June 2007

Monthly Archive

St. Sebastiaan Dark

Posted by on 28 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Holy Beer Contenders

I opened this St. Sebastiaan Dark and set it on the kitchen counter as I fumbled with the new opener I’d just bought. The smell slithered out like a genie from the bottle and swam right up my nose from over two feet away. Rich beer, the smell said. I took a closer sniff and it punched me in the nostril.

Have you ever made bread? Know how it smells as the dough rises? That is what hit me.

I hesitated before the first sip, but my fear was unfounded. There was no overwhelming yeasty taste. In fact, I felt let down because the flavor seemed weak.

But, no, this is one of those delayed reaction taste bombs. It took a whole minute for the first sip to blossom into a full blown mushroom cloud of flavor. When it did it lit up the sky.

It’s a full symphony with every sip, running a huge gamut from beginning, to middle, to end.

Dark toasty malt gives way to a cereal fugue, replaced by a choir of hops singing, their voices starting out fruity and ending with bitters, under which the malts rise again like a dark tide, carrying the hops off with a big heavy base drum beat. If this beer were a piece of music it would be Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries.

A quarter through the bottle it’s so good that every sip makes my eyes roll back into my head.

I have to stop writing. This beer demands that I go off, relax, and thoroughly experience it. I’ll be back when it’s done.

~ o ~ o ~

Hours later I return. I can still taste it, like the toasty warm remains of a wonderful fresh bread. I’d enjoyed it with a rainy afternoon on the veranda, the air misty and cool.

Ignore the fancy earthenware-like bottle. Ignore the price. Ignore everything but the taste. This is a Holy Beer is there ever was one and I’m going to put it way up the scale, settling in at a solid 8.4. That’s the highest to date.

I can see why — beyond marketing decoration — you’d want a stopper for this bottle. I could have easily stopped half way, putting it back in the fridge to savor later. It’s not something you want to rush, and it’s not something you want to drink while distracted. If you can’t give this beer your full attention, put it away until you can.

Salvation Ale

Posted by on 25 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

If nothing else, this gets the pretty bottle award. If I get drunk enough I might make it into a lamp or something.

This Belgian style golden ale by Avery Brewing features this inscription on the label: “Salvation is discovering your passion, purpose, meaning in life. We brew. What about you?”

That makes me smile. I like these people.

So here comes the moment of truth. I apply the opener to the cap and carefully pop it off. I take a long reverent sniff. It smells of yeast, strong hops, and a low sweet undertone of cereal.

Putting the bottle to my lips, I let the golden brew slide into my mouth. The bubbling liquid cascades and swirls around my tongue, crashing waves of flavor. This first sip is so good that my eyes go wide.

I think the technical term is “Wow!”

There’s strong fruit overtones with a clear flash of peach. The hops sing a loud and crystalline church chorus of Hallelujah, fading into the rich warm baritone harmonics of the malts. It’s all Gregorian chants from here, with overtones of an angelic woman’s choir. The fruitiness fades to the point where, a third the way through the bottle, it’s nothing but an echo.

I’m only early into it, but I’m almost tempted to out and out declare this the Beer of God right now.

It just goes to show that you don’t have to go to church to find salvation. I found it in a bottle at my local Beer Heaven. This is the key contention of the fantasy novel I’m working on — it was beer, not wine, served at the last supper.

Jesus didn’t turn water into wine. That’s an error in translation. He, like most of the priests at the time, turned water into beer. Brewing was considered a holy art.

As far as I’m concerned it still is.

As holy this beer might be, however, the long term satisfaction has slid a bit. It’s a big bottle and when sipping it takes a long time to finish. By the end it leaves you with a toasty, almost woody bitterness that is quite warm and pleasant, but not anywhere near as spectacular as the beginning.

Still, it made it easily as a Holy Beer contender, weighing in at a highly respectable 7.9 on the Holy Grail scale.

Black Hawk Stout

Posted by on 21 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Holy Beer Contenders

One of a number of beers I selected pretty much at random, this one turned out to be a lucky draw.

