Friday, November 29, 2013

To Be Determined

Late in the summer, I read the Lifestyles Blogging Report by the folks that run the Beer Bloggers Conference (yes, it's a bona fide event). I participated in creating the data because I was interested in the results. These results were background to several recent life events that have created an upheaval in my priorities. Without commenting on the events, I realized the time I was devoting to this blog needed to be placed elsewhere, mostly, because I don't fit the definition of a serious beer blogger. As a result, I'm not producing the sort of work that I personally read. While I am confident that I could write to the level of those I respect, I really don't have the time or motivation. I don't think it's an accident that most of those I admire are or are working to become some version of a professional in the beer industry. And, I'm not willing to change to become serious and this means the direction of my blog will change.  

However, I have no idea what that path of Pint Sized Revelations will be. Previously, I was writing about nearly every place I stopped locally and on vacation, but that amount of writing is taxing and taking away from the simple pleasure of reading about and tasting beer. Note taking also changes the experience of a stop, especially on vacation. I have a few recent stops that I would really like to share, so some of last summer will make the front page of the blog yet.  Also, I've recently returned to homebrewing more seriously and plan to share the results of that as well. While the blog isn't dead and will have future posts, I've also renewed my subscription to All About Beer, organized a stack of neglected beer books, and plan to take far fewer notes while drinking. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New Albion Ale Clone by Wood Shoe Brew House

New Albion bubbling on the left
On Basic Brewing Radio, Jack McAuliffe joined James, Steve and Andy to brew up a clone of the original New Albion Ale. It was very interesting to hear a first hand perspective from the originator of New Albion brewing, the first brewpub of the modern era that proved the possibility of craft beer.

One of my initial allures of homebrewing was the chance to brew historical recreations. To date, I've done one previously, a clone of the original 1983 Sierra Nevada Pale Ale recipe from Charlie Papazian's book Microbrewed Adventures. I don't have notes but remember the comparison of the old to the modern standard being enjoyable and enlightening. Following the recipe from Brew Your Own, I've taken on my second historical beer, in part because I didn't have enough sense to pick up a six pack of the Sam Adams version earlier this year.

New Albion Ale by Wooden Shoe Brew House: off white head lingers a bit with a light lace; color is brown to caramel with gold highlights; floral and citrus of the Cascade comes through very lightly over sweet caramel; body is light without being thin, letting the sweet and spice wash over the tongue.

My version of New Albion Ale
Vaguely reminiscent of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Summit EPA. Not as a direct comparison, but more in that New Albion Ale tastes old school: heavy sweet malt with a light, barely-there hop nose and tingle on the tongue. Similar to the above named pale ales that are a part of the origin story of craft beer, it actually felt like drinking a time warp; an American pale ale today generally won't be this malty with a singular in the hop note. Many BA reviews alluded to the ale tasting more like an English bitter than an APA, which makes sense based on the London Ale yeast used in the recipe and the history of Jack McAuliffe's European models that inspired the brewery.

I reviewed the Basic Brewing Video tasting notes that compared the same recipe I brewed to the Sam Adams version. Based on their description and color comparison, I feel pretty confident that my version is close to the intended brew. In spite of my enjoymetn, the overall rating on BA and Ratebeer are relatively low. However it seems to me that many of the beer geeks are disappointed by drinking with a poor paradigm.

Each site lists New Albion Ale as an American Pale Ale, which it rightly falls short of when contrasted with highly hopped APAs that approach or surpass bitterness levels of my first India Pale Ales a decade ago. Just like reading literature, the standards of the time period must be considered to full understand a work. While I was 11 when New Albion opened, I still remember the wasteland of my father's beer drinking world of the 1970s and early 80s. Drinking New Albion Ale with that frame of mind greatly enhances the experience and let's me see how this beer must have been a revelation to early beer geeks. With adjusted expectations, this beer is growing on me as I work my way through my bottles. For me, this has been a very worthy experiment to be able to taste a reincarnation of the birth of craft beer. I recommend brewing up a batch of history to anyone wanting this unique experience.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Triple Rock Brewery & Alehouse (Berkeley, CA)


In an earlier life, we lived and I coached speech and debate in LA. Each year I took my students to the Berkeley tournament in February. Gloria wanted to see the infamous Berkeley and I was reliving some old times. We enjoyed our walk around campus and replaced my Cal hat from the first tournament the Taft speechies attended. Sadly, some things are better left in the past—specifically, Fat Slice pizza didn't live up to my shades of memory.

