Gulp Alert!

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Extra ESB Ale

Posted by on 12 May 2008 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Gulp Alert!

imageSo, this bottle says this ale is "extra special."

I pop the top, take that obligatory sniff.  I smell dark malt, brown sugar, and well tuned hops.

My mouth starts watering.

Meanwhile, I’m listening to a hilarious podcast show called "We’re Mean Because You’re Stupid," and I’m torn.  I need to pause the show and take a drink, or I won’t be able to concentrate on this review.  Yet, I hesitate, because I’m totally hooked on this show.

Is that the ultimate compliment or what?  I’m hesitating drinking a beer because I’m too involved in a podcast.

"We’re Mean Because You’re Stupid" obviously rocks.

Anyway, I pause it, because otherwise the beer is going to get warm.

I take that first sip and immediately have to sound the Gulp Alert.  The sip got really long, and was no longer a sip, and I was in danger of draining the bottle in one long greedy draw.  Struggling with myself, I arm wrestled the beer away from my mouth and sat it down to at least type this one paragraph.  Even now my palate is buzzing.  I’m surprised, seriously — I didn’t think this beer would be this good.  I mean, it doesn’t look that impressive.

There you go.  A new twist on an old cliche.  Don’t judge a beer by its bottle.

It’s smooth, creamy, and has this amazing bittersweet balance that tingles your tongue.  There is a solid hoppy presence but it’s in the background, supporting the malt instead of the other way around.

This is a Holy Beer.  I bestow upon it a very respectable 7.9 on the Holy Grail scale, and hereby pronounce it to be a genuine Groovy BrewBreckenridge Brewery of Colorado, you have done yourself proud.

It is indeed an Extra Special Bitter Ale.

And now, back to the show…

Leffe Brown

Posted by on 18 Mar 2008 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Gulp Alert!, Holy Beer Contenders

leffegbb For a long while I had been looking forward to sampling some beer during my layover in Germany, and imagine my sadness to discover (through lack of understanding of proper time-zone math) that I arrived there at 6:00 AM Frankfurt time, and there was not a drop of beer to be had. 

At least not at the airport, and I wasn’t about to leave the airport.

So with Germany a bust, I continued on my trip, arriving here in Finland, and had dinner at a little place in Hyvinkää called Hemingway’s (yes, named after Poppa Hemingway).  After ordering some smoked salmon I asked the waitress what beers she had, and not being able to understand her very well, I just told her to bring me something "dark."

Leffe Brown is what she brought, and oh my, am I happy she did.

This Belgian monk-brewed beer has a surprisingly light body, with a toasty caramel malt flavor and a nice hoppy aftertaste.  It’s perfectly balanced and absolutely delicious.  If I had to criticize something, my only nitpick is that it might be just a touch too sweet.  But as you loyal readers know, I have a sweet tooth.

I give this a very respectable 6.7 on the Holy Grail Scale, and hereby proclaim it groovy.

Amen, brothers!

Lagunitas Lumpy Gravy

Posted by on 14 Mar 2008 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Gulp Alert!, Holy Beer Contenders

image Sorry to all the other breweries out there, some of which are very cool, but these guys have you beat. The GroovyBrew Ultimately Cool Brewery Award goes to Lagunitas of Petaluma, California.

Case in point, this Lumpy Gravy seasonal brew, a one time shot get-them-while-you-can beer that has been brewed to honor the 40th anniversary of one of Frank Zappa’s most incredible albums.

I pop the top of this 22 oz. bottle, sniff some warm, strong, and sweet dark malt scents, and tip it up to my lips and immediately gulp down at least 11 oz. without a breath. It took me by surprise. My lips locked around that bottle, my arm and fingers froze, and my tongue commanded the body to suck this sweet nectar down. It was anarchy. The brain was no longer in control.

Indeed, you could even put forth it was the beer that was in control.

It’s a rather hot and humid Friday night here in McKinney, Texas. I have my bedroom window open and the box fan is desperately trying to coax slightly cooler air in from outside. I’m sweating all over my tee shirt. Hard to believe that just last week it snowed not once, but twice, right here — shutting the city down.