You know when you come home after a particularly long day, and you’re bone tired, hungry, and the idea of swigging a beer rates right up there with the desire for that dream vacation? Or maybe the car you always wanted? But you’d almost trade one or the other for the beer if you could have it right then and there?

I’m glad to have had this beer in the fridge. The car and the vacation are out of my reach at the moment, but the beer… It’s in my hand.

I popped the top to an aroma of butterscotch-like maltiness.

The malts are definitely center stage in this one. Hops provide a crisp high note that rings throughout, but never comes fully onstage. There’s a sweet-bitter yin-yang to it, well balanced. The aftertaste features an essence of black licorice.

It tastes a lot like a black and tan mix. It’s yummy good.

Crafted for us beer lovers by the Mendocino Brewing Company, they originally came out with this brew in 1983. That long ago, I thought. Wow. And only now am I trying my first one?

It was worth the wait. Black Hawk Stout makes the Holy Grail scale, weighing in at a solid 5.4.

Black Jack Porter

Posted by on 18 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

I hate moving.

After popping the top of this Black Jack Porter from the Left Hand Brewing Company, I’m sitting here on the veranda with my laptop, enjoying the pleasant breeze and looking down with sympathy at the poor schmucks who are moving out of the apartment complex.

Carrying huge boxes, grunting with pieces of furniture. Man-handling a table that looks way too big to have fit into one of these little apartments. Meanwhile I’m sitting up here with a beer.

Looking down at them, thinking, sucks to be you.

I sniff the bottle, detecting sweetness and deep chocolate malty goodness. Oh yeah. This is going to be a treat.

The first sip does not disappoint. It starts off as sweet as it smells, with some sharp winey notes. Very rich, dark, full bodied. Yes, I like it.

Below me, one of the movers curses as he bangs his elbow against a corner of the truck. Ouch. Poor guy. Wish I could help, but I’m already busy.

There is a sudden upwelling of mocha in the flavor. The roasted chocolate malt comes to the foreground with a most definite espresso coffee taste. What is it with coffee in the beer flavor? Not that I’m complaining but it seems I’m running into it more and more often. If it’s a trend, then it’s one I like. Obviously.

At the tail end the hops come up, but only for a bit. It’s like they make a cameo appearance before the malty mocha takes center stage once more. It makes me smile. I could easily drink several of these in a row.

Meanwhile, the hapless movers have wheeled a washing machine out and are standing around it, dreading the idea of lifting the heavy cube of machinery into the truck. They look up at me. I can see what they’re thinking. They’re about to ask me if I can come down and help.

I grab the beer, the laptop, and slip quietly inside. Yeah. No freaking way.

I hate moving.

Rogue Mocha Porter

Posted by on 16 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

I love chocolate. I love beer. And I love coffee.

Well guess what.

I may have found the only thing I have to drink from now on. We have all three ingredients in one bottle. It was a foregone conclusion I would think it’s wonderful.

You can smell the chocolate and the coffee the moment you pop the top. You can taste them, too, mixed with the rich malts and bubbling hops. The coffee edge is even more pronounced than the chocolate. In fact, the coffee taste blends in and piggybacks so closely with the beer malts that my tongue is thoroughly confused.

Am I drinking coffee with a bit of beer in it? Or am I drinking beer with a bit of coffee in it?

It can’t tell one way or the other.

On the finish, the coffee and the hops battle each other for the control of the bitterness. It’s interesting, kind of like watching a back alley fight.

There are some requirements for liking this beer. You have to enjoy a dark, strong ale. And you have to enjoy drinking coffee black with no sugar. I’m not sure if that’s a problem for some people or not, but I can tell you one thing, as good as this stuff is I’m not going to put cream and sugar in it.

The folks at Rogue really are rogues. So far I’ve liked everything of theirs I’ve tried. And I’m serious, I want to move to Oregon. Perhaps when my love and I make it there, we’ll start up a combination brewery, coffee roasting, and chocolate company?

