinda and family have opened their brewery and taproom in downtown Walnut Creek. 

The Janinda's opened the place up on Thursday, August 4th, and Friday, August 5th, for special soft-opening events for friends and supporters, before launching the taproom to the general public on Saturday.

Farm Creek is determined to not be "another IPA mill", and plans to produce a variety of brews.  To this end, Randy has hired award-winning brewer Winn Whisenhunt (formerly brewer at San Francisco's Bartlett Hall) to assist.

At the moment, they have three brews on tap: Southern Smile, a pale ale (5.5% abv); an American lager amusingly- and appropriately-named, #Beer (4.5% abv); and Favorite Daughter, a flavorful 3.7% abv beer labeled an "amber", but which, as Randy readily admits, is somewhat defiant of categorization -brewed with the addition of rye and smoked malt; too dark for an amber, but not quite fitting the profile of a brown ale.

All three are available in tasters and pints, but -most fun of all- you can get them to go in a 32-oz aluminum "crowler" (can + growler) which is filled and sealed right before your eyes when you place your order.

Visitors are greeted by two large copper-clad brewing vessels, and are able to partake of Farm Creek's brews just feet or inches from where they were made.

That proximity, and the care and love invested by the Janindas, make the taproom's vibe a friendly and intimate one.  

Seating is mostly spread between a couple of communal tables, but if you get there at the right moment you might be able to score one of the corner rocking chairs!

Farm Creek Brewing Co.
1415 Pine St
Walnut Creek, CA

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Watch these spaces...

2115 Pacheco St, Concord, future home of Hop Heavy Brewing Co.

Recent surveys by the Brewer's Association indicate that in the US new craft breweries open at about one every two weeks.  Our area is certainly part of that trend, with several breweries opening or due to open in the near future.

Calicraft just opened its taproom in Walnut Creel last week, after a four year effort, and the much-awaited Farm Creek Brewing's brewery and taproom is set to open to the public on August 6th, under the direction of founder/owner Randy Janinda and new head brewer Winn Whisenhnut (formerly of Bartlett Hall in San Francisco).

Danville Brewing Co., meanwhile, is in the final stages of preparation, with estimates of an end-of-summer or early fall opening of its taproom on Railroad Ave, in Danville, with Matt Sager as head brewer. Matt is an award-wining homebrewer and until recently head brewer at Rock Steady Brewing in Martinez.

Also nearing final stages is Livermore's Shadow Puppet Brewing's brewery and taproom with Craig Danielson at the helm, in his first foray as a professional brewer. Craig is also an award-wining homebrewer with years of experience under his belt.

Another accomplished homebrewer going pro is Max Brown, who is steadily working away at getting his taproom ready to open in downtown Concord. Hop Heavy Brewing will be located on Pachecho Street, just a block from Todos Santos Plaza.  Max is expecting to open within the next six months.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Calicraft opens taproom in Walnut Creek (CA)

After a four-year wait, as a work-in-progress, Calicraft Brewing Company has finally opened the doors to its taproom in Walnut Creek.

The taproom was opened to the general public with a soft opening on July 29th.

When I got there, half an hour after opening, the line snaked through the room, and when I left a couple of hours later it was still to the door, with a steady stream of new visitors coming in.

Throughout it all, owner and head brewer, Blaine Landberg, circulated, greeting guests, distributing samples, and helping everyone feel welcome.

The beer was certainly very good, as was to be expected from a brewer with so strong a presence in the local market and beyond.

Of course, Calicraft's flagship brews -Buzzerkley, Oaktown, The City, Cali Coast-- were well-represented on the tap list. However, there were also a number of other treats, including a fruit-infused version of Buzzerkley, and a whiskey barrel-aged edition of Oaktown.

Particularly nice were a special sour beer fermented in a zinfandel barrel, and Zero Anniversary, a pale ale brewed specially for opening weekend.

According to Blaine's parents, who were also on hand, there are long-range plans of adding a deck out front, with maybe a bocce ball court. Food options are still under evaluation.

Calicraft Brewing Co.
2700-B Mitchell Dr
Walnut Creek, CA

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Barranco Beer Company (Lima, Peru)

Opened in 2014, Barranco Beer Company's brewpub has been a resounding success.  From selling 50 liters of beer on their first night, beer sales are now in the range of 20 bbl per month, with weekend sales reaching s/. 7000, according to Rommel, one of the managers

The initial lineup of beers has been expanded and refined.   Some favorites, like the "Presidente" heffeweizen" --renamed" Jefe Weiss"-- have been retained, others -like the dunkel-- have been dropped.   In their place are new recipes for pale ales, IPA, and lagers.