In two days I’ll be in Frankfurt sucking down some German brew during a 4 hour layover. In fact my open suitcase is here on my bed, ready to be filled. I am not filling it, however … I’m sitting here drinking this wonderful beer.

It’s dark, sweet, very malty, with a prancing hops aftertaste that takes over about 37 seconds after the malt fades. Alcohol content is respectably high. Much like a Zappa melody, there’s not a sour note in the batch, but it is all over the place as far as experience. The taste zooms, zings, and buzzes like Frank’s guitar.

Is this beer a fitting tribute to Zappa? Hell yes. It is also a Holy Beer Contender, and as stated above, this rings the alarm for the Gulp Alert.

Thank you Lagunitas. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Samuel Adams Double Bock

Posted by on 03 Mar 2008 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Gulp Alert!, Holy Beer Contenders

image This beer … not only is it a Kegs & Barrels Brew of the Week, and not only do I find myself giving it an outrageously high 8.8 on the Holy Grail Scale, but I’m also having to issue a Gulp Alert on it.

This is tied as the second highest rated beer on Groovy Brew to date, right next to the Chicken Killer Barley Wine and behind the newly upgraded Lagunitas Hairy Eyeball Ale.

Apparently Samuel Adams, The Boston Beer Company, decided they wanted to come out with something that totally kicks the ass of other American beers, while still being within the price range of your average beer lover.

If you love a dark, rich, sweet, chocolaty malty nirvana of a brew, this one’s for you.  Sam Adams used Bavarian hops and four times the malt of other beers, stacking the deck with this one, giving a wham, bam, and thank you Sam taste that gives me shivers of pleasure all the way down to my toes.

I am so glad that I bought a six pack of this, instead of a single bottle.

GROOVY x 6 = 1 very happy beer lover.

Hairy Eyeball Ale

Posted by on 29 Feb 2008 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Gulp Alert!, Holy Beer Contenders

I am revisiting this beer with this year’s batch, and Oh My God it’s still outrageously good! So much so I’ve upgraded its score on the Holy Grail Scale to 9.

My first sip hit like a dark wave of sweet chocolaty malt, smooth as velvet, rich as gold. The flavor evoked such pleasure I was shocked.


Make no bones about it, this stuff is good. It’s fall down on your knees and praise the Lord good. It’s take a slow long slip and lean way back and feel the pleasure all the way to your toes good.

I’m going to stop there. Any more praise will be overkill.

I called the brewery, but being Saturday, no one answered. I visited the website: Lagunitas Brewing Company. I wrote fan mail and asked for interviews. My head buzzed with the need to know more, more.

On the website it reads, “Brewed in a bizarre old world tradition using only water, hops, yeast, and malted barley. No dogs are harmed in our brewing process.”

Today, Tuesday, Tony Magee from Lagunitas wrote me back. I had written: “Is there a story behind this beer? Where did “Hairy Eyeball” come from? What is in it? Who’s the genius behind this recipe?” Tony as it turns out is the genius, the author, and the warlord of the brewery. In his own words:

The Story Behind The Beer is like this… We were wanting to do what no one was doing in 1995, a January Seasonal — a special beer for when nobody was really drinking beer. We were going to call it “Eye of the Dog” but decided the folks who make ‘Eye of the Hawk’ might not think it was funny as we did so at the last minute we chickened out and thought up “Hairy Eyeball” as a sort of hang-over spoof for January … whatever … the next beer that year was then called “Eye of the Hairball” (a wheatwine) and the third seasonal would be “Hair of the Dog Ball,” but we chickened out on that too and named it Maximus instead…

The malts are the key to this recipe and they center around some careful use of Chocolate and Black Malt… I write the recipes and design/write the labels… I started the brewery back in the distant 1993… Most of all, I’m glad you dug the beer and if you are ever in Petaluma I hope you’ll stop by!

