Archive for November, 2014

An Anchor, A ‘Chute and A Bell

Anchor, Deschutes and Bell's

Saturday was game day, so I had to find a place to be among fellow fans. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a good place to root for USC in San Diego, so I went with my go-to sports-watching hangout: San Diego Brewing. I basically had a TV all to myself, so it was like watching it at home with more beer and better food.

I couldn’t decide on just one beer, so I got a sampler of three from three good breweries: San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Co., Oregon mainstay Deschutes Brewery and Bell’s Brewery, Inc all the way from Michigan. First up was a special barrel blend from Anchor. This one poured a rich orange golden color, with creamy-ish head that seemed to stick around a while. Just looking at it, it gave me the impression of a heavy beer. It smelled really boozy and somewhat sour, while maintaining some richness at the same time. There was also some musty oak and sugary malt notes on the end. The whole thing smelled very complex. It tasted very smooth and not as alcoholic as the smell led me to believe. The taste was just as complex as the smell, sort of like a beer version of a “suicide soda,” in which (usually) kids run down a soda fountain, filling their cup with every flavor on offer. There were sour notes up front, with a maltiness that helped tie together all the things going on with this beer. It was difficult to pick out any distinguishing flavors to describe. The aftertaste was a little on the sour side, but over all a good enough beer. I would rate it:

3

Next was one from one of my favorite breweries. Deschutes Black Butte XXIII Porter. It poured a beautiful dark brown, with light brown, medium head that did not last long. It smelled very chocolatey, with lots of bittersweet flavor up front. Then some sticky sweetness came through, a little like brown sugar, for lack of a better way to describe it. The taste was rich chocolate all the way. It was so warm and smooth, it almost made me want it served hot. There was considerable bourbon flavor toward the end, making the finish all warm and smooth as well. This is a great beer for the winter months to come.

4

I finished up with Bell’s Cherry Stout. I was a little leery of this one going in, as I don’t normally like flavors that define a beer. It poured black (duh), with sticky, foamy tan head. It smelled incredibly sweet and rich. There was some brown sugar, with the cherry flavor on the tail end. The taste was mild at first, but then some sourness crept in, giving way to a load of tartness that almost made me pucker. It could have used a little heavier carbonation to break up the sweetness, or at least a little more malt to add some character to it. The tangy tartness carried the whole way through this beer and the finish. A bit too tart for my taste, but an ok beer.

3

Despite the relative mediocrity of the couple threes up there, not a bad way to spend an evening. It definitely helped me get even more excited for the turkey-infused gluttonfest this Thrusday… Eat, drink and be merry. Also:

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Good Gourd! It’s Upon Us!

Hess Magna CucurbitaNow that San Diego Beer Week2014 is over, the season is here: Fall pumpkin beers! I am always excited for this time of year, as I like all things pumpkin. Well, let me clarify that by saying I like things that taste like an actual pumpkin, not pumpkin pie- unless, of course, it is actual pumpkin pie. That’s what made this one a pleasant surprise.

As you can see, it poured black, with tan foamy head that reminded me of root beer. Smells coming off the top were rich and included bittersweet chocolate, coffee, slight fruitiness of prunes, maybe a little apple and some spice- a nice complexity that gave me great hope for this beer. The first thing I tasted was the chocolate, followed by what almost tasted like a sourness that I assumed might have come from the pumpkin (if it was made with any.) It had almost no noticeable carbonation, so it was very smooth and velvety, if a little thick on the mouthfeel. It finished a little dry, but the overall roasted malts persisted throughout the whole experience. Hess pumpkin stout head

Overall, I liked this beer, thought it had a little too much of the cursed pumpkin pie flavor for me. At first, I rated this a 3.5, but it grew on me afterward and I rate it:

4

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The Best Week Ever: The Final Day

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Tonight, I am doing a twofer: it is the last night of The Best Week Ever and I just had to get back to KnB. You see, they were featuring Firestone. Not just any Firestone, though. No, they had three of my favorites: Velvet Merlin, Velvet Merkin and an anniversary. All three are stouts, so it was a heavy night, but I could not pass this up.