Two years ago I lamented the absence of "heavier", "chewier" beers in their lineup.  I must not have been the only one asking for them, as Barranco now offers at least one porter and has just released "Saca Tu Machete", an excellent 8.7% abv / 42 IBU imperial stout made with aji limo, cacao, and algarrobina.

Another beer that is worth mentioning, and one I hope they make part of their regular lineup, even if only seasonally, is the Pepino Punch saison.  Made with pepino fruit, Pepino Punch is easily one of the best fruited beers I've ever tasted.

Barranco Beer Company
Av Almirante Miguel Grau 308
Barranco, Lima

Saturday, July 9, 2016

BarBarian (Lima, Peru)

Lima's newest addition to the growing Peruvian craft beer scene is Cerveceria Barbarian's taproom in Miraflores: BarBarian.

Located half a block from Miraflores' main park, on Calle Bonilla, BarBarian taproom has been open only since March, and already it is a popular, standing-room-only, joint late into a Friday night.  It has a friendly, open atmosphere, and the back portion is dominated by a colorful mural and a wall display of several hundred beer bottles collected over seven years by the owners.

The twety-three taps offer a mix of Barbarian's own brews and guest beers from other Peruvian craft brewers such as Nuevo Mundo, La Magdalena, Cumbres, and Sierra Andina.  All are available in 100-ml tasters, or in 200-ml and 400-ml pours.  

In addition, there is a selection of bottled Peruvian craft and import beers available for consumption on the spot or to go (currently at a 30% discount relative to the in-house price!).

There is also a kitchen, offering burgers, chicken wings, and other pub-type fare, making  this a good place for lunch, dinner, or a late night snack, washed down with quality beer.

Calle Manuel Bonilla 108
Miraflores, Lima

Monday, July 4, 2016

Lima Beer Spots: The "Superba" Bar

Long known for its cocktails and sandwiches prepared with house-made ham, the Superba has been one of Lima's favorite "old-school" haunts since its opening in 1938. (As for the name, many believe that it was originally "Superbar" and that the final "r" was dropped, but it has actually always been just "Superba".)

A couple of years ago, the original owner retired, and passed the management to his children. They've kept the place intact, while quietly turning it into one Lima's best spots for craft beer. 

A sign on the bar states that they have 90 beers on hand , but the staff told me it is more than that.  All of them are bottled (draught beer is not very common here yet), and while they may have a cooler in back somewhere, it looks like most are just kept on the shelves or counters at room temperature.

The beer geek draw however, is the couple of display fridges in the dining room, both of which are well-stocked with a pick of imported (mostly Belgian and Spanish) beers, and lots of Peruvian craft beers.

Just in the one, I counted beers from Cumbres, Sierra Andina, Beer Stache, Nuevo Mundo, Invictus, and a few others.

If one is in need of a good beer in the Limce/San Isidro area, the Superba is a go-to spot.  Their traditional Peruvian mixed drinks are good as well, as are their sandwiches, of course.

Av. Petit Thouars 2884
San Isidro
Lima, Peru

Thursday, June 2, 2016

"Estonya" Whiskey Barrel-Aged Imperial Porter

Recently, 10 Barrel Brewing has started a series of specialty, limited-release beers. These special beers will be hand-bottled and released roughly four to five times each year to select bottle shops in Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado, and Idaho, as well as through 10 Barrel’s pubs in Bend, Boise, and Portland.

The first off the line is Estonya, a Baltic-inspired imperial (11.9% ABV) porter crafted by 10 Barrel’s head Bend brewer, Tonya Cornett, who aged it in Blanton’s Bourbon barrels from West Virginia.

The brewery describes it as having "strong whiskey characteristics with notes of vanilla, milk chocolate, figs, and caramel," and intended to be cellared or drunk now, perhaps as a dessert beer or as a treat on its own.

Photo courtesy of 10 Barrel Brewing

Well, today I popped open a bottle of Estonya that was sent to me by 10 Barrel Brewing for review. (I've  got to point out that while the wax seal is a nice touch, aesthetically, it is a pain in the butt when it comes to uncapping the bottle!)

In the glass, Estonya is dark. Very dark, almost black. It does have a slight reddish undertone that sets apart from a stout in appearance.

It is a very satisfying draught, I must say. The nose is not heady, despite the high gravity.  I did not detect any outstanding alcoholic esters. What there is there is moderate and pleasant, and there is no alcoholic heat in the mouth (they do come in a bit as the beer warms.)

I certainly detected notes of figs and vanilla, but also a hint of dark cherries.  It is a bit sweet, in a way reminiscent of a milk stout.  It is smooth and round in the same way, as well, in terms of mouthfeel.

The brewery recommends Estonya with sweet dessert, but I think that as soon as I finish writing this, I'm going to cut a slice of Point Reyes Blue cheese to pair with it. I think it'll be a good match.

