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.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Local Beer Bar (Eureka, CA)

Cool and unique tap board

After Lost Coast Brewery, we walked over to The Local Beer Bar. Eureka rolls up the streets at 10 pm (confirmed by the bartender), so we moved quickly after dinner to have pint.

What a tap list. For me, this is the new model for a beer bar: a small, informed and well served list. We struggled to pick a beer, but three strikes (samples) are allowed before having to choose.

I started with Iron Fist's Nelson the Imp-Paler: pale ale with Nelson Saugvin hops; super clear lager yellow but not thin at all with a clean hop fruitiness; bites clean and the hops linger. The Mad River John Barleycorn was adequate but didn't live up to expectation but draft of Bacchus from Brouwerij von Honsebrouck renewed hope: nice sour but a bit thin and middle of the road to be impressive but very acceptable. I ended with 101 North's Herione IPA: sweet and malty IPA with a clean, brash hop charge. Good choice.

Our bartender, who I neglected to write down her name, was extremely patient and very knowledgeable. Point of fact, my bias, a level of service I didn't expect to find in Eureka. While each beer wasn't served in a brewery glass, they were served in a glass close to style. Small food offering, including veggie empanadas, but we were full from Lost Coast, so didn't check it out.

At the bar, we met two young men having a beer before heading to a local organic farm the next morning to work a two month stint for room, board and a bit of spending money. In chatting with one, he had done two years of college but it didn't fit.  He felt his family was disappointed with him compared to his educated and "successful" siblings. He could have been any one of my students, trying to find his way and needing support.  We told both of them we admired their quest and wished them luck.

Just a quite night with a jazzy background, a bartender and four people at a bar in Eureka, California, in the shadow of the redwoods. The rush of a successful beer quest plus pleasant conversion while bellied up to the bar made for a great stop. Hope more locals hit The Local Beer Bar because this it is a beauty.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Lost Coast Brewery (Eureka, CA)

Lost Coast Brewery

After driving through the Avenue of Giants and up to Redwood National Forest, we headed down to Eureka to spend the night. We stayed at the historic Eureka Inn, a disappointment except that it was an easy walk home from the downtown breweries.

First stop of the evening was for dinner at Lost Coast Brewery. Order of lemon pepper parmesan fries were very tasty to tide us while trying a sampler tray of brews. The fruit beers like Raspberry Brown and Tangerine Wheat were all adequate but not very inspiring. The standard line up of beers were a level better, especially the hoppy ales. 8 Ball Stout and AlleyCat Amber were a step up from the fruit ales, but better were the Lost Coast Pale Ale with a soft hop nose over a sweet caramel back bone and the Indica IPA with a bold hop bite and a grassy, dry finish.

Fish taco

Lost Coast Tacos for dinner. Mine had a crisp, crunchy battered outside with a delicate white fish inside surrounded with a flour tortilla, shredded cabbage, lime sour cream and fresh pico de gallo. Ordered a draft of Great White Beer with my taco: spice on the tongue is complex and stimulating to drink; secret blend of Humboldt County herbs, according to the menu; light and refreshing with a lot of flavor. One of only two LC beers I've had before, it's light and refreshing with a light of flavor. Understated spiciness of the beer blends well with the bready and slightly fishy tacos. Gloria had the tofu version of the taco and liked it as well. A nice range of veggie options on the menu for being so far north, and we appreciated the choice.

Lost Coast is a family friendly restaurant, even on a Saturday night visit. Feels like a bar in my small hometown in Iowa but with a lot better beer. The slightly slow but friendly service with quick, honest recommendations. The rustic atmosphere that was loud but still pleasant to talk in. Overall, it's a place in which the beer is about what I expected and has a warm, welcoming feel that many locals seem to call home.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

North Coast Brewing Taproom (Fort Bragg, CA)


North Coast tap room and restaurant. 
"That's not a kitty!" Walking home from North Coast's tap house, we saw down the block something walking away from a trash can.  The B&B next door (that we didn't get a room for) had a house cat according to the website, so we made an assumption that the kitty was in the street being naughty. When "it" turned, the profile was clearly NOT a kitty, but we couldn't identify what it was in the dark. We now have a new experession for anything unexpected, "That's not a kitty."