Firestone Velvet Merlin pintI started with Velvet Merlin. I have told you about this one before, but it bears repeating. This beer poured black, with a somewhat thick, light brown head that quickly dissipated. Rising from the glass came rich aromas of chocolate and bittersweet flavors. It tasted sweet at first, with a lot of chocolate up front. Then it moved to rich roasty malts and a touch of what I could only identify as coffee. It did not finish as smoothly as I expected, due to heavier carbonation than I am used to in a stout. Still, this is one of the best stouts I have ever had. While not quite a 5, it is as close as possible at a 4.9, or for simplicity:

4

Working my way up the list, I next tried the Velvet Merkin. This is the Velvet Velvet MerkinMerlin on steroids. Firestone takes the Merlin Oatmeal Stout and ages it bourbon barrels. This gives it a ton of character and a booziness that is not entirely unwelcome. It also poured black, with copious tan head that really stuck to the sides of the glass. It had a light smell of caramel, roasted malts and a touch of raisin toward the end. The first thing I tasted were the rich malts, brown sugar and raisin. It was pretty boozy, so the vanilla got a little buried, but was still noticeable. There was also a bitterness that helped to keep it from being too rich. It was a bit sugary on the finish, with the heavy alcohol ever-present. I would rate this the same as the Merlin:

4

18th anniversaryI finished up with the 18th Anniversary. I was looking forward to this all night, but at 13%, I didn’t want to do it right away. Also a stout, you won’t be surprised to learn that it also poured black, with light brown head. It did have some bigger sudsy bubbles in the head, but KnB was having some trouble with their lines, so I would chalk it up to that. It smelled very rich, with sugary notes and lots of alcohol. Despite the booziness, it was very smooth, though I could definitely taste the alcohol up front. This was followed by some brown sugar and smooth malts. It finished sweet and really boozy. With a blend of 13 different beers, I was surprised at how well each blended with one another. I would also rate this one:

4

With that, San Diego Beer Week 2014 draws to a close. Until next year, I will remember this week for…at least a year!

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The Best Week Ever (Day 8)

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To celebrate Day 8 (Friday) of The Best Week Ever, I decided to stop by a few different places– you know, for perspective. The first stop I made was right after work at AleSmith Brewing Company in Mira Mesa. This is another of the many microbreweries hidden away among the many industrial office complexes dotting the landscape. I have only been here once before and it was some time ago, so away we go.

AleSmith insideWalking in, I was greeted by two employees handing out tickets to people. To the left was the tasting area, with cocktail tables and chairs and the tasting counter/bar area. To the right and back a bit was where the brewing magic happened. All the way out the back of the place was a little seating area where they also host whatever food truck happens to be visiting any given day. This day, apparently, they had a release party going on for their Barrel-aged Vietnamese Stout. Sounded delicious…and highly alcoholic. Besides, I had no ticket, so I just headed to the counter.

The first sample I ordered was the AleSmith Nut Brown on nitro. This poured very dark, with creamy whitish head. It smelled rich, with lots of roasted malts, something like brown sugar aromas and bourbon toward the end. The first thing I noticed on the taste was how rich and smooth this was for a brown ale. All of the malts were up front, though not overpowering or enough to coat my palette. It went down very smooth with a malty sweetness on the finish. This one gets:

4

I finished at AleSmith by trying their X Extra Pale Ale. It poured very bright, pale yellow, cloudy and looked very refreshing. Bitterness, citrus and hoppy fruitiness met my nose upon smelling it. The taste was bitter at first, but some fruity sweetness made it through. The bitterness quickly returned and lasted through the finish. There was a little refreshing fruitiness on the aftertaste. Although I liked this one a little less than the brown, I still give it:

4

Oggi's calzone/beer collageAfter that, I headed over to Oggi’s Pizza & Brewing Company in Mission Valley. This is a great place to catch any sports game on tv, have pizza and some great brews. They have a number of locations, this one in a shopping mall area in the shadow of a Costco and an IKEA. The layout is warehouse-like, with a cavernous seating area of both booths and tables. The brewery is straight back, with unfortunately small viewing windows. The bar area is somewhat closed off by a windowed retaining wall to the left, as Oggi’s appeals to lots of families with kids, as well as the sports-loving, beer drinking crowd. Speaking of beers, they have a ton to choose from, but I always initiate any visit to a brewhouse by trying the proprietary stuff.

