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.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Four Magic Words from the LA Times

I recently read an article from the LA Times, "Four magic words that will make you sound like a craft beer expert".  Here they are to save you the time: Dry Hopped, Cask, Mosiac (as in the hop), and Gueuze.

Besides being terms useless to a neophyte not drinking on the edge (cask, gueuze), posting this article to Beerit, the beer section of Reddit, most of the responses were in the same general direction as my initial thought: these out of context words will make you sound like a pompous beer jerk. Reading this article will set you up for an epic fail, especially since no guide is given on how to pronounce the last in the list, which I still stumble over in spite of getting it clarified for me in Brussels last summer.

While the article is less than enlightening (and, no, I'm not going to try to substitute my own list of four words), I think the existence of the article is more important than the actual content. I like the idea that the Los Angeles Times thinks that there is a need for an outsider to know something about beer. In a sense, we have arrived.

In 2006 at a Superbowl party, I opened a bottle of Anheuser Busch Brew Master's Private Reserve that came in a box and a fully flourished bottle. The beer was adequate at best but better than most AB beers.  I held the bottle for those around me and ask what they saw. My response to blank stares: The beginning of the end. AB's marketing department has conceded that better beer is the future and this is why this bottle exists. I drank the beer as a death knell to macro beer, which has pretty much come true recently.

So, this article seems to me to be another canary in the coal mine.  However, the impact of someone thinking beer knowledge is necessary to be cool is a good sign, maybe even a sign of respect.  But with the changes coming with the booming of the craft beer industry, the lack of clarity of the future makes me far less giddy than drinking my completely mediocre bottle of AB.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Lagunitas Brewing (Petaluma, CA)

Hop  Stupid and Gueze (foreground) before tour

On one of our early New York City trips, my wife and I were on the boat out to see the Statue of Liberty. Standing together at the very front of the boat, Gloria asked me what I thought of the statue. I paused before admitting—I thought it'd be bigger. My theory is that since the Statue of Liberty is often shot dramatically from a low angle, my expectations were too high.

Starting our beer and tree trip north of San Francisco at Lagunitas, my expectations were low but I was blown away by the attitude, history and size of the brewery: I thought it'd be smaller. While I like Lagunitas beers, my impression from their standard beers that make it to Minnesota would be comparable to more of a Summit, a safe regional brewery with solid regulars and a few edgy beers. On walking into the taproom and brewery, the large outdoor and clearly not air conditioned taproom on a 98 degree day did not bode well as a start. We hawked a table in the shade of the loud main bar and ordered a Hop Stoopid and Gueuze quickly since the tour was starting soon. A favorite of mine, the Hop Stoopid lived up to the billing and the Gueuze was more than acceptable as well. Having held off for lunch, we nibbled ferociously on the free bowl of munchies until we could have lunch after the tour.
Fermentor tanks--much bigger place than I imagined

There's no tour reservations, so we simply showed up a bit early for the 1 pm tour. Not hearing the "call" we were told would come, we took our beers to the front to join the tour as the top of the hour approached.  The initial intro to Lagunitas was in the shade of the brewery with Tim our humorous tour guide, storytelling to help us finish our beers (mandatory) before heading inside. Without retelling all of the stories, originator Tony Magee is a bit of a wild card. Starting as a homebrewer because he was unemployed in 1992, he turned "pro" within a year in spite of a yeasty blow up of a 1940s septic tank under his first brewery. Both Censored and Undercover Shutdown have stories to show how Lagunitas has run afoul of the authorities over the years, a bad boy image that I was unaware of.
New 250 barrel brewhouse
Keg filler in action

As told my Tim, this roguish behavior led to all beery magnificence around us, including the massive stand of fermenting tanks that caught my eye and surprise on the way in to the taproom. Also on the tour was the new 250 barrel brewhouse, up from the original 80 barrel system, plus descriptions of the new 300,000 sq foot Chicago based brewery that will be twice the size and will run 24/7 to cut costs on logistics while serving a thirsty Midwest. Between the origin mythology and clear growth of the brand, Lagunitas is a much different brewery than I had in my head from drinking them at a distance. Another thread in Tim's storytelling was the importance of relationships to Lagunitas, including employees, regulars and the community around the taproom. This included charity events with donated beer for good causes, most recently raising $20,000 for a local fisherman whose boat sank. I found myself fascinated with how far off my perceptions were and wondering why the Lagunitas story and image had never really reached me.   