I can dream, right? Anyway…

This stuff is good. It doesn’t quite make the Holy Grail scale, but I wouldn’t have a problem drinking it every day. The coolest thing about Rogue’s Mocha Porter is that I can actually cross post it on both sides of GroovyBrew.com.

Jack Whacker Wheat Ale

Posted by on 14 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

I’m babysitting a floppy eared rabbit for my daughter, and so the rabbit joined me on the veranda while I sampled this beer.

It’s Tommyknocker‘s Jack Whacker Wheat Ale, brewed in Colorado.

I kicked back, put my feet up, and popped the cap. Took a sniff. There’s a definite citrus note riding high over that normal malt and hops aroma.

Hmm, I thought. Different!

The rabbit hopped up to me and sat up on its hind legs. “No,” I told it, “you can’t have any. You’re way under legal age.” Indignant, the rabbit hopped away.

Bemused, I tipped the bottle up and took that first swig. It’s light, a bit weak, but after a moment the ale delivered a pleasant earthy taste, blooming with the standard hoppy notes over a low malt base. Gliding through this is the tangy signature of lemon grass, flying like a little yellow flag on end of a beer truck’s CB antenna.

It’s not bad. In fact, this wheat ale would make an excellent poolside thirst-quencher. Yes, actually, that’s perfect. While not being outstanding, it is satisfying, and fits right into a back yard summer scenario. A beer to have with a barbecue, or to relax with after mowing the lawn.

Or, as in my case, sitting on the veranda while babysitting your daughter’s rabbit.

Fat Tire Amber Ale

Posted by on 12 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

So, I was at an anime festival with my daughters, and was surrounded by people with wings, horns, cat ears, tails, and swords of all shapes and sizes. Girls were dressed as boys, and boys were dressed as girls. Some girls were barely dressed at all, and me, being a bit advanced in age, felt ill at ease with all the young sexuality around me.

There was this one pair of girls, though, looking in their mid twenties … one was dressed up as a light angel, the other a dark angel. The dark angel had the most stunningly beautiful eyes and a perfectly feminine face. She was gorgeous.

Well, it turns out my older daughter knows them, and so I remarked about how pretty the dark angel was.

My daughter bursts out laughing. She tells me, “Uh, that’s the light angel’s boyfriend.”

“Excuse me?!”

“Yeah, dad. That’s a boy.”

“No way!”

Well, he was in fact a boy. And I was freaked out. So I did what any normal freaked-out gender-confused dad would do — I headed for the bar.

They had several beers on tap, but the one that caught my eye and set me craving was the Fat Tire Amber Ale. I had four in a row.

Yes, that picture up there is an actual cell phone photo of the first of the four. And since I didn’t have anything to keep notes on, I used my phone to call in a review to my own voice mail:

“It’s a beautiful amber color,” my voice mail says, “with a nice frothy head. Decent lacing. First sip is very smooth, with not much in the way of hops but a very dominant and satisfying caramel malt flavor. It’s really good. I’m going to keep them coming.” Of course I mention nothing in the voice mail about why I’m in such a hurry to drink the beer.

Sitting to my right, looking at me like I were nuts for talking about beer into my cell phone, sat Frank the Rabbit. I don’t exactly know what Frank was doing there, as he’s not an anime character. He’s the time travelling portent of doom from the movie Donnie Darko.

“So how do you drink your beer with that mask on?” I asked him.

“With a straw,” he answered, and produced one. But he was not a he … he was a she. Or at least, her voice sounded feminine. She inserted the straw and sucked on her beer like some giant mutant mosquito.

Well … that’s just weird, I thought to myself.

Nobody drinks beer through a straw.

PranQster Belgian Style Golden Ale

Posted by on 11 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Holy Beer Contenders

This one was recommended to me by the new guy over at Kegs and Barrels: “PranQster” Belgian Style Golden Ale by the North Coast Brewing Co.

Golden Ale sounds really good to me. I’m drawn to it like a magnet.

Popping the cap, I take a nice little sniff. And then another. And another.