For out stop in Fort Bragg, the saying is appropriate. While the beers of North Coast are famous, and worthy of it, the stop was very different than I imagined. At Anderson Valley, our new friends Dave and Meredith had shown up too early for the restaurant (opens at 4 pm), ending up at a nearby bar and chatted with a disgruntled local about the negative relationship the brewery has with the small seaside community.  We didn't sense any of that dynamic on our stop but the restaurant does feel out of place.
Drafts worth travelling to drink

To buy time to order some food, we jumped into drafts of Brother Thelonious and Old Rasputin, both excellent. No notes as we focused on ordering bruschetta with fresh basil and a quattro formaggio spent grain pizza. In spite of the very comfortable and welcomed 60 degree coastal temp compared to the inland heat, the restaurant was stuffy. A dark wood interior and black painted ceiling gives the place a somber feeling. Blended with 1950s muzak, I sense in the restaurant an attempt to be upscale in a small town like the steak house in my backwater hometown in Iowa.

Brother Thelonious and 25th Anniversary Barley Wine to end
Which might explain the high end beers brewed by North Coast. While a couple of beers like ACME and Scrimshaw are lighter, the rest are big beers in big bottles. Two and two adds up to four now, but I never really did the math before. North Coast are high end beers because they seem to see themselves as a high end location. 

Next was the mainstay of my cellar, Old Stock Ale. This draft of the 2013 edition is fresh and young: dark notes and oxidized sherry from bottle aging are missing; tall, fluffy white head falls to a thin film over a mahogany ale; slightly hot nose, hidden cherry and dark malt; a little thin and alcoholic on the tongue with more dark fruit and malt and a dry finish. Too cold when served but the beer opens nicely as it warms to hint at the aged version. A barleywine on a summer trip is always a treat, so ordering a 25th Anniversary Barley Wine on draft was a no-brainer: medium lace from a fluffy off white head; amber ale with shimmering gold in the light; aromatic and floral nose from a fairly intense hop with sweet malt and a hint of molasses; smooth and whiskey-like on the tongue and the hop lingers off the back. Pretty good beer but not an all-time barleywine for me.
Four cheese spent grain pizza

Overall, our walk on the beach at sunset to check out sea glass (recommended by our friendly hotel owner upon check in) and the downtown region was beautiful, as was the drive to Fort Bragg through the Jackson State Forest, forecasting our next day in redwoods. Pleasant stop with some excellent beers, but I didn't feel connected to the restaurant. Nothing wrong—just wasn't inspired by the disconnect between the rough and tumble seaside town and the attitude in the restaurant, especially when the food only partially delivered. Still, hard to go wrong drinking the drafts of North Coast across the street from the brewery and an easy (if somewhat surprising) walk home.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Great Taste 2013 (Madison, WI)

Battle plan, which never works.
For each of my nine times at the Great Taste of the Midwest, I've shown up early to get in line to prepare the battle plan from the program for the fest. My optimism in finding every new brewery to add to my list versus the reality of always failing to conquer the goal is at the heart of why this is a great fest. With brewers often pouring their wares themselves and fighting for attention by bringing their best, failure to taste everything new and sampling amazing beer are both guaranteed. Simply, Great Taste may be the best beer festival, period.  

First, unlike the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), which has more beer, time and the heart of Denver to drink, Great Taste brewers are often pouring their own beers. At GABF, volunteers pour the samples and, as worthy and wonderful as they are, it's not the same as being able to chat with the brewer or staff when getting a sample. Second, it is an incredibly well run festival by the local Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild. All festival organizers need to take notes on getting a line in the door, the fastest anywhere. Over the years, the club doesn't rest on its laurels and even the festival layout changes and improves each year. The entrance has moved to the other side of the fest and the flush toilets are inside the grounds rather than being your last chance in line before being relegated to porta-potties for the rest of the day. Third, Olin-Turville Park's location on the lake across from downtown is unparalleled at any festival I've attended, especially because the ticket cap means a 2 oz sample is rarely far away. And, finally, the selection of beer from the midwest, draft and cask, is simply fantastic. As alluded to above, the unique nature of Great Taste all of the brewers bring their A game for everyone to taste, including fest only beers. In short, Great Taste is the granddaddy that shows everyone how to do it right.
And they are off...not stumbling now. 

For me, the value of Great Taste is finding beers that inspire a visit to a brewery later on. From past festivals, for example, I discovered and traveled to the following breweries: Bluegrass, Flossmoor Station, Lafayette, New Glarus, Three Floyd's, Piece Pizzeria, Dragonmead, Dark Horse among others. In today's booming beer age, tasting to find breweries worth visiting later is even more valuable. Because a single sample can be misleading, I tend to taste several at each brewery to make sure that the range makes the overall impression rather than just one beer. 