I started with Oggi’s Duck Dive Hefeweisen. This was bright yellow, unfiltered (as it should be), with only a little soapy head. It smelled quite citrusy and light. There was virtually no taste at first, but then some sour citrus made it through. The light carbonation helped move the beer through to a light finish, with only a little citrus on the aftertaste. It was not as wheaty or bready as advertised, nor as much as I had hoped. For that reason, I’m giving it:

3

Amber pintNext, I moved on to the Sunset Amber Ale. This poured a rich dark red-brown, with creamy head that really stuck to the glass. This told me that this beer would have a whole lot of malty richness to it. Light aromas of sweet roasted malts and slight fruitiness made their way out of the glass on the smell. I tasted rich malts, a very pleasant creaminess and some bitterness. The bitterness did not last long and quickly faded through the finish back into the rich malt character that defined this beer throughout. I really appreciated the heavy malts in this beer, so I give it:

4

I finished my celebration of Day 8 by searching for a pub (I’m a sucker for pubs). Finding one in the Normal Heights neighborhood, I met some new friends and enjoyed Guinness and Smithwicks the rest of the evening.

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The Best Week Ever (Day 6)

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KnB new barSo, for San Diego Beer Week Day 6 (took it easy with a Ballast Point Pumpkin Ale on Day 5), I ventured back to KnB for their celebration of all things local brewing. They have changed things around a bit since new management took over a few months ago. They expanded the bar and classed it up a little, replacing the dank window into the side of the kitchen it used to be, which I fully supported, and replacing it with full-wall shelving and some fancy tile on the wall (to the right of the bottles in the picture above. Tonight they featured a new startup brewery called 32 North Brewing Company. According to the rep attending tonight’s event, these guys are a real small brewery in Mira Mesa who just started up a few months ago. Their thing is keeping things interesting, both in life and in brewing. The lineup they had at KnB tonight was definitely different, if lacking a little pizzaz. Yeah- I said it. It is probably the only time you will see that word here, but I think it describes the experience accurately. Read on to find out if you agree.

32 North Peanut Butter CrunchI started with what you might imagine as a heavier beer, but it turned out to be fairly light. 32 North’s Peanut Butter Crunch was a combination (read: mixing, meaning they actually mixed it at the bar) of their Peanut Butter Cup Porter and their Fly By Night Milk Stout. Sounds heavy, right? It ended up being very mild and fairly light. It poured black, with minimal white head that did not last long. There were practically no aromas coming from the glass. I could only smell faint malty sweetness. It tasted very light, with only a slight taste of roasted malts up top and some sweetness. There was very little carbonation and only meager bitterness. Some rich chocolate flavor did come through on the finish, with a hint of peanut butter after. Overall, a very mild and underwhelming beer. I would rate this beer:

3

Next up, I wanted something with some taste behind it, as KnB had only stouts and porters on offer from 32 North. Given the experience I just had, this didn’t give me much hope for any other dark offerings. Instead, I opted for the Pennant Pale Ale.32 North Pennant Pale Ale This one poured a cloudy gold color, with foamy, thin head. It smelled hoppy and surprisingly floral for a pale ale that was not from India (har har…). It tasted light, with a slight sour tinge, followed by the flowers from the hops. Light carbonation did little to distinguish it from its fairly monotone flavor profile. It did have a pretty hoppy aftertaste, which is again surprising, as this one comes in at only 38 IBU.