Tony also gave me permission to print the story from the bottle. Now, don’t skip this, unless you’re going to go out and buy a bottle for yourself. I loved it:

“Laying there, staring up at the ceiling, head pounding, last night was a dim recollection. How did he get home? Was he alone? Looking to the left and right, the answer was yes, maybe. His head was full of ‘rag water, bitters, and blue rum. His teeth felt like he’d been chewing aluminum and his breath smelled like a burning tractor tire. There was a wrenching knot somewhere between his liver and East St. Louis and he couldn’t be sure whether or not he’d wet himself. A yellow sine wave rang in his ears so loud it made his teeth itch and he was sure that if he touched his skin anywhere it would induce a rhythmic retching jag. Even in the face of all that, he found himself smiling at the realization that today represented the fresh breast of a new year, an undiscovered country, and also that there was still one warm, half-full, flat, redolent Hairy Eyeball on the nightstand. Yes, there is a God.”

I went back to my local beer heaven to find they only had eight left, and he said that was it. There would be no more this year. So I bought two, one for myself and one for my friend Bill. I left the rest for other people to enjoy.

This ale hit a whopping 8.2 9 on my Holy Grail scale, the highest so far.

Better go get yours before they’re all gone.

Chicken Killer Barley Wine Ale

Posted by on 20 Dec 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Gulp Alert!, Holy Beer Contenders

With a name like “Chicken Killer” you know I’m going to be messed up by the time this bottle is empty.

Popping the top, I smell a sweet infusion of hops and barley, nice but not overpowering.

First sip turned into a first series of gulps and I struggled to stop the reptilian portion of my brain from downing the entire bottle. Yes, my friends, the Gulp Alert is being sounded on this one.

This brew is thick, smooth, sweet and oozes flavor like syrup. The alcohol is so prevalent you can taste it, giving the ale a crystalline quality that delivers the barley like a 5 star dish garnished with energized hops. A third the way through the bottle I’m already feeling a good buzz and I’m starting to sweat. I’m also getting nervous about what I’m going to write.

Alcohol-influenced writing is usually less than coherent. And here, two-thirds the way though the bottle, that is what I’m feeling. Less than coherent.

I lean far back in my squeaky red chair. I put my hands behind my head, close my eyes. The brew is almost gone. My ears are ringing and my teeth feel soft and wiggly. Reaching out I pick up the big brown bottle, take a slow sip, and savor. Ten percent alcohol, and the bottle holds 1 pint & 6 ounces.

Not only do I hereby proclaim this a Groovy Brew, and not only do I bestow upon it an amazingly high 8.8 on the Holy Grail Scale, I also vote Sante Fe Brewing Company’s Chicken Killer Barley Wine Ale as the brew most likely to also be used as rocket fuel.

Sisyphus 2007

Posted by on 06 Dec 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Gulp Alert!, Holy Beer Contenders

This beer is gone.

This is a grade A prime gulp alert beer. I couldn’t help myself. I swilled this dark treasure down faster than a thirsty football goon sucks a sports drink.

Sisyphus 2007 is a Barleywine Style Ale, brewed with a dark concoction of malts and hops that causes the palate to bypass all reason and short circuit the moderation center of the brain. In scientific terms, this ale swiftly accelerates a human foot into direct and sudden collision with the gluteus maximus.

Extremely smooth, sweet, and rich, it starts with an explosion of flavor and never lets up. At the end of the bottle it leaves with a smooth, rich, and tastefully dry finish.

Not to mention an intense desire for more.

This wonderful brew is hereby bestowed the title of Groovy, and weighs in at a mighty 8.1 on the Holy Grail Scale.

Eye of the Hawk Ale

Posted by on 14 Nov 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Gulp Alert!, Holy Beer Contenders

It’s the Eye of the Hawk.

The EYE … of the HAWK!

It can see … anything. It can see what beer you’re drinking … from 2000 feet away!

It’s the freaking eye of the freaking hawk, man!

Hide! Now!

Don’t worry about this one, I just pulled it out of my refrigerator. It may be the eye of the hawk, but it’s chilled. It’s under control.

I hope.