2013 was an especially good festival. All of the best of the fest fortuitously arrived in a single year: amazing weather with no rain and low heat; fabulous Great Taste Eve; more (good) vegetarian food than ever; too many new breweries to tackle; random encounters with beery friends before and during the fest; and my wife decided to come along. We've experienced the converse conditions at Great Taste before, including rain, high heat, bad food, pot smokers in the woods and drinkers too immature or unable to handle the demands of an all-you-can-drink festival. In the end, the good outweighs the bad by far. This year had several beer highlights. My wife's favorite was the New Glarus 2012 Cherry Stout: dark maroon with red highlights in the summer sun; awesome dark cherry and caramel nose; Door County cherry floods the tongue like Belgian Red (dancingly light but not thin) but with more depth from the stout character. We each got a couple of samples after the 4:30 tapping, easily the best of the special releases we set up in the morning line up. 
Wedge potatoes from
Smokin' Cantina

Fitger's in Duluth had my highest rated beer of the day, but it was a new release of an old favorite, 1100 Wheatwine: alcohol and wheat spice in the nose with heavy legs on the side of the glass; caramel colored with gold highlights, the big original gravity blends the spice and wheat on the tongue to near perfection; an under-brewed style, this beer is simply amazing and I can't believe I have only ever had samples at festivals. 

The next new brewery to visit from sampling will probably be Toppling Goliath. All three hoppy beers I tried—Golden Nugget IPA, Pseudo Sue and Zeelander—were all very good and worth a future draft. Plus, beer friends recommended Toppling Goliath from their visit, so the combination will get me there at some point. 

A heavily hyped beer from New Holland (cheezy track theme) that didn't quite live up to expectations was New Holland's Smaug's Breath: Dragon's Milk spiced with Chili de Arbois and aged for six months; chili pepper is hot and lingers on the front of the tongue and blends nicely with the barrel aged smoke of Dragon's Milk. While the beer clearly wins the completion of a metaphor award, it isn't as drinkable as, say, Stone's Smoked Porter with chili peppers.
Early dinner of Mango Rundown Tofu w/
Red Beans and Rice to get through fest

Since I haven't been to Great Taste in four years, several recent improvements make it even more fun. First and foremost, the organizers finally switched the brewery order of the program to alphabetical rather than by state. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And thank you. This year was the first time that I used my program effectively to take notes. After a few samples, nothing beyond one level of organization can be negotiated and the old state format was impossible. Second, there is now a dedicated website to the festival with detailed information, including an early release of the program a couple days ahead of time. Invaluable planning information for the true geek in the comfort of your home; in addition, the Eve special gatherings are conveniently listed there as well. And third, there's an app track down beers and take notes, which is very cool; however, a glitch (by Apple, not the fest is my understanding) delayed the download to the point where we gave up and stayed with paper for the day. While very good before, it's vastly improved and the fest has been brought into the modern era for a techno generation of beer geeks. 

Leinie's road warrior trailer--a sign of veterans

I'm not sure how but Great Taste 2001 was the very first festival that my wife and I ever attended. The specifics of the day, which is before I started recording my taste database rankings, is hidden in the fog of memory. However, it inspired beer travel, wide ranging reading and 50+ additional festivals over the years, including seven more Great Tastes within the first decade of my beer journey. This festival nothing short of shaped my understanding of beer.  

In spite of all of this high praise, I'm considering not attending a Great Taste again—or at least not very often. Why? As with Autumn Brew Review and Winterfest at home, the popularity of the event means that others who are just discovering the fest can do and learn as I did. Plus, while the $50 price is more than reasonable for this experience, the five hours to drink means failure to taste all that is new is guaranteed. This may be a critique of American festivals in general (as opposed to the Great British Beer Festival that servers drafts all day). Also, the cost of hotels is Madison is high, so funding a weekend of lodging, food, drink, fest and transportation is considerable. In fact, the weekend was more than a trip to Chicago in June that was roughly twice as long. While an exception beer fest, it does mean a considerable dedication of time and resources to drink. Compounding that fact is that very little surprised me when sampling and I feel that I could be using limited beer resources to learn more elsewhere.
New Holland "raceway" for beer

But, Great Taste is a unique experience that should be done at least once by every beer geek. In spite of having tasted nearly 1000 breweries and visited almost 300 on site since 2000, the 2013 edition of Great Taste has over 50 breweries that I have not had a single drop. Amazing. Plus, with no planning, I ran into so many familiar beer people on the weekend, I felt like Norm walking in Cheers. This is enhanced by our annual stop at Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery at least once every fest to say hi to Hoops, Pete or one of the crew and taste what special something we haven't had at the put yet. Great Taste is simply spectacular and worth being the object of beery worship that draw so many every year.  

