Sunday, November 17, 2013

Beer # 601 - 610 (or "GRAND FINALE OF MY FIRST BIG YEAR")

After fighting off a cold through the middle of the week, my sinuses cleared and my taste buds returned just in time for a last minute Big Year In Beer finale.  Friday, November 15th was my last day of my first Big Year.  And just by chance, it came full circle, ending exactly where I started a year ago.

In preparation of wrapping up my Big Year, I've been copying over my beers, in order, to an Excel spreadsheet.  And in doing so, I discovered that Untappd actually tallied my "Unique" beers incorrectly.  Contrary to my previous post, Hair Of The Dog Blue Dot was NOT my 600th beer... it was actually Beer # 601!  Woohoo!  I was starting off the day ahead of the game without even drinking anything!

To kick off my actual tasting for the day, I hit Congregation Ale House in Pasadena.  Many years ago before the huge craft beer explosion, this building was occupied by a brewpub called Crown City which had 100 beers available.  They used to give you a card to keep track of each beer, and you got a plaque on the wall when you reached 100.  Unfortunately, Crown City closed their doors before I got my plaque.
Congregation took over this great location a few years ago, offering an impressive tap list and excellent food.  In my book, the only drawback for Congregation, and the only reason I don't frequent this location more often has been the service.  I think they have improved service-wise over the past year, but prior to that, the waitstaff were frustratingly uneducated and clueless about the beer on their own menu.  No joke, nearly every time I ordered a beer, the cashiers would give me a blank expression like I was speaking Martian, and I would need to walk over to their huge tap board and point to the beer I wanted.  Honestly, I don't give two shits how cute you look in a Catholic schoolgirl outfit, I want a goddamn beer without playing a game of Charades (one syllable, sounds like 'trout'). I think management finally caught on, and during my last couple visits this year, the staff seemed more up to speed and actually knew what I was ordering.

This time I opted for their house burger, which is consistently one of the best around, and a DESCHUTES BREWERY flight.  The flight was a winner, especially with the inclusion of a few limited brews.
*JUBELALE 2013 - Beer # 602: A comforting winter ale that would have been even more comforting on a colder day (which we don't get much of in LA).
*BLACK BUTTE XXIV IMPERIAL PORTER - Beer # 603:  What you would expect in an imperial porter. Solid.
*GREEN MONSTER SOUR ALE - Beer # 604: The first Deschutes sour I've seen available. Like most American sours of late, a good amount of pucker but still very drinkable. Apparently, this one is super limited.
*CLASS OF '88 SERIES BARLEYWINE - Beer # 605:  A limited collaboration with GREAT LAKES BREWING, one of the most easy-drinking barleywines I've had in recent memory (along with maybe SANTA FE BREWING CHICKEN KILLER)

Later that evening, The Mrs. and I met up with Ryan Harkins from Grill Em All and his wife Kevine (newlyweds!) at GOLDEN ROAD.  This has been a local favorite for the past few years, based in a funky industrial part of LA, across the tracks from Glendale. It was packed like I've never seen it.  Then again, The Wife and I tend to visit breweries during "off" hours, usually in the 2-5pm range. We were introduced to Tara who worked at Eagle Rock Brewing, and Cole who is one of the head brewers at Golden Road.  Like most beer people, they're super cool, and I somehow refrained from bombarding them with endless mega-nerd beer questions. Every time I visit Golden Road, they have something new to offer, and this time they had more offerings than I've ever seen.
I started with the 99 KNOTS TO LA SAISON - Beer # 606.  This is the first time I recall a true saison on the Golden Road list.  Damn good!
I followed that with the SURFLINER PALE ALE - Beer # 607. I recall having a Surfliner IPA last year, and I never saw it again.  This time Surfliner was available, but it was a Pale Ale instead of an IPA.  Huh???  Brewer Cole was nice enough to explain "Surfliner" is actually a blanket name they give to experimental new batches of various brews, all of which are available that one-time only.  Ha!
Next up was the new PONCH'S PORTER - Beer # 608.  This porter freakin' rules.  Their flagship Hudson Porter is good, but I love this one!  Ponch's is a more rich, more dense, inky porter, which I gravitate towards... although if I were smart I'd just stick with imperial stouts since that's what I really have in mind when I order porters.
A couple more friends arrived, and after additional drinking, eating, and merriment, we were treated to a late night tour behind the scenes of the brewery.  The facility is beyond impressive, especially the safeguards implemented to ensure consistency and high quality.  We were lucky enough to taste CABRILLO KOLSCH straight out of the tank, unfiltered.  And no, I can't claim it, because I already had it earlier this year... Beer # 333.  Also fun was cracking open a rejected can (rejected because the fill wasn't exactly 16 oz) of GET UP OFFA THAT BROWN - Beer # 609.  It was canned earlier that afternoon, and even at room temperature it was perfection. In fact, I think I like it even better unrefrigerated... I could taste a lot more of the roasted malty goodness.  Could it be the Europeans have actually been right this whole time about not serving beer ice cold?  Nawwww....

We hit a backroom where the BRANDY BARREL AGED HUDSON PORTER was on tap (which I had already claimed a few days prior as Beer # 596).  One of my favorite Golden Road beers to date.  And I was pouring it myself.  If there's a Heaven, I picture it resembling this moment in time. 
On tap next to the Brandy Barrel Porter was the TROUBLE AHEAD RED - Beer # 610, and the last, unique, claimable beer in my Big Year.  This was a keg from a batch not ready to be released in the brewpub until the following Monday.  Yep, I felt smug as hell, a total baller, even if only for a couple hours.

As we wrapped up the evening, profusely thanking our gracious hosts, I had the startling realization that my first attempt at a Big Year In Beer concluded exactly where it began.  It was a year ago I was sitting at an outdoor table at Golden Road, enjoying a BURNING BUSH SMOKED IPA with Dave Witte, and he told me about Untappd.  I signed up for an account, started logging my beers, and my Big Year was underway.  Here I was a year later, having the best time ever, concluding my Big Year in the exact same spot.  The date as well as the location of my 365 day, 610 beer journey had truly come full circle.  There was something very zen about ending my year with a tour of Golden Road.



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