In sum, I like it! And I'm already thinking "where can I get another bottle?"

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Iron John's Brewing (Tucson, AZ)

On a recent visit to Arizona I had the opportunity to twice visit Iron John's Brewing Company, near downtown Tucson, must a bit south of the University of Arizona campus.

Iron John's is a nanobrewery, started by head brewer John Adkisson. Adkisson was a homebrewer for twenty-five years, and long ago set his sights on opening his own brewery.  Two tears ago he made it happen, and it is a lovely little brewery.

The brewery is set up in one of those warehouse/shop space strip mall sort of places and is pretty nondescript from the outside, but inside is a cute, welcoming little tap room. The people who work there are really nice, willing to answer questions and make suggestions, and happy to chat with newcomers and regulars alike, about beer or whatever happens to come up.

Iron John's has a two barrel batch capacity, put out on a brewing setup designed and built by Adkisson around two 60-gal soup kettles, obtained, I was told, second-hand from a prison kitchen.

As for the beers, not only are they tasty, but Iron John's is committed to expressing theri region in their brews.  Code Talker. for example, was named after Chester Nez, a Navajo Code Talker who served with the Marine WWII.  El Tiradito Belgian Triple is named after a beloved local shrine.  And, it goes beyond just names: In Saison de Juhki, named after the rainy season using the Papago word for rain, they seek to evoke the "smell of the coming monsoon rain" by brewing the beer with sage, orange peel, and creosote flowers.

I started with a flight of four 4-oz samplers, and liked what I had so much that I went for the remaining two beers on the tap list plus a taste of Pedro, a nice double IPA brewed with almonds and pine nuts, which was being offered from the bottle.  For me, the standouts were Saison de Juhki, Hey Momo Belgian Peach Wheat ale, and El Tiradito (I liked this one so much I had it on both visits and took a bottle home).

Iron John's Brewing Co.
245 S Plumer Ave #27
Tucson AZ 85719

Southern Pacific Brewing

Finding myself  in San Francisco on a chilly April Sunday, I went in search of lunch and a good beer. Tucked away into a quiet corner of the Mission District, on Treat Ave, Southern Pacific Brewing was a welcome and pleasant discovery. 

The brewery and bar and grill all occupy a large warehouse space whose large windows, lots of skylights and high ceiling provide lots of light and give a sense openness.  There is enough light in fact to support a couple of trees growing in the restaurant area.  Despite the name, the decor and ambience is not particularly train-oriented --which could be a relief to some, and a disappointment to others.

I found the beer I had to be quite good.  Of the two I specially enjoyed the Belgian Blonde.  It had a nice Belgian character without being overly fruity or spicy.   I also tried the Barrel Aged Blend. It was not particularly oaky or sour, which is kind of what I had been expecting, but I did enjoy it as well.  I think they told me it was aged in a Chardonnay barrel, but I may be wrong about that.  

I wish I had tried some of the other beers to get a fuller picture of their brews --as it turned out the Belgian Blonde was a major part of what went into the barrel, so the flavor profile of both beers I tried was pretty similar-- but being alone and facing a long drive home I had to limit myself.

In any case, it would certainly be worth a return trip when in the neighborhood.

Southern Pacific Brewing Co.
620 Treat Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94110

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Hard Frescos

Hard Frescos are a relatively new item, having been on the market for about a year.  They are the brain-child of Peter Stearns, from Santa Barbara, who worked for two years with experts at UC Davis to develop a way of making an alcoholic drink using pretty much only the ingredients that would go into Mexican aguas frescas, which were his inspiration.

Now, a "serious" beer drinker might well look at these and decide that they have no relation to beer, and that's a fair point. However, as they are brewed using fruit and then fermented using an ale or a lager yeast, depending on the batch, they have as much a relation to beer as a cider or a mead. In any case, the federal government has required the company to include some barley malt in all the recipes so they can class Hard Frescos as a "malt beverage."

I happened to met Stearns at the Hard Frescos booth at the recent Bay Area Craft Brew Festival, and he sent me home with some samples. Well, I've tried every one of what he gave me and I've got to say that I do like them.

The three flavors I sampled were "Citrico" -made with citrus-, "Tangy Tamarindo" -made with tamarind-, and "Juicy Jamaica" -made with hibiscus blossoms. Of the three (there is also a fourth flavor: "Cola Buena"), I by far preferred the "Citrico" (so glad he gave two of those!), followed by the "Tangy Tamarindo."  

Served cold, Hard Frescos are easy to drink and refreshing. All of the flavors contain around 5% ABV, but what comes through most brightly is the fruit used in their preparation. The adjectives that most come to mind are fun and friendly

As they are a bit removed from the Belgian and farmhouse ales that I tend to prefer, I'm not sure that I'd stock them in my fridge --although they do hold out the promise of some interesting cocktails-- but I'd happily order a Hard Frescos at a restaurant or taco truck.  