Recommendations for an epic Great Taste:
  • Make it a weekend. The Eve of Great Taste is become as legendary as the festival, and easily my favorite part of the weekend now. I've even considered skipping the tickets and just heading down for the Friday night. Going down for the fest is fun but the full experience requires a night of bar hopping in beautiful downtown Madison.
  • In line early. Because of the excellent organization, people in the back of the line no longer wait 45 minutes past the start to get a beer. However, the early bird still gets first choice. Be aware that the organizers move everyone up at about 12:30 pm to stage the fast entrance. An important part of showing up early is proper restraint the night before with all of the great beers available. A significant number of attendees start behind the eight ball with a hangover, some obvious.
  • Build a base. Either get a hotel with a buffet breakfast, find a local restaurant for a big brunch or pick up food to eat in line. Food in the fest has improved, but it takes time from finding samples. Eating at a pub with a bus can be a good route, but arrive early to eat, pay and get on the first bus to the fest to get in line.
    Best view of any festival
  • To Sit or Not to Sit. As alluded in Build a base, time is of the essence. In early years, especially when it was easier to arrange tickets for larger group of friends, we took chairs along. I gave up on creature comforts and focus on getting to samples. 
  • Hydrate. Backpacks are allowed, so I wear at Camelback to have a 3 liter start on the day plus I rinse my glass with most drinks. Add the easily available potable water in the rinse tanks, keeping hydrated, even on a hot day, isn't that hard.
  • Dump those not worthy. I feel dumping a brewer's blood, sweat and tears but the grassy surface allows less then stellar beers to be discarded discreetly without being messy or rude. Drinking the mediocre samples will come at a price later.
  • Beer strap. I find using a beer strap to hold my glass invaluable. With one notable exception, I have come home with every glass from over 50 festivals because of the beer strap. Not sold at Great Taste that I noticed this year, I'm unsure where to get them now. I am holding on tight to my collection, many of which were purchased at early Great Tastes.  
  • Research pays. Succumb to the unavoidable failure of not tasting as much as you want early and prioritize from the pre-released program or the app. By having reasonable expectations and a plan, I've found the fest to be much more enjoyable.
  • Post festival plan. Don't drunkenly argue to stay and fight for one more sample—don't be that guy that endangers the festival. I've noticed that festival time moves at different speeds, generally going fast near the end. Plan ahead and repeat a favorite just before close, savoring it while walking slowly towards the exits (to avoid being hastened by staff). Get on a bus to a pub or take the $1 plus tip cabs to a planned location with food, water and air conditioning.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hop Heads Only Volume 5 at The Blue Nile (Minneapolis, MN)

While I love going to one of Al's events at The Blue Nile, I admittedly can be irresponsible and don't always make them. Happily, I was able to make Hop Heads Only Volume 5 for a wealth of hoppy beers that I hadn't been able to drink before.

Twelve IPAs and Double IPAa on tap for the takeover and I was missing just under half from my list. If not for Al's quest for Urine Trouble, a Surly/Three Floyd's collaboration last June during our Chicago escapade and a draft on site at Brooklyn Brewery on my last trip to New York, I would have been on the short side of the list. This rarely happens to be on my travels (The Local in Eureka, CA is a recent exception) and is a testament to Al's beer showmanship.

Flights of three samples (4 oz) for $7 was the deal tonight. A thirsty drinker need only write the three taps he wanted to try on the handy, dandy sheet that was provided and they would appear. It did make it very easy to remember which beer was which, especially since the IPAs often looked very similar and were easily confused.

Started with Great Lakes' Erie Monster, which is very big and smooth with a resinous body. The 9.1% alcohol is completely unapparent. This is one try again in the future.  Next is Lucid Duo, a hop sledgehammer, just as touted in the description. Just smooth enough with a great nose to keep it out of the hop stupid category. Third beer of the first set is Squatters Hop Rising, a surprisingly malty beer with a strong caramel note in the middle with the hops fighting to get out. Nice first set.

Now a little hop philosophizing. Hop heads are often derided for being of a single mind following the hop god.  In this set alone, three very distinct types of hoppy IPAs are showcased that show the infinitely variety that is the real draw for hop heads—like me. With no limit in sight for the combinations of hops and malt, this set is the reason why so many of us are hooked.