Odd. It smells almost like a … a marinade or something. I bet it would go good on a barbequed steak. I’ll file that fact away for later.

Tipping the bottle up, I take that first swig.

Hoppy! Happy hops, too, happily hopping about my taste buds. The taste deepens, and swells, and darkens. The flavor is complex like a choreographed set of dancers who are moving in different directions but all perfectly in time. Warm golden malts dance with the hops amid fireflies on a warm summer night. There’s a sweet undercurrent that hints of brown sugar, or maybe a touch of molasses.

Two thirds the way through, the hops get wild and randy. The tone changes. There’s tribal dancing around a bonfire, and sparks are in the air. There’s an edge to the aftertaste like faint smoke from an aromatic wood.

I’m liking this brew!

Good stuff. Made the Grail Scale, coming in at a respectable 4.3. Thank you to North Coast Brewing for making such a fine Belgian style ale, and thank you New Guy at K&B for recommending it to me.

Horn Dog Barley Wine

Posted by on 08 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Gulp Alert!, Holy Beer Contenders

Holy crap, I thought. It looked less like a beer and more like a cover to a Hunter S. Thompson novel. I’d seen these labels before but shied away from them. They were a bit dark for a beer to enjoy while relaxing. It looked like something to drink if you wanted to invite trouble.

Still, I was at my local beer heaven picking up my latest batch of beers, and this one for some reason called to me. Hours later, reaching into the fridge, I pulled it out at random.

Flying Dog Brewery‘s Horn Dog Barley Wine style ale.

Yep. Trouble.

I engaged all the locks on the front door, piled furniture in front of it, and turned off the phone. Closed the blinds. Turned up the stereo.

Popped the cap off the bottle.

Taking a sniff, the barley and malts jump out at you like something with teeth. Do not ignore me, it says. Let’s dance.

Okay, I thought. I’m game. I tipped the bottle up and took that first experimental swig.

Creamy, sweet, and smooth. It’s syrupy, like nectar. The dark, malty nectar of beer. One swig turned into two, which turned in to several, and in less than a minute I’d emptied half the bottle.

Holy crap, I thought. This brew is good!

It took concerted effort to sip. I had to pace myself. I had to actually savor it and taste it, instead of gulping it down like iced tea.

Heading to the computer, I got on the Flying Dog Brewery website. Low and behold there’s a reason for the bottle to look like a Hunter Thompson novel — Hunter was a good friend of Flying Dog owner George Stranahan, and Hunter’s artist friend Ralph Steadman does all the bottle art. The beer is genuine Gonzo Beer.

Holy crap, I thought. Why did I not know this? Why?

Meanwhile the bottle somehow emptied itself while I wasn’t looking. All gone, but it left a lightly bitter and completely delicious aftertaste, not to mention a craving for more. More. This stuff, I realized, is addictive.

It’s also a Holy Beer contender. It has to be. It hit a solid 8.1 on the Holy Grail Scale.

I waited for a while but nothing bad happened … no blood soaked carpet, no swarm of rabid bats. So I relaxed, put the furniture back, opened the windows and unlocked the door. I also took off my shirt and shoes. And pants.

And underwear.

Everything was going to be okay.

Morimoto Soba Ale

Posted by on 06 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Holy Beer Contenders

I pop this open and take a sniff. Hops, like violins, promise a beautiful symphony. I raise it to my lips and take a long sip.

Whoa! What’s in this beer?

I’m not sure what to make of it. It tastes like … flowers, or something. Checking the bottle, I see it has an ingredient called “roasted Soba.”

Showing my ignorance here. I have no idea what that is. So it’s Hello Google, ye olde extension of the human mind. What say you, Google, oh oracle of human knowledge?

Google says… “Soba is the Japanese word for buckwheat.” Buckwheat? Okay, that’s the grain undertone I’m tasting, but where’s the strong floral notes coming from?

Read further on the label, Jerry, I tell myself. Next two ingredients listed are “Harrington” and “Metcalf.” Those are types of malts. The only other thing listed besides malts and water are “Crystal Hops” and so that must be it.

