Thursday, December 26, 2013

HOPPY HOLIDAYS (or "Carpe Beerum")

Well, that title is misleading… it was quite a beery Christmas, but not particularly hop-centric.  Unfortunately, “Hoppy Holidays” is one of the few beer puns that works this time of year.
With only one week until January 1st, the beginning of my new Big Year In Beer, my biggest dilemma has been whether to enjoy new beers, or to “save myself” so I can ensure these new brews end up in my 2014 Big Year total.  My answer:  Live for today.  Or drink for today, more appropriately.  After all, once The Big Year starts, I’m starting from scratch so I can enjoy ALL of these beers again.  Why wait?  We now live in a world whose kegs have runneth over with a ridiculous number of quality beers.  I will have many problems in 2014, but unless I’m held hostage in an Applebee’s year-round, one of my problems will NOT be that there aren’t enough new beers to try over the course of 365 days.

I planned on an all-stout holiday, but family and friends had other plans for me.  Believe me, I'm not complaining.  A few nights ago, chilling with The Wife, we opened a few everyday stouts... "Everyday" meaning affordable and relatively easy to find.  At least in LA.   
CISMONTANE BLACK'S DAWN IMPERIAL STOUT has a new, updated label, but the brew is still the thick and viscous one I know and love, with a mild espresso shot for added character. One of my favorite, underrated SoCal breweries.  We followed with the MOTHER EARTH SIN TAX IMPERIAL STOUT, a new one for me (one I somehow missed when I hit the brewery in Vista, CA last Oct).  The Mrs pointed out the peanut butter taste immediately, which almost ruined the experience for me.  Yes, a thick stout with peanut butter and vanilla on the palate.  Talk about a dessert beer.  But somehow it didn't bother me, mainly because those parts of it were subtle, and it was still tasty overall. It wasn't over the top, cloying, and comical like a Rogue novelty beer.  It was nearly Christmas, it was late, I was relaxing, so I enjoyed it for what it was.  Would I buy it again?  I doubt it. Seriously, who wants a fuggin' peanut butter beer?
In spite of the fact that I'm working practically every day of this holiday season, my Xmas has been chock full of holiday cheer.  My Christmas Eve started out with my boss buying me lunch, a shot of Maker's Mark, and a GREEN FLASH WEST COAST IPA.  Proof that my work does in fact love me.  A few hours later, I was home with my Wife's family, who all somehow got the message that I like beer.  My presents included a mixed STONE 12-pack, as well as a few bottles of NEWCASTLE WEREWOLF, a beer I purposely avoided around Halloween, convinced it was a novelty.  But I was pleasantly surprised now that I've popped a couple caps.  I associate Newcastle with "average", but the Werewolf is a satisfying, dark red ESB.  So much tastier than I could have imagined.  After everyone left, I capped off the evening by popping the cork on a PORT BREWING OLDER VISCOSITY that I've been holding for the last 6 months or so.  I'm a fan of their thick, more readily available OLD VISCOSITY Stout.  The OLDER is a smaller batch cousin, aged in oak barrels.  If I tried them back to back, I'm sure I could tell the difference.  Tasting them months apart, I can't.  Don't get me wrong, the Older Viscosity is an outstanding beer.  I wouldn't kick it out of bed.  But at $16 for a 12 oz bottle, Older Viscosity is steep, considering I'm just as happy with the 22 oz Old Viscosity which is nearly twice the volume at half the price.  For that matter, the Cismontane stout only set me back $5!  You do the math...
  Alas, Christmas Day was finally here.  Our Son opened presents at the crack of dawn, we played XBOX for four hours straight, the wife & I shared an excellent BARRELHOUSE IPA, then it was time to get ready for our annual Xmas Day fondue party.  Yes, fondue... we're That 70's Couple.  Fewer people this year, but just as much food as ever (read:  "too much").  And whad'ya know?  Our friends somehow knew I was into beer.  Our pal Matty B. hooked me up with a mixed case of 12 different brews.  So awesome on its own, but so perfect for kicking off my next Big Year, so I'll sit on 'em for the next week, at least.  Not to mention, he's one of our few friends who has actually seen the film THE BIG YEAR, and watches it even more than The Wife and I do.  So, he gets it.  Then our friend Lily brought over five huge bottles, and she & I drank them all throughout the course of the day.  Matty and Gina B. brought some amazing wines, all of which I tasted, and all of which were consecutively more incredible than the last.  But these days wine just takes up valuable beer real estate in my stomach, and I had a drinking partner in Lily, so we were off to the races.  I left her in the driver's seat, and she did a commendable job of navigating.  
We started with the LA TRAPPE QUADRUPEL which was outstanding to say the least.  And that set the stage for an afternoon of the highest quality imbibement.  Every beer she brought was top notch, each one impressive in its own way:  OMMEGANG ABBEY ALE - a phenomenal Belgian style dubbel, the TELEGRAPH WHITE ALE - a witbier that is ridiculously more complex than any of its counterparts (but Santa Barbara's TELEGRAPH just can't do wrong, I say), the ALESMITH NUT BROWN ALE - I'm not the biggest fan of brown ales, but this one converted me... the best brown ale I've ever had, hands down.  And finally the TELEGRAPH STOCK PORTER.