Erie Monster, Duo and Hop Rising samples
with identifier mat and 
My second set was similar and could have made the same point. Moylan's Hop Craic XXXXIPA is an easy order since a random beer geek on the other side of the bar said it's his favorite; plus saying "I want Hop Crack!" is simply fun: fresh and fruity with a bite to grab your attention and the smooth piney resin pulls it all together. Best Moylan's I have ever had to date and was my full draft pick of the night with dinner. I followed up with Goose Island The Illinois. I have always been a fan of Goose Island since my first visit in 2001. However, either they or I have changed, and this malty Imperial IPA, lacking a clear hops presence, is disappointing. Thanks to Al, I had a draft of the Surly/Three Floyd Urine Trouble on our Chicago trip. Decided to it as a sample for another look at home: it's light in the glass but delivers a funky hop bite; barnyard and fruit in the nose that makes it fun. Made for a Big Cat Sanctuary benefit, this is a hoppy beer that fits well in the Surly line that will push the limits of some.

In straight forward terms, Al does a great job of delivering fantastic beers at the Blue Nile. Unfortunately, the crowd was light for this exceptional line up, probably the best of the series. If you head down soon, I'm guessing some of them will be on tap in the coming weeks to try a pint. With life interfering, I am also guilty of passing up some of Al's beer offerings when I should be there, but more of us should attend these great events whenever possible.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Beer Hunter: The Movie screening at Republic Seven Corners (Minneapolis, MN)

Michael Jackson drinking Malheur on screen
While not completely a JFK or 9/11 moment, I do remember when I read that Michael Jackson had died. I never had the opportunity to meet the less famous Michael, but I felt a deep sense of loss. Like many beer geeks, I learned a lot from reading Michael's rambling, insightful style. I even joined the Rare Beer Club during the last year that he chose the selections, ending my membership a few months after his death.  While the decision was mostly due to logistical reasons, I think, in all honesty, I lost heart when it felt that it wasn't really Michael Jackson's Rare Beer Club anymore.

When I saw an advertised  screening of Beer Hunter: The Movie at the Republic Seven Corners, I felt powerfully drawn to this documentary. Walking in, Alvey and the Four Firkins guys did a great job hosting. Free cheese to snack on the way in with a short draft of Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout (featured in the movie). Two FF employees set up the screening as a labor of devotion to Michael. After a short delay for technical difficulties, the movie played on a large screen on the end of a back room of the bar. The waiters discreetly and efficiently refilled beers and delivered orders from the special food menu. Plus, the 15 minute intermission, planned in the film I think, was well appreciated and an opportunity for more silent auction bids to benefit Parkinson's research. I did not bid but did my part by drinking $4 drafts of a donated keg of London Pride, the proceeds also going for research.

Four Firkins event poster
Concentrating on a two year period of Michael's travels in 2004-5, I simply enjoyed this documentary and took few notes. Sipping on a beer while watching this life history unfold, I was enraptured and no real judge of the film. I suspect it's not going to win an Oscar; however, I will be ordering a copy to watch again at home. One line that got a big laugh and encapsulates Michael's attitude was "Moderation is ok as long as it is in moderation." Following a short rant by Michael on not wanting to take advice about everything that's bad for you, the quote captures how driven he was to enjoy and advocate for beer, whiskey and living life with friends.

Following the film, Mark Stutrud of Summit told of his experiences with Michael. Clearly affected by talking of Michael again, Mark led us in a toast to Michael using Summit's Great Northern Porter, which was the cover picture on the 2nd edition of Michael Jackson's World Guide to Beer. Overall, the entire experience was a well planned and watching the film was greatly enhanced by their efforts.

Claims that Michael Jackson created beer styles or helped birth the craft beer movement have seem overblown to me in the past. Ironically, according to the film, beer was truly a passion because whiskey paid more bills than beer did in his career. However, in watching the film, the paradigm shifting impact that was Michael's writing and personality is made clear in the filmbut not in a manner that's bragging or arrogant. With the natural "film is always rolling" presentation of the documentary, Michael's love and connection with beer people is apparent. While I had no interaction besides reading his articles, Michael's passion seemed to be infectious and he clearly inspired those who had direct contact with him.

In writing this post, it only seems right to refer to Michael as Michael and not Mr. Jackson or his full name. I write this post as a friend that he never met. Today, oddly, Michael Jackson and my father have a similar place in my heart. Each taken before the job was complete, I wish I could have shared my passion and a great craft beer with both. Sharing the day (and fries) with Al, I also recognized a number of beer people that have been a part of my journey at both screenings (Four Firkins posted pictures). I'm not the only one with such reverence for the ungloved Michael. Cheers Michael and thanks for everything you did to make our beer world what it is today and what it will be tomorrow.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Valley Tap House (Apple Valley, MN)

The Valley Tap House from far end of bar
towards kitchen

A vegetarian walks into a tap house that specializes in "Baltimore Style Pit Meat" aka The Valley Tap House, situated nicely across the street from the Ford dealer where our new hybrid is being updated. Surprisingly, VTH has more vegetarian offerings than Old Chicago down the street, so decided to check out the beer as well.