Have you ever gone out in the park and chased after a wildly flung Frisbee, and made a heroic dive only to end up with no disc but a mouth full of weeds? And discover the weeds were surprisingly tasty?

That’s what I’m getting from this beer. It’s really good and very different than what I’m used to. I’m enjoying this wild-flower hops and jumbled malt symphony. It’s all flutes, oboes, violins and bass drums, and they’re in wonderful harmony and there’s a good rhythm.

This ale is from Oregon brewery Rogue, and my hats off to them. I don’t think I’ve yet tasted an Oregon brew that I haven’t liked, and — seriously — I intend one day to move there. My love and I want a place near the sea, with enough room for some animals, and perhaps I’ll grow hops and barley of my own. In the barn I’ll set up my brewery, and we’ll have parties and read Shakespeare, and live happily ever after.

Why not? It’s a good dream. So good, in fact, that I’m going declare this ale a Holy contender, and give it a 5.2 on the Grail Scale.

Special Block 6

Posted by on 03 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

It’s rumored that there’s pomegranate juice in this beer. At least, that’s what my friends over at K&B told me. I don’t doubt it but I can’t confirm it.

I can confirm that this brew is fruity, at least at first.

Popping the top, I could barely smell anything. There’s a beer scent, albeit a weak one. It smells much like Michelob.

I take that first adventurous swig — that’s when I discover the fruitiness. It’s wild and chaotic, like confused singers on stage who’ve all forgotten where they’re supposed to be standing, and they keep bumping into each other as they all sing lines from different songs.

It’s fizzy and light bodied, and goes down with no resistance. After the initial fruit chaos, a warm upwelling of malt takes center stage. “Bar-la-la-la la-ley!” they sing in a pleasant baritone, all in perfect harmony. Then, over the malt comes a high chorus of hops singing from an upper balcony.

It’s sweet music, it is. Brings a smile to the face.

Alas, things change. Halfway through the bottle, the hops get over exuberant and ignore the director, and begin swarming down off the balcony and onto the stage, shoving the other flavors one by one out of the limelight.

The baritone malts are having none of this, though, and they shove right back.

For a bit I wonder if a fist fight is about to break out, but eventually the hops and the malt come to an understanding (which they usually do) and begin to sing the same song.

But that gets boring, and I begin to nod off.

Victory Golden Monkey

Posted by on 01 Jun 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews

I have to stop choosing beers based solely on interesting label art.

The bottle of Victory Golden Monkey screamed out to me: FUN! But then I popped the top and took a long swig that, at first, was a rush of pleasure, but a few minutes later left me feeling disappointed and even a bit stupid.

I was looking at the six-armed monkey with the big eye in its belly, but I didn’t actually read the label. “Tripel Ale. All brewed with spices.”

I should know by now I don’t care for spiced beer. At least, not this kind. Cloves are great for ham, and I don’t even mind them in cigarettes, but they don’t belong in an ale.

Halfway through the bottle I’m tempted to dump it out. But, no. I can’t bring myself to do it. I started this journey, and so I must finish it. I must at least describe the taste, because some of you out there must like this stuff.

The first long draw I took was a rush of pleasure because the taste is a Trojan horse. It comes off fruity and sweet up front, riding a rich frothy wave of malty goodness. Then, forty seconds later when your guard is down, Golden Monkey pops open a hidden door and the Trojan army comes pouring out armed with clove. Clove, of all things. It numbs the tongue, making it feel like a big blob of fat that’s lodged in your mouth. Clove, hops, and a mix of other spices that is beyond me to decipher — it’s not a code I speak.

Should I mention at this point that it’s 9.5% alcohol? Now that’s a saving grace, and one that’s keeping me drinking. We’ll call that liquid courage, added to help me fight off the Trojan army I let in. Three quarters through the bottle and the liquid courage is definitely kicking in.

I daresay that, by the time I finish the bottle, I’d be brave enough to drink another one.

Fortunately for me this is the only one I have.