Too far from another stop, we had to have lunch before leaving, so we headed back to fight for a seat at the bar to hide from the sweltering heat. While some at the bar were seemingly locals in the taproom, there were also a large number of sampler trays going out from the bar, so we were not the only tourists in the place. We staked out a spot at the corner of the bar, in part, with the help of Dave and Meredith from Salem, OR, our new beer friends by the end of the stop. They were at the end of their beer trip as we were on our first day in the same basic area, so they gave us advice, including how to get a beer at Russian River by standing at the end of the bar instead of behind the throngs. While we all chatted, Gloria and I had the roasted veggie avocado sandwich for lunch, which was fabulous; it good enough that we almost stopped again on the way south back to San Francisco.

Main bar from corner where we sat
I started with a draft of the IPA because Tim the tour guide said it was the engine of their expansion at 57% of production and I couldn't remember its taste: off white head over a mostly gold ale with amber highlights; floral nose with biscuit; good bite on the tongue with a very strong malt base. While refreshing in the heat and a more than adequate IPA, it's not a beer that will find a home in my beer fridge.

On to the specialty samples (we only had one set; pictured are Dave and Meredith's full sets of all beers). A range of beers, including Fusion 15 and Fusion 16 (never figured out what either was but 15 was better), an excellent Farmhouse ale and Lucky 13. Then came three barrel aged beers, all good, but the Rye Barrel Aged Gnarly Wine was spectacular, which significantly delayed our departure because of the need to have a draft: amber and brown with gold highlights; nose is full of hot alcohol and flowers with rye and dark cherry over a heavy malt; sweetness on the tongue, dark fruits galore that blends perfectly with a spiciness from rye or hop, not sure which.  Big wonderful beer that I would love to drink when it was 50 degrees cooler outside, but hard to complain when it's rare to find any barleywine on our summer travels.
Dave and Meredith's full set of regular and seasonal samplers

We had a fantastic stop at Lagunitas. Fun tour with a range of great beers and some new beer friends that made it feel like a local, all in spite of the inland heat wave. Travel expectations really can frame and alter expectations, and today, nlike the Statue of Liberty, it worked in my favor. Tony Magee was at the Four Firkins last week in Minnesota, however, sadly, I wasn't able to get to the event to add to this post. Nevertheless, this visit highlights why I enjoy visiting breweries: nothing like drinking the history and passion of beer on site to learn the full story.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Spiteful Brewing (Chicago, IL)

Got my first taste of Spiteful Brewing at The Bad Apple in Chicago. The socializing was in full swing by then, so I don't remember much about my draft of Biter Biker except that it was good enough to inspire buy a few more bottles from Binny's in Schaumburg.

Here's what I took home:

Ghost Bike Pale Ale: hazy amber, gold around the edge, with an off white head that dropped off quickly. Light hop nose with sweet caramel and malt overriding. Caramel and malty sweetness follows on the tongue with a apple cider and ripe fruit in the center before a solid bitterness lingers off the back.  Interesting beer that almost a throwback pale ale with more malt than hop, and more pleasant than the BeerAdvocate reviews. In honor of white bikes where bikers have been killed on Chicago streets.

God Damn Pigeon Porter: the slightly darker than tan head leaps up off the beer and fills the glass with a fairly easy pour over a pitch black ale with ruby highlights at the farthest edges.  Creamy head mingles with the burnt sweetness of the porter. Very good first impression but the thinness of the body lessens the impact but still a very good beer.

G.F.Y Stout: dark brown head flattens to a film quickly in spite of a hard pour over a jet black stout.  Dark malts, heavy roast, molasses, dark chocolate and a hint of spice in the nose that continues onto the tongue plus an alcoholic hotness.

Overall, all of the Spiteful brews were solid and interesting.  The stout was lacking a bit and the porter was my favorite of the bunch I took home. I remember thinking Biter Biker having a brash bitterness that reminded me of Bitter Brewer from Surly, which had some similarities with the Ghost Bike. From the website, the name of the nanobrewery comes from an childhood incident on a hockey pond that led to friendship. With their in-your-face attitude, indie vibe and passionate brewing, Spiteful I will try again at my next opportunity to see if they are going to be the next big thing in Chicago.