Archive for December, 2014

Funhouse of Beers

Barrelhouse 101 panoramaI hope everybody had a very merry Christmas. I certainly did. I got to try out a new place in my hometown. It is called Barrelhouse 101 and the 101 is meant to indicate that they have over one hundred beers…on tap! I thought this was great news and I had to try it.

Barrelhouse interior frontAs you can see, the outside resembles a firehouse or something on a dock. It’s also colored a little like a funhouse, with very bright blue and yellow walls, with an all but neon-colored door. Walking in, the interior gave a very industrial vibe as well, with high I-beam rafters and big halogen lights you might find in a factory hanging from the ceiling. The bar area felt a bit cluttered and crowded with tables fairly close together, not to mention close to the bar itself. I appreciated it, though, as most brewhouses are cavernous warehouses of equipment with just a tasting room. Of course, this place does not brew its own beer, so that may have something to do with the layout…

Barrelhouse interior leftThe kitchen area to the left was cool, with a red studded leather wall to separate it from the main dining area. It gave it a kind of retro diner feel, though I don’t know that is what they were aiming for. At least it was festively decorated, with all of their stockings hung along the length of it. The patio area, on the other hand, wasn’t much to look at: fairly small and narrow, with not much to look at but the street. At least it had heaters to help cut the beach wind chill.

Institution Restraint Maple BrownThey have pretty great food, but who cares about that, right? The beer selection was enough boggle the mind and confuse the eye. I was able to pick one out of the crowd, though: Institution Ale Company Restraint Maple Brown Ale. I thought it appropriate for the holiday weekend I had just celebrated. It poured a deep red-brown color, with a sudsy white head that really stuck to the glass. It had mild aromas of roasted malt and chocolate. Despite the name, no maple came through on the smell. The taste was also mild and smooth. It started with the roasted malts, moving to bitter chocolate. The finish was equally mild as the chocolate lingered.

Despite my hope for a semi-sweet holiday beer, this one underwhelmed a bit:


Ninkasi The Devil Went Down to Oregon I was going to stop there, but I was getting on a train home in an hour, so I figured I’d have another look through the prodigious selection. I am very glad I did, as I found a beer Ninkasi let me (and the rest of their followers) know about on Instagram and it was called The Devil Went Down to Oregon Imperial Dark Rye. This is a collab Ninkasi did with Devils Backbone Brewing and it is far more appropriate for the holidays. It poured dark red with medium white head. It smelled sour, with hints of malts and a very slight sugary smell. There was also some spice to make things interesting. The taste was smooth, which surprised me for a rye. The malts came through in the beginning, with the rye spice showing up toward the middle. Medium carbonation helped break up that spice, but it came right back. It finished smooth, with the spice persisting afterward.

I enjoyed this one, despite the spiciness. Call it my Ninkasi bias:


A great place to check out if you are in the Ventura, CA area.

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Have a “Special” Christmas

Anchor 2014 Special Xmas AleIt has finally arrived! Christmas is here! Well, in a few days it will be here. There is just time enough to try this great addition to your holiday beer list: Anchor Brewing Merry Christmas & Happy New Year 2014, or simply, “Our Special Ale.” This is the 40th year running that Anchor Brewing has released their “Special Ale” and the 2014 edition will not disappoint.

It poured a deep dark brown that reminded me of maple syrup. It had a medium layer of fizzy tan head. The aromas beganAnchor Special Ale top with very rich caramel, followed by some roasted malt and some spiced fig and plum. The taste was surprisingly mild, though it quickly presented its caramely character. This was followed by the spice and raisin flavors. The malts came in like a wave washing over the middle of the drink, but the fizzy kick of the carbonation broke that up nicely. The malts carried through to the finish with a warm caramel aftertaste and a slight hint of the spices.

This was a very pleasant beer that is sure to warm you up. Though it was not tremendously dynamic, it will definitely remind me of the holidays from here on out. I cannot quite give it a 5, but as close to it as possible:


As with the holiday that came before it, please have a safe and very merry Christmas.

Eat, drink and be merry.

Merry Christmas!

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A Great Holiday Sipp’r

Ninkasi Sleigh'r labelChristmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year: trees, lights, decorations…and Ninkasi’s seasonal beauty Sleigh’r Dark Doüble Alt Ale. It is in the German altbier style, which means it is brewed at a cooler temperature than other ales and uses top-fermenting yeast. This yeast imparts a fruitiness not normally seen in ales. Altbier is also matured at a cooler temperature than is usual for an ale, making it clean and crisp. This beer helps truly ring in the season for me. Come. Take the journey with me.

It poured a rich dark copper color with small, fizzy head that did not stick around very long. It reminded me very much of the way a lager pours. Not much in the way of aromas came from the glass at first, but then lots of caramel and fruity notes pushed through. It tasted light, with pleasant caramel and light sweetness. A bit of bitterness came toward the middle and persisted to the finish with some caramel notesNinkasi Sleigh'r with wreath to balance it out.

I really enjoyed this beer. At 7.2% abv, it makes a really good sipper for the holidays.

I would rate this beer:


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I’m Dreaming of a Red Christmas

AleSmith YuleSmithDecember is here and with it, comes my favorite holiday: Christmas! It must be up there on the list of favorite holiday seasons for the folks at AleSmith as well, as they have a semi-annual release called YuleSmith. The summer version is a huge double IPA, but in winter, it is an imperial red beast. Let’s get into it, shall we?

This one poured a rich, dark brown with tiny bubbles and creamy off-white head. It smelled quite hoppy, with a slight fruity sweetness hiding underneath. It tasted slightly hoppy at first, with some nice roasted malt flavor toward the middle. It had a great, smooth mouthfeel, until the hoppiness came back a little too strongly and took over from there. There were some interesting slightly fruity caramel notes on the finish, though I was left with the sensation that I had just had a mouthful of hops.YuleSmith top

For a beer that held such promise, I felt it relied a little too heavily on the hops. This surprised me, as it posts only 48 IBUs. I’m rating this one:


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It’s Pronounced “Merkin”

Firestone Velvet Merkin

Well, now that Thanksgiving is over, happy December, everybody!

I have already regaled you with my experience with Firestone’s Velvet Merkin during San Diego Beer Week, but it got me wondering: it is delicious cold; what would it be like warm? After all, I, a certified cicerone and the Firestone rep at the event I met while enjoying the cold one at KnB spent some time trying to warm our glasses with our hands while drinking it. So, I was able to get a couple of bottles of it and left one in the cupboard and one in the fridge. Here is what I found:

Warm, it poured much as it did from the tap, with brown, foamy head. It smelled immediately of chocolate, followed quickly by the characteristic bourbon, a little coffee and raisins. The taste was very smooth, with bourbon first, then some almost fruity sweetness and none of the raisin from the smell. It finished warm, with lots of boozy bourbon on the finish.

Velvet Merkin topCold, the head dissipated much more quickly. There was none of the coffee aroma that came through in the warm pour, but all the chocolate, bourbon and raisins came through. The taste was a bit sweeter than with the warm, with little influence from the bourbon anywhere until the end. Lots of raisiny sweetness dominated the majority of the drink, with a surprising lack of bourbon flavor.

The verdict: Still a fantastic beer, cold and warm. I would still prefer it warm, as chilling beer tends to hide flavors and make it a little less dynamic.

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