Pretzels with cheddar and mustard
As it turned out, the stop became a Stone tasting. Started with the Stone Smoked Porter as my appetizer and then moved to Arrogant Bastard for dessert.  In between, I had the pretzels with cheddar ale and honey mustard sauce.The cheddar ale sauce was very thin but had ok flavor.The sweetness of the honey mustard went much better with the soft and chewy pretzel sticks. Several other veggie items on the menu, and with this tap list, I'd happily stop in again to give them a try with friends.

Not much of a lunch crowd today, so I had some time to chat about the place with the bartender. She mentioned that the lines cleaned recently, so the fact that I had one of the best drafts of Arrogant Bastard in a whilefresh and fell with a full lace—isn't surprising. My primary concern in a multi-tap, especially one in the suburbs, is whether or not the beer is moving well enough to give a good experience for the edgy beer at the end of the tap line that I will be ordering. Drinking familiar beers today, both Stone beers were very good, so it seems that VTP is selling enough beer to keep it fresh and presenting it well.

Present tap list.  Black lettered
$3 at lunch
I made an argument to the bartender that I almost didn't come in because their website doesn't have a list of taps at all, much less an updated one. Also, at the Apple Valley location (another is on Lyndale in Minneapolis), thirty beers are being poured (even more taps since the heavy movers like Fate Tire and Honey Weiss have two lines) instead of the twenty listed on the website. Being that I live locally and had a reason to stop, it's no big deal. However, as I mentioned in my recent post on how I research a beer trip, the lack of a beer menu online is often a reason for scratching a bar from my to-drink list. Of the thirty taps, there wasn't a new beer among them for me, so no entry on the database for VTP; however, there was more than enough choice of old favorites to keep me happy today.

While not a beer destination, Valley Tap House is a perfectly fine stop that has a solid range of drafts to satisfy most beer geeks for a night out with a group of friends or family, especially those that lean towards the carnivore end of the eating spectrum. I've been meaning to get here for nearly a year because some meat eating friends recommended the place, so I think the food is as safe a bet as the beer.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Great Taste Eve 2013 (Madison, WI)

Beer row: Maduro in foreground, The Rigby
and Argus.  Tipsy Cow to right. 
In August of 2007 on the Eve of Great Taste, my first three drafts of the night were Bell's 6000, 7000 and 8000 at Maduro in the heart of downtown Madison. Truly a top ten highlight of beer groupings I've done. Now, the Eve gatherings are all organized at the Great Taste website. In the old days, a beer geek had to hit the BeerAdvocate forums to find out what's where and when. The night before festivities have become legendary; my wife and I have even considered just doing the Friday night and head to Chicago for the weekend.

Sunset reflection on way to Brickhouse
For our first fest in 2001, we didn't go early at all.  For a few years we hit a single pub the night before like JT Whitney's (now closed) and The Great Dane. My database shows 2006 as the first multi-pub Friday night, which I continued each year until 2009 when I took a break from Great Taste. Over the years, a range of Madison bars have made the Friday crawl: Ale Asylum when it first opened, Wonder's for Dark Horse, Dexter's for two beers one year with friends, a vague recollection of late night pizza at Glass Nickel, Brasserie V for Stone's introduction to Wisconsin, Alchemy for two year old Surly Darkness once and a night of Dogfish Head at Jordan's Big Ten Pub, an unremembered stop that exists only in the database.

The Rigby: Lakefront drafts of Wisconinsite
and Maple Vanilla Doppelbock

Of the various bars, Maduro has been the start of nearly every Eve. The aforementioned "Night of 1000s" is partially responsible but also because they start a bit earlier than most of the other parties with their annual Bell's tap takeover. So this year, I brought my wife to Maduro for the first time. The only drawback of Maduro is that it is a cigar bar.  But the Bell's tap takeover rarely disappoints; however, tonight, the big name beers were out by the time we arrived around 4 pm. Maduro definitely isn't a secret anymore and it seems the time one needs to arrive has moved up. Gloria was happy with the Sparkleberry and a Wedding Ale, and I ended with the Deb's Red, which was malty with a strong and sweet caramel background and a floral hop nose that leads into a lingering bite off the back. 