What exactly would an ale have to do with a hawk’s eye? What, is it supposed to make you see better? Does it give you the uncontrollable urge to pounce on field mice and eat their gizzards?

We’ll see. I’m about to pop this baby open.

On the label it says, “Rich, robust and complex, with a ton of flavor. Legendary in California since 1984, the Eye has won many medals. Brewed traditionally, it is a favorite at the Great British Beer Festival. Only the finest premium malts and whole hops are used. Let your spirit soar.”

Raising the bottle to my nose, I take that first sniff. Well, it does smell good! Rich malt and snappy hops, to be sure. But how does it taste? And … will it enable me to fly?

Gulp Alert! Gulp Alert!

Okay, seriously, half the bottle disappeared just then. I typed, then had to delete, an expletive of surprise and delight. I’m still trying to decode the taste.

It starts off tangy and a bit sweet. The malts rise like a joyous fountain, an upwelling splashing bubbling geyser of goodness. Golden and toasty, they give a wheatish, bready flavor laced with walnut or maybe pecan. It goes down silky smooth and finishes like a happy song, leaving you wanting more.

I am not flying. I can’t see any better. I have no desire to pounce on any mice and carry it off in my talons.

But my spirit is, in fact, soaring. Eye of the Hawk is not only groovy, it’s a Holy Beer Contender. I hereby bestow upon it an 8.1 on the Holy Grail Scale.

Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen

Posted by on 02 Nov 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Gulp Alert!, Holy Beer Contenders

It’s actually Halloween as I write this. I’m hiding from kids in a dark apartment, hoping they don’t come around for candy — I have none.

Boo! Hiss! Bad beer blogger. I know.

My kids are all dressed up and out in a neighborhood of big houses getting their candy fix. Me, I just want to be left alone. Just me, a beer, and a really good book.

This beer, my last Oktoberfest of the season, I actually meant to review last week. You know, so it would appear in October? Yeah. It just didn’t happen.

So anyway, it’s my beer for tonight, and I pop it open, not really expecting that much.


Oh my God it smells good! Dusky malt with butterscotch tendrils. Hops buried like zesty treasure. Wow. I haven’t sniffed a beer with this elegant a bouquet for quite some time.

I take that first sip…

Warning! Warning! Gulp Alert!

This beer is hard to sip. My taste-triggered reflex is to guzzle it down. Velvety smooth, buttery sweet, perfectly carbonated, Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen is the perfect beer to make you forget your troubles. It’s perfect for cuddling up with a warm blanket and a good book.

And, um, hiding from trick-or-treaters.

The taste is that of caramel malt infused in a mildly spicy breadiness, fading to zinging floral hops. It rides a tightrope balance of sweet and bitter.

Awesome. Groovy. All the way to the bottom.

I have no problem scoring this with a very high 7.7 on the Holy Grail Scale.

Gouden Haven Premium Pils Lager

Posted by on 05 Oct 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Gulp Alert!

Bier uit Holland!

My neighbor, Hope, brought this one over for me to try. My daughters are over at her place now, having a girl’s movie night. The elder daughter was here long enough to grab something out of the kitchen while I was reading the this beer’s label. “Tonight it’s your turn to do dishes,” she said, and immediately left.

I checked the new chore chart she’d drawn up. Yes, indeed, it is in fact my turn to do dishes.

I’m going to drink a beer first, though.

It’s stubby topped bottle, that’s for sure. You can tell it’s an import. Something about the green glass and the label remind me of Heineken.

I pop the top, and take a sniff. Not much of a scent. I practically have to suck foam into my nostril to detect a hint of malts.

Raising the “Bier uit Holland!” to my lips, the initial sip turns into gulps, the first shock of taste being delicious. Savoring the after flavor, I discover this beer is a bit watery — but smooth — and features very delicate hoppy notes with a malt undertone that tastes almost crystalline. It fades to a light bitterness that reminds me of fog, the taste of which is an atmospheric mist on the tongue.

Good stuff. Not outstanding, but definitely groovy.