In my previous (and only) personal trip to Berkeley, I met a friend at the Pyramid Alehouse, so I've been look forward to make up the missed opportunity to drink the Triple Rock Brewery & Alehouse of Berkeley. On their website, Triple Rock places itself as the fifth brewpub ever in the US and the oldest one still owned by the originators. Walking in the door, the amount of cool breweriana is dizzying. According to Jesse, one of the TR staff members, it is all quite real and that the owner has enough to decorate the place several times over. It has the authentic feel of what TJ Friday's tries to accomplish. I found myself quite distracted the entire visit looking at historical brewery names I didn't know. With history literally in and on the walls, I was looking forward to adding Triple Rock to my database.

Quick table service on the 4th of July, so we ordered a draft of Lady Friend, a seasonal Belgian ale: pleasant yeasty spice and complex and delicate fruity taste. Very nice start. The very floral Big Juice pale ale was next in line for the best of the samples. The rest were all relatively good, but a bit thin for style shows up repeatedly in my notes.  IPAX IPA had a big, raw hop bite that more than soothed my hop monster after a few days in wine country.

One of our main reasons for trying Triple Rock on this trip was the vegan friendly menu.  Main course for us was the BBQ Seitan Sandwich, which was a bit messy but good; however, it didn't match up to the BBQ poor boy at our home Triple Rock Social Club.  The vegan chili (listed vegan but the waiter warned not vegan with cheese and sour cream that can be left off) was much better, as were the natural cut fries, tasting similar to In-n-Out fries we had been eating most of the week.

Overall, we very much enjoyed our stop. Solid beer drafts to wash down our choice from a range of veggie options, others of which I would like to try next time. With our one time stop, the darker or bigger beers seemed to be the best. Very near the university, Triple Rock seems to me to be a great training ground for young liberal minds to soak up some craft beer before heading off to change the world.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Alchemy Cafe (Madison, WI)

Long day ends at Alchemy

Taking a mellow approach to this year's Great Taste, we road a free bus over to Alchemy for dinner. We tried drafts of Potosi for the first time, a tripel for G and a Belgian IPA for me. Both were solid and Potosi may be worth a trip some day to visit the museums on site: the National Brewery Museum and the Potosi Brewing Co Transportation Museum.  Having read about the National Brewery Museum over the years, I've wanted to visit. Now knowing that pretty good beer will be available afterwards, the trip moves up a notch on the travel list.   
Sweet potato chips with first draft

Back to the Alchemy Cafe, the sweet potato chips were pretty amazing,  mostly because the blueberry jalapeño sauce made the appetizer. For dinner we had the Roasted Vegetable Coconut Curry. In spite of not being a fan of coconut, it didn't matter for this dish, which was fresh and savory. Veggie and vegan options for those who care; my wife went vegan and I dipped into the yogurt for an extra layer of flavor. In short, the stop is worth the effort for the food or beer, whichever is most important.  

In 2008, I had a draft of Surly Darkness and Two Brother's Cane and Abel at Alchemy before Great Taste that year, though I only vaguely recognized the bar when we walked in. Tonight made a clearer impression and I intend/hope to return again some day.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Stone Vertical Epic Tasting

VE 03.03.03
While the exact details of how and when I heard of the Stone Vertical Epic series is buried in the foggy past, I do remember being excited by the concept. Stone was impossible to get in Minnesota until recently, so I missed out on the 02. On a trip to California the next year, I found the .03 and was then on a quest to find the rest.

Unfortunately, drinking the range over the last couple of weeks, there's no holy grail. While a few were very good to drink yet, not one was better than the first go around. Based on the styles brewed, I suspected a problem all along.  The .02 was a witbier, destined to not aged well. The rest were Belgian ales of varying strengths. The .08, a Belgian IPA, held promise but four years of aging was too much as well.