Tipsy Cow

This tiny "Main" Street of Madison is a pub crawl all by itself.  Taking our free shuttle from the Best Western Inntowner, we hit (after Maduro) in the same block The Rigby for Lakefront, Argus for Three Floyd's and dinner, and then to the Tipsy Cow for New Holland. For all being in the same block, each was very different. While Maduro was packed with a friendly group of locals and beer geeks, The Rigby was a quiet bar with a younger crowd and basic bar food. My wife happily sipped on the Maple Vanilla Doppelbock. I enjoyed a Wisconsinitea summer weiss beer; Wisconsinite is an indigenous Wisconsin beer is made with all in-state ingredients, including locally harvested yeast: head fell immediately over a hazy orange ale; fruity and spice nose with a hint of sour; more sour on the tongue with fruitiness and a dry finish. I found the beer refreshing and an interesting balance of flavor. Looking at the reviews on BeerAdvocate, I seem to like the beer more than most; maybe a testament to drinking at the brewery's party and/or the Rigby's presentation.  
Six oz pour In the Name of Suffering

We had dinner at the Argus because of the more veggie friendly menu but were disappointed by the food, throngs of hopheads, extremely loud music and tiny full price pour of Three Floyd's In the Name of Suffering, a black ale that was excellent on site last June during my Chicago visit. On to a busy Tipsy Cow where the excellent service kept the New Holland taps flowing. Dragon's Milk on cask wasn't as amazing as I  hoped (based on a GT sample at the cask tent in 2007) but still excellent. However, the Barrel Aged Night Tripper was mind blowing: pitch black with no head; very hot alcoholic nose and sophisticated blend of chocolate, molasses, assertive roast and light hop spice to pull it together; nose follows to tongue with a sweetness, oak and hop bite. Sublime until it warms and the alcohol pushes it a bit out of balance. If earlier in the night or at home in the winter, it would be perfect. From here, we walked to Brickhouse BBQ, bumping into Pete and Mike of Town Hall fame on the way. We never made The Beer Spot party in the back of the Brickhouse because we ran into Jeff and Bonnie Luskey, MN homebrewers and Jeff is a brewer at the new U4ic Brewing, so we spent the rest of the evening chatting with drafts of Short's and Central Waters to end the night.

If you are lucky enough to get tickets for Great Taste, pony up for the extra night of hotel and plan your way around the heart of a very pretty downtown Madison. The bus system can be difficult to navigate but Google Maps gives pretty good directions from place to place on public transit.  Waiting for a bus the next morning, a college student said there are apps to help but, evidently, harder to find and for more local use at the moment compared to cities like Chicago and San Francisco that have readily downloadable metro apps. Usually, I've taken the bus from the hotel to downtown and then walk or take cabs from there. Cabs tend to be easy to get, fast and relatively cheap, especially with a group. Or, just stop in on Friday night before the fest and have funticket or no. Great Taste Eve is easily one of the best beer parties on the planet.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Anderson Valley Brewing (Boonville, CA)

AV Taproom

Gloria and I drove through Boonville twice on this trip, criss-crossing Mendocino county, including the Mountain View Road to the coast that was so small and winding that we stopped abruptly at one point thinking that we were driving on a bike path. Clearly remote and not hit by accident, Anderson Valley Brewing is very pretty drive with good beer at the end (or middle) of it.

With time before the tour, we headed to the bar to order a sampler tray, ingeniously individualized by checking choices on a provided sheet that our bartender delivered to our table nearby. At least we choose to sit at a table because the steel saddle bar stools looked uncomfortable for my "fuller" figure.

Order samples by ticking off choices
I started with standards I've had in Minnesota.  Hop Ottin' IPA is well brewed but average and the Brother David's Tripel is a more than solid brew, matching my expectations. Similar to Lagunitas, only the basics get out of the valley to Minnesota. Dipping into the barrel aged offerings, all were of a new level that I don't associate with AVBC   The best of the three was Gaitlan Damnosus, a sour bourbon barrel aged barleywine: dirty white head over a brown ale with copper highlights; light cherry, dark malt, raisin, fig, and dark cherry to build a Flemish sour brown nose; clean and bright for a sour while still being complex. Beautifully integrated barrel aged beer that warms exceedingly well when we ordered a draft after the tour.

Not wanting to push through our samples, the bartenders offered to keep our extras in the fridge until we returned. For me, the highlight of the tour was the beautiful view past the copper kettles towards the taproom. An unusual addition to the tour was seeing the beer catalog of samples brewed over the last thirty days in case of a quality control issue. Our tour guide was bubbly, informative and entertaining, though she didn't speak any Boontling (the local folk language native to the valley). My wife and I speculated that it might be a part of the tour, but our guide was new; however, she thought she might have to learn some for the future.

Based on tour information, we sampled a few more beers. First, I tried the Poleeko Pale Ale and Belk's ESB, each using the hopback. Both were very aromatic, as expected, but the pale ale seemed unbalanced while the ESB was exceptional for a style I don't admire. My wife tried the Fall Hornin' Pumpkin Ale, which she says is the best pumpkin beer to date; I disagreed but found it interesting in that it tastes like the fresh local pumpkins used rather than the all-spice route of most.