The bottom line: CARPE BEERUM.  In English: SEIZE THE BEER!  But most important of all, good family and friends. Without having them around to share the awesome beer tasting experience, these braus are practically useless.

Much love and happiness to my family, my friends, and my extended family in the music and beer communities.  Here's to an amazing 2014!  Six days and counting... Get ready for the Biggest Year In Beer ever!


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sampling "The Best Beer In The World"!

So, there I was in the kitchen of Ryan & Kevine Harkins.  The three of us, along with Kevine's cousin Mike, stared in awe at Ryan's line up of beers to taste.  And then he really dropped the bomb, the unexpected crown jewel: WESTVLETEREN XII.  Considered by many to be The Best Beer In The World (no, seriously... that's not just hyperbole), this baby is extremely difficult to get, even when visiting the Trappist Monk abbey of Saint Sixtus where they brew it in Belgium. 
Beer bloggers and mainstream press alike wrote frenzied articles when this beer made a rare SoCal appearance within the last year at select stores, at prices topping $100 for six bottles. Needless to say, I was in a financial crunch at the time, and as tempting as the rarity was, I could not justify dropping 1/3 of a car payment on a six pack of beer.  The window of opportunity closed, and these days one empty bottle of Westvleteren XII has been known to sell for $50 on eBay.
Jump to present day, I'm in a kitchen in the funky 'burb of Eagle Rock, and my pals pull this wild card out of the hat.  A gift to Ryan from guru Dave Witte, he generously offers to split it between the four of us.  The cap is popped, and without warning it starts foaming out of the bottle uncontrollably.  Quick on his feet, Ryan assesses the crisis, and immediately puts his mouth over the bottle to stop the flow.  Sheepishly, with a full mouth of foam, Ryan says, "Sorry.  Oh!  But it's really good!" 

We all realize our solitary bottle of The World's Best And Most Unattainable Beer has just spilled on the cheap 1972 counter top, and we assess it's current value at $10.  No one volunteers to lick the counter. Thankfully, the spillage is minor, and we enrich our taste buds with this rare treat. 
Is it the greatest beer in the entire world?  Well, the problem with that statement is the overwhelming expectation of a mind-blowing experience.  Yes, it was an excellent Belgian Quad, and yes, I would happily drink it again if possible.  I have nothing bad to say about it, but if I’m honestly judging my favorites, I would not claim this as the undisputed, all-time Number One champ.  Sorry, I’m unrefined that way.  

Our beering adventures did continue with THE BRUERY OUDE TART SOUR ALE WITH CHERRIES.  I was in the company of sour fans, so I liberated this from my secret fridge to share. Tart, but crazily easy to drink. Delicious and smooth for a sour. 
We followed with the EAGLE ROCK STIMULUS WITH INTELLIGENTSIA COFFEE.  The whole coffee stout trend has started to annoy me, but this is a different spin…. A coffee Amber ale.  The perfect combo, I'm surprised I don't see more of these.  Admittedly, it is a coffee bomb, so if you’re not in the mood for a bean beer, this should not be your first choice.  Damn good.
The Eagle Rock Stimulus was a warm up for our group visit to the Eagle Rock Brewery tasting room.  Tucked away in a back building at the end of an industrial block of Frogtown, you would never know this place existed unless you’re specifically looking for it.  Once inside, the tasting room is inviting, comfortable, and non-pretentious.  My pal Melanie from Pizza Port was working the counter, and she & cohort Gio hooked us up with endless deliciousness.  Hands down, my addiction for that evening was the POPULIST IPA ON NITRO.  The standard Populist IPA on its own is delicious, but on nitrogen it’s a completely different beast… it maintains the hoppy bite with way more complexities.  I’m not going to bore you with stupid “tasting notes”.  It’s freakin’ bad ass.  

After 90 minutes, we were all semi-tanked, and acted accordingly… like spoiled, drunken infants.  While Melanie & Gio closed up shop, we barged  into the brewing room and improvised our own tour of non-expertise.... "So, that tank is full of beer that goes to that tank and then to that tank and that's how beer is made." 
The group tasting & visit to Eagle Rock was the pinnacle of a thoroughly boozy weekend filled with many new brews including:
*CRAFTSMAN HOLIDAY SPRUCE ALE – Awesome. This Pasadena-based, low-key operation never fails to disappoint. A spiced ale I actually like (which is rare).
*NORTH COAST XXV ANNIVERSARY ALE – Sadly, I found this one ordinary and non-memorable.
*SMUTTYNOSE RHYE IPA – Smuttynose on the West Coast??
*MONKISH BREWING CO. SHAOLIN FIST – A spiced ale that I didn’t love, although I love this brewery in general.
*BROUWERIJ WEST SAISON EXTRA – Strangely opaque and milky.  Looks like the albino cousin of an imperial stout.  Tastes like the perfume counter at Macy's.