Beer done, I check the chore chart again. Hmm. Glancing through the days I discover … it’s always my turn to do dishes!

What’s up with that?!

Xingu Black Beer

Posted by on 29 Sep 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Gulp Alert!

I saw this down at my local beer heaven and the bottle jumped out at me. Dark dangerous voodoo beer, you must buy me!

Well, not exactly voodoo beer, but close. It comes from Brazil, and is the attempt to recreate the infamous black beer made by Amazon Indian tribes — beer used in tribal religious and social ceremonies. Witch doctor beer. Shaman beer.

Magic beer.

So I get this bottle home and pop the top (it’s a twist off), lift the glass opening to my face and sniff cautiously. Xingu (pronounced ‘shin-goo’) smells like umber malt, brown sugar and molasses. To me, it smells good. In fact it smells fantastic.

I put the bottle to my lips and tip it back.

Ooo. It’s smooth. It’s one of those brews where you have force yourself not to drink the whole bottle down in one long gulp. It tastes almost chocolate sweet, with toffee notes riding strong over the dark roasted malt. The hops give a Cavendish sweet-tobacco aftertaste that blooms late but fades quickly.

Again, I have to force myself not to slurp it down like a kid with candy.

Despite my attempts to savor it over time, the bottle is empty. And while I enjoyed it, and while it’s most definitely a groovy brew, it’s not quite a Holy Beer contender.

Even if it is magic.

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.

Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown Ale

Posted by on 27 May 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Gulp Alert!

As it turns out, this is the perfect beer to drink after spending the night guarding a spaceship.

(Yes, I did, and I plan on getting a lot of mileage out of that fact.)

Anyway, so, I come home and get some sleep, only to wake up in the early evening and decide it’s time for beer. That’s what the clock said: “Beertime.” Who am I to argue?

A quick trip next door to Kegs & Barrels scored me a grab bag of new beer to try (thanks guys!) and pretty much at random I pulled out the Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown Ale.

Popping the top, there’s not much of a scent. Smells, in fact, a bit watery. But I take that first swig and immediately my sweet tooth is happy.

Happy, happy, happy!

The dark chocolate malt goes perfectly with the pure maple syrup. It’s good. No, it’s fantastic. I have to force myself to pace my sipping — it would be very easy to drink this bottle down in one long draw.

Must sip … must … sip

I’d be happy to fill my refrigerator with bottles of this beer and drink it every day until I was a big fat bloated beer sponge of doom.

And, yes, I’m still a bit loopy from the lack of a proper sleep. Spending two nights guarding a spaceship, I guess, will do that to a person.

This beer is helping immensely.

St. Peter’s Cream Stout

Posted by on 24 Apr 2007 | Tagged as: Beer Reviews, Gulp Alert!

You probably noticed that the bottle in the picture is empty. That’s because I couldn’t wait to drink it.

One of my friends over at my local beer heaven had suggested I try St. Peter’s Cream Stout about a year or so ago, and I loved it, and bought several more bottles. Then … I forgot about it.

Yesterday another friend there suggested it to me again, and I picked the distinctive bottle up, held it for a moment, then exclaimed, “Oh! I’ve had this before! It’s wonderful.”

This is a good beer for someone with a sweet tooth. It even smells sweet. I’d use it as a cologne, especially if I were back in college.

Tip it up to your mouth, take that first long swig. It’s ultra-smooth, goes down like water. You have to watch yourself or the bottle will be gone before you know it. Not much carbonation at all. The taste is rich and creamy but it sneaks up on you. The sweetness on your tongue is subdued, as is the bitterness, making a perfect balance. There’s a low, subsonic malt beat under high lingering hoppy notes.

If this beer were music it would be Swan Lake. It gives me visions of ballerinas in white tights dancing on their tip-toes, and an orchestra pit full of violins, cellos, and oboes.

Of course that’s probably just me.

As good as it is, it doesn’t quite make it as a holy beer contender. It’s a bit too elegant. Yet, I’m not opposed to keeping a few in the fridge for a quiet Sunday afternoon.