View of taproom from brewhouse.  
The most unusual beer was the El Steinbeer, a Mexican style dark lager with 20% blue corn. Similar to Negro Modelo, especially the nose, but the blue corn comes through lightly in the background to give it a very unique taste. In the right circumstance, I would happily drink this lager.

30 Day beer brewed catalog
While finishing our samples, we walked around looking for a suitable souvenir, preferably with the horned bear icon. We settled on a new glass that looks like a beer can with its top cut off, which fits nicely in my collection. As we were about to leave, Dave and Meredith that we met at Lagunitas walked in, so we sat to chat again. I took the opportunity to add one last draft of the Hwy 128 Session Pale Ale: dark amber ale with an off white head; floral nose with a dark, muted malt underneath; caramel and solid hop bite to compliment the nose. Very nice and a fun finish our day at AVBC with new friends.

It's a beautifully scenic and hilly drive from any direction to Boonville. We drove through without staying over night in both directions, but a a longer visit with stops at wineries can easily be added to this beer run. A remoteness that explains the formation of their own language in the Boonville area also informs the beer. While true of all breweries to a degree, Anderson Valley Brewing is truly born of the area and it continues to feed their creativity today.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Russian River Brewing (Santa Rosa, CA)

Russian River Brewing tucked away in a small mall. 

After spending a very hot afternoon at Lagunitas, we headed to the hotel to cool off.  As the heat lingered into a Saturday night, we drove to Russian River but couldn't find a spot to park in the busy downtown area, so back to the hotel for a cab. By the time we got to Russian River Brewing, it was busting at the seams and an hour wait. Luckily, a couple of seats opened at the bar just after we managed to buy our first beers from the end of the bar (on advice from Dave that we met at Lagunitas on how to negotiate the chaos).

So, the obvious to start—the beer is amazing. Because we took a cab, I bypassed the cool sampler tray for $15 for everything on tap and dove right in with a glass of Pliny the Elder and my wife did Consecration. On my pre-trip research, I found this great 12 minute documentary on Pliny beers, Younger and Elder, the engine of Russian River's success. No write up of these wonderful beers because we were hawking for a seat to avoid the one hour wait for a table. After unceremoniously pushing my way past a couple with my size to two open bar seats, we ordered some beer bites (pizza bread with mozzarella cheese and garlic), which came quickly.

Just before the appetizer arrived, we ordered Cheese Louise for dinner, a cheese pizza with mozzerella, parmesan, cheddar and marinara. We decided poorly because the Beer Bites were so large (and similar) that we took much of the pizza home. The food was fine but the meat market atmosphere made the stop uncomfortable. When one of us went to the bathroom, the youngsters immediately filled the space, clamoring for a beer. On my restroom trip to the back bar, there was at least one family and a few beer geek types, but they were overwhelmed by the young crowd.  Maybe just a Saturday night, but Dave and Meredith had said pretty much the same on their trip a night or two before.
Cheese Louise w/ Row 2 Hill 56 and Sanctification
Just prior to dinner, we had received our next excellent RR drafts. Mine was Row 2 Hill 56, a 100% Simcoe Pale Ale: stark white head over an amber ale with gold highlights; bright and clean Simcoe in the nose with light, fresh breadiness; tongue follows the nose exactly. Row 2, Hill 56 is a great pale ale in spite of being the weakest beer of the night. My wife ordered Santification, a 100% Brett fermented ale: yellow with hints of gold and a thin film from an off white head; delicate Brett and underlying bready malt; clean and rich sourness on tongue. Simply an amazing beer that was nearly matched by last beer of the night, Supplication, a brown sour barrel aged Pinot Noir barrel: little head and no lace; cloying amber to brown ale; sour and wine in nose; wine, thin malt, hint of dark fruit, slightly hot alcohol and bracingly sour on the tongue. Can't beat the beer here.

Like Lagunitas earlier in the day, I again found myself dislocated from my expectation. In short, the beer is not the brewery or brewpub. While the food was fine at Russian River, I wouldn't return there just for a meal. The beers are Russian River were everything I hoped and expected to find and we even left with bottles of Pliny the Elder, Sanctification and Damnation. The local heat wave strained our drinking resources and personal patience, which may have impacted our visit as well. However, I didn't leave thinking I'd love to live around the corner. If going back again, I would definitely make Russian River an afternoon or weekday trip to avoid the crowds so that I could quietly focus on the beer.