They would certainly hit the spot as a "grown up" alternative any time one might reach for a Jarritos or a Peñafiel.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Raleigh, NC: Raleigh Beer Garden

One of my destinations in North Carolina --a recommendation from Susana-- was the Raleigh Beer Garden, on Glenwood Avenue in downtown Raleigh.

The Beer Garden, rather than a garden, is actually a three-story affair, with three regular bars, which are expanded on weekends with a draft setup on the rooftop patio.

One of the bars is the liquor and cocktail bar near the entrance.  It is a pretty cool affair in its own right, dominated by a sculpture made out of a real tree which towers into the second floor.

Toward the back of the first and second floors are the beer taprooms.  The Raleigh Beer Garden claims to offer the world's largest selection of draft beer, and they have the Guinness World Record certificates to prove it.

Even without the certificates the claim is easy to believe.  Altogether there are 378 taps, of which the 144 on the first floor are all North Carolina beers, while the second floor bar serves beers from elsewhere in the country and imports.   If you're in the Raleigh area and don't have time for a local beer crawl, then definitely hit the Raleigh Beer Garden.

With a beer selection so vast, actually pretty good food, patio seating and a rooftop bar and patio, it is easy to understand why the Raleigh Beer Garden is a very popular spot.  We went on a weekday afternoon, and I recommend that. As I understand it, from 4 pm on on Thursday and Friday evenings, and on the weekends, the place is gets packed with the college crowd (which, of course, can be a totally fun scene in its own right!) and it can be hard to get in without a reservation.

Raleigh Beer Garden
614 Glenwood Ave
Raleigh, NC 27603 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Raleigh, NC: House of Hops

Another nice beer spot I enjoyed in North Carolina is House of Hops Craft and Draft tap house and bottle shop in Raleigh.

I happened upon it purely by chance: as I was slowing for an intersection I noticed its streetside sign out of the corner of my eye.  Without a second thought, I turned around at the intersection and made my way to its door, and boy am I glad I did.

The place has a friendly, comfortable vibe, with a bar and multiple taps, along with couches and a welcoming attitude to both kids and dogs.  Ronna, who was on duty at the time, was really warm and welcoming, and gladly pointed us to local beer offerings on draft that we might like.

The bottle shop selection --both, refrigerated and on the shelves-- can conservatively described as wide and varied. Everthing is clearly labeled with brewery, provenance and price, and for a traveler from the West Coast, such as me,offered many new discoveries, ranging from breweries I did not know to brews from known breweries which were not distributed out here.

Susana and I drooled over the selections and but were only able to enjoy a half pour of beer before moving on to downtown Raleigh and our ultimate destination at the Raleigh Beer Garden.

We did stop at House of Hops on the way back to load up on a few choice bottles to take home and enjoy later.

House of Hops
6909 Glenwood Ave #100
Raleigh, NC 27612

Chapel Hill, NC: Carolina Brewery

 At the beginning of the month I had the chance to travel to North Carolina and to visit several beer spots in the "Triangle" while there.  The first of these was the Carolina Brewery in downtown Chapel Hill.

I had spotted the brewery on Franklin Street, Chape Hill's main street, on my way out of town, and so headed straight there when I was done that afternoon. I had spent the morning touring an old plantation's historic buildings, and the weather was warm and sunny.  Thus, I was in need of some lunch and a good beer while I waited to meet up with my daughter.

The Carolina Brewery has two locations, this one in Chapel Hill, and a second one in Pittsboro, NC. The Chapel Hill brewpub, which opened in 1995 and currently has about a seventy barrel capacity, is the original and remains the flagship, even though the Pittsboro facility is able to produce a bit more beer.

One nice aspect of the Chapel Hill brewpub is that the kettles and fermenters are right there, in front of the customers, just on the other side of the bar, and not separated by glass as in so many other places.  This means that one can drink a pint while admiring the beautiful Czech-made copper and brass kettles, and  listening to the CO2 bubbling from the fermenters' blow-off tubes.

The beers are good, too. I particularly enjoyed the Baltic Anomaly porter (7.7% ABV), which is brewed with Saaz and Fuggle hops (33 IBU), and the Flagship IPA, made with Chinook and Cascade hops (5.9% ABV, 66 IBU).

When I was there, I was able to taste their Triple S lager straight from the fermenter, as it was being filtered and transferred into the serving tanks in the basement for lagering until its release in May.  Of course it was flat, and a bit warm, but I could tell that it was going to be a danged tasty beer when it was done.

Carolina Brewery and Grill
460 W. Franklin Street
Chapel Hill, NC 27516