I also would rate this beer:

3

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The Best Week Ever (Day 4)

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You might notice that I skipped Day 3 of The Best Week Ever. Well, it turns out I was not able to be as exuberant in my celebrating as perhaps I wanted to be and stayed in on Sunday. This caused me no grief, however, as I needed a rest. This gave me the stamina I needed to make a go of Day 4 of SDBW2014 and it went thus:

San Diego Brewing Co sign

I went back to newest brewery find near me, San Diego Brewing Co., as I had a blast there on Day 1 (and any other time I have been there). As an added bonus, it was Monday Night Football and happy hour: the trifecta in my book. I just had to come back for my beer week celebration.

SD Brewing brewery and barThis place is in a pretty nondescript strip mall in an area of San Diego called Grantville. I have been told that the powers that be want to build Grantville up into a brewery mecca, but this is the only place anyone would know about. The other two are nano-breweries Benchmark and Groundswell. SD Brewing is easily the most recognizable, as it sits on a thoroughfare that runs through what could be considered Grantville’s “downtown,” though it is far too small an area to warrant its own downtown.

Walking in, I was immediately taken in by the openness of the layout, mostly because it is all one big room. Straight ahead is the bar and the dining area is to the right. To the left of the door is the brewery, all behind glass to keep things separate (and quieter, I imagine). It also has a small arcade, with a pinball machine and a couple of other games. Other than that, the abundance of TVs are what I noticed right away. This is definitely not a sports bar, but it is a great place to catch a game. The wait staff and bartenders are super friendly and mostly attendant, though they have only ever had one person tending a rather large bar, which has resulted in some waiting. Nothing that kept me from coming back, obviously. Enough blather– sd brewing beer glasses and foodonto the libations!

I always start with proprietary beers, so I got a Decoaster Belgo Pale. This one poured like a darker version of the Blonde I had previously, with a rich golden color, light carbonation and brief head. It smelled light, only slightly sour and had a bit of maltiness. I expected much more sourness from a Belgian, but I did not complain. The taste was very smooth, with sourness up front and the maltiness persisting throughout. These were really the only two flavors coming from this beer, with the malty smoothness lasting through the finish and some slight sourness lingering afterward. A good, if very simple beer.

After the first quarter of the football game I was watching ended, I ordered their Old Town Nut Brown. This seemed like a great choice for the sliders I already knew I was going to have when I walked in the door. This one poured very dark brown-red, with slightly tan, thinnish head. There was virtually no aroma, with only a slight sweetness from the roasted malts. It tasted very smooth, with lots of toasty malt flavor and sweetness. These flavors also persisted through the finish.

These were very simple beers, mainly owing to SD Brewing’s philosophy of using only the simplest ingredients. If you like more complexity and/or hoppiness in your beer, they have plenty of others to choose from, but if all you are looking for is a relaxing good time, this is definitely the place.

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The Best Week Ever (Day 2)

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SDBW celebration collage 2Happy SDBW!

Ok, straight off the top, I have to make a correction: I jumped the gun and posted some of the pictures under Day 1 that were actually part of the Day 2 festivities. So, here we go…

Day 2 started normally enough. I went for my morning run, came home and read the news with breakfast. Then, after some other mundane stuff, I headed over to good ol’ KnB to see what they were up to for the occasion. They were celebrating by featuring brews from Green Flash Brewing. I hadn’t had anything from Green Flash in a while, so I was excited to see what was on tap.

Green Flash hop head redThere was certainly no shortage of choices. I decided on the Hop Head Red. This double red IPA brings the hops, certainly, but didn’t take my head off with the bitter burn that normally comes with such a big beer. It poured a deep orange-red color, with creamy white head that really stuck to the glass. There were lots of hops on the smell with a little fruit, though mostly floral aromas came through. At first, it tasted like I was drinking liquified hops, as the bitterness about knocked my palate clean out of my head. In fact, it reminded me a little of Ballast Point’s Tongue Buckler. There was little in the taste of the floweriness that came through on the aroma. It was bitter straight through to the finish. Not a terrible beer, if only for the creaminess of the head, but definitely one I would drink only sparingly.