But these two brews blew me away & I classify them as Exceptional:
*BAYHAWK ALES ZAPPA BREWS NELSON DIPA – Wow, what a treat!  I picked this because I wanted to try a new, local IPA, but it was so much better than I would have ever guessed.  Semi-skunky and perfectly balanced in the way you’d expect from a solid SoCal Double IPA.  Then again I'm a sucker for anything brewed with Nelson Sauvin hops.
*LAGUNITAS STOUT AGED IN RYE WHISKEY BARRELS – Sweet Jesus, what a beer!  I’ve never heard of a barrel aged Lagunitas.  Everything from this brewery is top notch , and with that said, this even surpassed my already high expectations.  Thick like motor oil, with a hint of coffee, and a ton of woodsy barrel goodness.  If this beer was a woman, I would have already asked it to marry me because I always want it by my side.
Sadly, none of these count towards my next Big Year.  But what am I supposed to do?  NOT enjoy amazing brews for the next two weeks?  Are you kidding?  Santa isn’t the only jolly, bearded, fat man in this household.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Rules for THE BIG YEAR IN BEER 2014

2014 will be here before you know it, and thus, the dawning of the next BIG YEAR IN BEER. My first Big Year was a one-man quest for quality beer, and bragging rights to my final tally.
After making my efforts public, many friends have expressed an interest in participating. With multiple participants, I needed to draft some rules so there are no misunderstandings after 365 days of friendly competition.  I ran my first draft past my old pal Chris W. for some fine tuning, and made a few minor tweaks, but the rules below summarize the intent and guidelines of Beering.
I will be documenting every beer in 2014 on this blog, so other participants will have an unfair advantage by knowing what my count is throughout the year.  Based on the daily consumption of some of my Untappd friends, it's more likely than not that I will not come in first place.  No matter.  I'm sure going to enjoy trying.  *hic*

THE BIG YEAR IN BEER - Rules for Beering in 2014

*Mandate #1: Watch the film THE BIG YEAR. This movie is the basis for this competition. I just substituted beer in place of birds.
*Mandate #2: It is hereby acknowledged that Dave Witte will always win The Big Year In Beer, and therefore is given a "pass" on participating, so the rest of us have a chance to win (and by "win" I really mean "come in 2nd").  Dave Witte is recognized officially and eternally as Master Of All Beer In The Space-Time Continuum.
*Mandate #3: ENJOY what you are tasting. This friendly, rewardless competition means even less if you're not fully enjoying each taste. Focus on the journey, not the destination.

*The purpose of THE BIG YEAR IN BEER is to taste as many different, unique beers as possible within the 365 day calendar year of 2014.
*Sips and samples count. A full bottle or pint is not necessary in order to claim any beer towards your Big Year. As long as you truly taste (and enjoy!) the beer, you may claim it.
*Photos are not necessary. They're usually boring. And The Big Year is based on the honor system anyway.
*There are no geographical boundaries applicable in one's pursuit of The Big Year.
*Multiples of the same beer do not count towards your yearly total. Only your first tasting counts.
*Variations of the same beer do count as unique beers, and can be tallied in your yearly total.  If the same beer brewed in two separate countries is clearly unique, it is counted as two separate beers (Note: This may be challenged and debated by participants on a case by case basis, and is subject to majority rule). Stone Russian Imperial Stout, and Stone Russian Imperial Stout With Chipotle Peppers count as two separate beers. Bud and Bud Light are two separate beers. Guinness brewed in the UK and Guinness brewed in the US are two separate beers.
*Variations referenced above must be officially brewed and released by the noted brewery. For instance, you may not add your own spices to a beer you purchased and count it towards your Big Year tally as a unique beer.
*No cider, no mead, no miscellaneous non-beer may be considered.
*No root beer.
*Barleywine is considered beer, and may be included.
*Homebrews may be included in your Big Year, however, you must specify the first and last name of the brewer, where they brewed the beer (at least city and state), the style of the beer, and the name (if any).
*Big Year participants may be open, secretive, or misleading, according to their preference, throughout the duration of The Big Year.  However, all participants are required to submit 100% factual & truthful information at the conclusion of The Big Year.
*Within 10 days after the completion of The Big Year, all participants must submit a complete, itemized list of all beers consumed during that same Big Year. Lists must include the name and brewer of each beer.  All beers must be numerically itemized, in sequential order of consumption.  If applicable, the 500th and/or 1,000th beers consumed must be accompanied by dates of consumption; if dates are not provided, that participant shall not be eligible for recognition in those respective categories.  All lists will be supplied to a neutral party for review.  Chris Dodge will advise with contact details for The Reviewer at the end of the year. The Reviewer will determine the winners and announce the results. All Participants' lists may be made available for review at the conclusion of our Big Year.
*Recognition shall be granted to winning Big Year participants in the following categories:
   1. Highest number of unique beers consumed.
   2. First participant to reach Beer #500 (if date is provided).
   3. First participant to reach Beer #1,000 (if date is provided).
   4. Special recognition may be awarded to an individual with a particularly unique accomplishment or item on their list (subjective, based upon Reviewer's opinion). For example, Brewdog Ale served in a dead squirrel.
*Any Big Year participants known to falsify information about their Big Year will be immediately disqualified from The Big Year In Beer for life.