More interesting than the tasting was remembering the travels necessary for the coast to coast effort to gather the collection. .03 and .04 from Irvine and Oakland, CA, respectively, and the .07 came from Exton, PA. Only three drafts of a VE ever: .07 and .08 at Brasserie V in Madison before Great Tastes and the .11 on site at the Stone World Bistro. Picked up the .05 in West Lafayette, IN during our annual trip to a Purdue football game. After two years of buying .08 and .09 online at Beer on the Wall,  I was able to buy the last years in Minnesota when Stone finally moved into the state.

I don't regret buying the series but definitely disappointed. Granted, my hopes were high in spite of the clear evidence. Still fun and educational, especially since I've learned a fair bit about how my own cellar ages beers over a longer time period. While the Vertical Epic series was a magnificent and inspiring idea, it simply did not deliver.

Here's the beer by beer notes for those interested:

VE 03.03.03: off white rocky head that falls slowly to a thin film over a copper colored Belgian ale with amber highlights along the edges; horse blanket, toffee, dark fruit, spice and cinnamon in the nose which is complex; semi-sweet on the tongue, low carbonation, over-ripe prune and a bitter finish; alcohol is strong and unbalanced. All of the recent BA reviews are all in the same vein—beer didn't live up to the ten years in the cellar.

VE 04.04.04: hard pour to build a barely-there white head over a dark straw gold ale; malt and yeasty spice in the nose plus a musty staleness; sweet maltiness floods the tongue plus a nice spice from hops and/or yeast; not bad but also past it's prime. Again, my original tasting was much more satisfying.

VE 05.05.05: high pour down the center to raise a light brown head over a dark maroon ale with ruby highlights; heavy malt and dark cherry with a light spice in the nose; fruitiness washes over the tongue with a lingering maltiness; sherry notes from a bit of oxidation but an improvement over the .03 and .04 but still downhill from the original tasting.

VE 06.06.06: one of my least favorites of the VE when fresh; hard pour down the center and the light brown head barely rises, alcohol wafts up at a distance; light malt and alcohol in the nose and little else; thin body with an acrid pinch on the tongue; dark fruit in the dry finish. My opinion has not changed about the 06; it's still the weakest, though it doesn't show the oxidation of the 03 or 04.

VE 07.07.07: only a thin white head over a marmalade colored ale; light spice, orange and sweet malt in nose; fruitiness, yeast spice and slight oxidation spreads over the tongue with a light acidic bite; good but it seems to have lost a step and some balance from my last tasting.

VE 08.08.08: stark white head lingers a while before falling to a film; amber ale with shimmering gold highlights is promising; hop has fallen out of this Belgian IPA from nose and taste; mostly funk left and little to balance; aged a year, I was much more impressed with a bottle of the 08 in spite of being less enamored with a draft.

VE 09.09.09: thick, creamy tan head that builds quickly and hangs on; dark cherry, chocolate, spice and a hint of oxidization that blends nicely for an intriguing nose; smooth and full bodied, it fills the mouth with chocolate and toffee tones, a slight burnt malt hidden underneath and maybe a hop presence trying to make itself known. The 2009 edition has held up well and the best so far.

VE 10.10.10: near white head dissipates immediately, leaving a orange and gold ale; pretty nose of spice, pepper, lemon, yeast and bready sweetness; sweet and spicy on the tongue, front to back; slight oxidation dulls it a bit but the overall impression is good.  It has held up for the three years but it can't go much longer.

VE 11.11.11: thick, tightly-bubbled off white head piles up over a copper ale, and the beauty ends there; nose is dank with dark chocolate and cherry underneath; taste is stale malt with some fruit underneath; so far, the recent beers have improved but the 11 is the exception of the steady improvement from .03 to .10.