The second one I tried Hanger 24 bourbon porterwhile at KnB was pretty much the Pièce de résistance of big (huge, really) bourbon barrel aged beers, as far as I am concerned. If you like bourbon, which I do, you will like this beer. At 16.5%, I opted to split this one with a friend and it still left me wanting nothing. Well, maybe a little more, but you know what they say about discretion being the better part of valor and all.

This poured black with dark brown head that dissipated quickly and left the glass clean. The aroma was all bourbon off the top, with some spice notes toward the end. I also got some rich chocolatiness, as well. Moving on to the taste, I knew what to expect: bourbon was all up front, before moving to the chocolate flavors and a little spice on the finish . This was likely from the bourbon, not that I minded.

ballast point pumpkin and ninkasi redGood and done with our libations at KnB, we headed inside to see what they had in their fridges. It took me all of a minute to spot the two (yes, I only got two) I wanted: Ninkasi Believer and Ballast Point Homework Series Batch No. 4 Pumpkin Ale. These are easily my two most favorite beers I have ever had (and I am making a note here) EVER!

The red comes from my favorite brewery, so you know it is good. It poured a dark red, with foamy head that sticks around a little while, though not on the sides of the glass. The smell is of roasted malts, with just a touch of hoppy bittersweet aromas. The taste is much the same, with a nice refreshing quality that may have been helped by the slight hoppiness to lighten things up a bit. All in all, a really good beer.

Ballast Point HW PumpkinBallast Point HW Pumpkin topThen– oh then– I came to the Ballast Point Pumpkin Ale. This is far and away the best pumpkin ale I have had to date. None of my expectations came close before trying this one. It poured dark red-brown with lots of carbonation and quickly dissipating white head. It did not smell too sweet and had a little spice and some bitterness that gave me hope beyond hope that this pumpkin ale was not like any other. The taste confirmed that it was not. The first thing I tasted was a slightly sweet spiciness with some vegetable-like bitterness to follow and heavy carbonation to break it up. The carbonation dissipates quickly to allow the light sweetness to come back through on the finish with a hint of warm malts and some lingering bitterness. In case it was not obvious, I really enjoyed this beer. So much so, I am bringing the very two bottles you see together above to Thanksgiving Day dinner in a couple of weeks. A perfect compliment to a turkey dinner, methinks.

That wraps up SDBW2014 Day 2. Check back tomorrow for Day 3 goings on!

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The Best Week Ever (Day 1)

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Every year, the San Diego Brewers Guild puts on a festival celebrating all the magic and splendor of beer, brining together breweries big and small at multiple events from all over the county. Needless to say, I am very excited to hear there is such an appreciation of beer and the culture that surrounds it. I have not made my way to any of the sanctioned events yet,  but I celebrated in my own way.

SDBW celebration collageI started the party at Rough Draft just down the street from my work. I started with my standard Weekday IPA. Then I had two tasters of their barrel-aged offerings: Emboozlement Tripel and Freudian Sip. These are a couple of big beers. The tripel was surprisingly rich, but refreshing. It was sour, but had a nice malt backbone that smoothed it out nicely. That got me ready for the Freudian Sip strong ale. This was like both smelling and drinking almost straight bourbon. It had some nice malty sweetness in the background, but the bourbon was definitely front and center. I loved it.SDBW celebration collage 2

From there I moved on to a local Mexican restaurant named Emiliano’s, where I had my standard at such a place: shot of tequila and a beer, this one Dos Equis (this is not exactly a beer destination, but still good.) Leaving there, I went down the street to San Diego Brewing, a place I am sorry to say I just started going to not long enough ago. These guys have tons of beer on tap and pretty good food. It’s also a great place to catch a game, if you are into that sort of thing. I went with their Grantville Gold, one of the brews they make there on site. This is a good light beer, though not a light beer, per say. I mean to say it is easy-drinking and won’t overpower other things you might eat or drink. It is also fairly low abv at 4.5%, so you can still have fun after you are done with it.