VE 12.12.12: hard pour barely lifted the light brown head over a pitch black ale; complex herb and spice nose with dark fruit, fig and cherry; full body fills the mouth with herbs and spices flowing over the tongue; sweet to cloyingly off the back; very good but not the excellent I remember from my 12.12.12 birthday.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Downtown Joe's Brewery & Restaurant (Napa, CA)

Downtown Joe's in the heart of Napa

Planned in advance, we had dinner at Downtown Joe's in Napa after a day of sampling wines in the valley. While we enjoyed the drive and the sampling the valley's wine, especially the port offerings at Prager Winery and Port Works (the only wine we bought), finishing our day at brewpub in the iconic bastion of wine country was irresistible.

Since most of the wineries close early (by 4:30 pm or earlier), we made happy hour and got discounted appetizers for dinner. Garlic Beer Fries were very good and hit the spot, versions of which we've had through out the trip in northern California. The homemade guacamole was fine but below par for what I expected for being out west and the chips didn't support well enough.

Overdue Porter and Tantric IPA
Skipped getting samples and went right for the hops of the Tantric IPA: thin white head and a orange marmalade color like Masala Mama; strong grapefruit and apricot in the nose with a floral and spicy hoppiness; blended hop bite and a balanced sweetness; a very strong IPA hidden in the legendary land of vineyards. Gloria's Overdue Porter was solid for the style and warmed nicely as we ate.

On the recom of our solicitous bartender, I finished with the double IPA, Double Secret Probation: delicate stark white lacing over an amber ale with gold highlighted; clean singular hop nose with sweet breadiness and honey underneath; taste is sharp and chewy; slightly hot and a little out of balance. Bartender said the beer's name is an allusion to Animal House. Evidently the movie was filmed at the University of Oregon (Ducks), the alma mater of the actual Downtown Joe. The bartender preferred this over the Tantric because it had more punch (alcohol) but the bar actually sells more Tantric

Garlic Beer Fries

Another 100 plus degree July day in the inland, we survived only with cranking the air in the car between stops plus the industrial strength misting systems of Sterling Vineyards. As a result, we really appreciated the almost chilly AC in the pub in spite of it being in a historic building (100 year old Oberon building, a Napa landmark according to the sign). Settling into the comfortable restaurant for dinner with seemingly all locals, we enjoyed the food, beer and welcoming feel. Downtown Joe's is a great place to get a post-winery hop fix.

Brewery at Downtown Joe's

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ukiah Brewing (Ukiah, CA)

Ukiah Brewing


On the way to our night on the coast at Timber Cove Inn, we had limited time for a lunch stop in Ukiah. Beer travel is always about decisions. We almost drove out of the way to Lagunitas that we had done a few days earlier, but the 108 degree inland temperature dissuaded us of this option. In Ukiah, the choice is between Mendocino Brewing's Ale House and Ukiah Brewing. Medocino is more easily available, so we decided to hit the local-only beer stop that had the veggie friendly menu.

Walking in the steepled downtown building on the corner, we sat at a high top table just inside the door, relieved that the AC was working well. Garlic bites (versions of which, especially Gilroy garlic, we've been eating all week) and a full rack of all of the samples to start. Overall, the samples were fairly well brewed but only a few would inspire me to another pint. Easily the best beer of the stop was the Emancipator, a rich and flavorful doppelbock that's was a bit hot and lacks cohesion for the style; however, it was fun to drink. The most unique beer from this organic brewery was the Narrow Yarrow: yarrow flowers substituted for hops; some malt in the nose but no flowery support; floral note shows on the tongue with a sweetness; interesting but not excellent. The natural cut fries were satisfying but the tempeh burger read better on the menu than a reality, or it may have lacked in comparison to the amazing tempeh burger that we had at Stone World Bistro last year.

Garlic bites with fresh dill sauce
From the size of the speakers nearby, the place seems to be a nightly music venue, so maybe that is their role in the community. Taking a look at the About Us section of their website, UBC, as it's known locally, was the first certified organic brewery in the United States in 2000 (2nd organic restaurant). I was perfectly happy with the stop, having few delusions from reading the reviews. While not an amazing brewery that I will go out of my way for again, clearly UBC very much believes in its mission and works to fulfill it in this small California community.