BNS SDBW bandDone with dinner, I decided to head home for a bit to call it a day. Then my buddy came home and invited me to BNS Brewing with him. Well…what could I say? After all, it is Beer Week. So off we went. It turned out they had some goings on for the festivities as well: Grillfellas BBQ serving up some goodness and a live band. For my beer selection, I chose the Gatling Gun Imperial Stout, which seemed like a good one to go with my grilled chicken apple sausage and chocolate imperial stout mini-cupcake. Yeah, it was every bit as good as it sounds…the stout was warm and smooth, but not boozy, despite its 9% abv. It was very heavy on the chocolate and moved quickly to coffee thereafter. It finished fairly clean, with strong chocolate bitterness and coffee lingering for some time after. It would make a fine nightcap and it did.

I had a great start to SDBW2014 and will try to post here of my ongoing adventures celebrating this most wondrous spectacle.

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Ballast Point 2

Ballast Point building name

No, you are not seeing double. Ballast Point Brewing Company has opened a third brewery in San Diego! This is great news for me, as I work just up the road a piece from this particular location. It is in the middle of an expansive and otherwise unremarkable industrial office complex. At least it is labeled well (and huge!).

Ballast Point Brewery outside

Walking in, I immediately noticed the fondness for wood, rope and glass. It invokes, as I suspect was intended, the feeling of being on a sailing ship.
Ballast Point inside The lines of sight allow a wide open view of the entire tasting room and (future) restaurant. The bar takes up a considerable amount of the room, which is good, as they have a number of great beers on tap to try.

Beer menuOf course, this is just part of the beer list they have, but it gives you an idea of what is on offer (as well as the beers I sampled while there…but more on that later.) They also have tours of their brewing facilities available every 15 minutes or so. This was exciting for me, as I am kind of a nerd for that kind of stuff. On the tour, we learned that they can make 150 barrels of beer per brewing run. In addition, they also have capacity for 300 bottles and 300 cans. That’s a ton of beer! This is great news, as they have some great stuff.

brewery restaurant
Dining area

Ballast Point insideNow, for the beer sampling! I couldn’t decide on any beer(s) I wanted a full 16 ounces of, so I got a flight of three different ones. First was the Three Sheets Barley Wine, Bourbon & Rum Barrel Aged. At 10% abv, I knew it was going to be a big one. It poured dark and cloudy (stormy, even?). It was a slightly reddish color with persistent brown head. It smelled slightly sour, very malty and thick (if a texture can be a smell.) For a 10% beer, it did not taste very boozy. Instead, I tasted sweetness up front, with a stickiness that would not go away. That sugary profile was dominant and carried right on through the finish. beer sample lineupNext, I tried two variations of their flagship stout, Victory at Sea. The first was one with Mole. It poured very dark with the consistency of motor oil and dark, quickly dissipating head on top. I was actually surprised at how quickly the head went away, as stouts tend to pride themselves on their staying power. The very first aroma coming from the glass was very prominent chocolate flavors that were slightly bitter and very rich in coffee and vanilla. Though I didn’t get any spice on the smell, it was definitely apparent on the taste. It hit right up front and persisted throughout. I was surprised again by the small amount of mole/chocolate flavor that only came through in the middle and quickly faded to the same spiciness that started it all. Despite the lack of a very dynamic profile, I enjoyed this one for its uniqueness.

I finished up with Victory at Sea, Rye Whiskey Barrel Aged, another big stout. This one also poured black with quick brown head. It smelled very boozy, despite having the same alcohol content as the previous two I had tried. After the strong alcohol aroma, I got some rich chocolatiness. The taste was very rich, mild and boozy. Heavy whiskey flavors dominated up front, with some chocolatey bitterness to follow, followed by some spice from the rye. Not too much sweetness, despite the rich taste, but it finished a little sticky and still very boozy. I like whiskey and I think they went a little heavy on the whiskey flavors in this one.

Overall a very nice brewery from a brewer of some of the best beers in San Diego.

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