Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Maui Brewing Co. CoCoNut PorTeR Brew Review

Hello beer lovers and welcome to another edition of the NorCal Beer Blog's brew review.

Tonight’s featured beer is Maui Brewing Company CoCoNut PorTeR. I find myself day dreaming about Hawai’i with regularity. Being a West Coaster has so many advantages and one of them is being close to The Aloha State. I’ve visited many of the breweries in Hawai’i, but since I’ve never been to Maui I’ve not had the opportunity to visit the Maui Brewing Company. I hope to remedy this soon. OK, let’s get back to beer…

From the Maui Brewing Co. website: “Our CoCoNut Porter is a fresh handcrafted robust porter brewed with six varieties of malted barley, hops and hand-toasted coconut. It begins with a malty-toasted coconut aroma followed by a rich, silky feel with tastes of dark malt, chocolate and hints of coffee. It then finishes with flavors of toasted coconut and hoppy spice to balance the finish.”
Let’s get started!
Appearance: Pours a deep, dark ruby brown with a tan head and nice lacing.
Aroma: Phenomenal. Coconut, chocolate and roasted malts and more coconut. Such a great smelling beer!
Taste: I’m a huge fan of coconut. Roasted dark malts, caramel, coffee and chocolate with a hint of burnt sugar. The toasted coconut flavor isn’t as dominant as the aroma would indicate, but it is there and it is SO good.
Overall: Smooth, rich, creamy and extremely drinkable I believe Maui Brewing Company’s CoCoNut PorTeR is probably one of the best Porters I’ve had in a long time. Certainly something I need to keep on hand for those times when I need to feel a little closer to The 50th State.

Aloha and Cheers!

Mark Harvey

Monday, June 27, 2011

BridgePort Brewing Company Hop Czar Imperial IPA

Hello beer lovers and welcome to another edition of the NorCal Beer Blog's brew review.

Tonight’s featured beer is BridgePort Brewing Company Hop Czar Imperial IPA. One look at the label and I knew I had to try this one. I was very familiar with BridgePort IPA and I’ve enjoyed quite a few of ‘em so picking up this six pack was virtually risk free.

From the BridgePort Brewing Company website:” BridgePort Hop Czar, an Imperial IPA brewed from our award winning IPA recipe, first introduced to rave reviews in 2008. It is a triple-hopped bottle-conditioned, Imperial-style IPA that carries a deep malt background with enthusiastic citrus and floral notes paired with high hop bitterness. The newest in our permanent 6-pack line, the Hop Czar recipe blends copious amounts of Nugget, Chinook, Cascade and Centennial hops.”
Let’s get started!
Appearance: Pours an orangish copper with a thin head which dissipates quickly leaving heavy lacing.
Aroma: Very fresh…a blast of hops…citrus, floral…spicy with little malt scents.
Taste: Fantastically balanced. Tastes like the aroma with citrus and a little spice and pine. Great hop flavor. Unlike the aroma there is a certain malt profile – caramel and biscuit that is very well done and enjoyable.
Overall: Not as malty as some others, this 7.5% ABV Imperial IPA is incredible.  I’ve enjoyed this beer so much that it has a permanent home in my beer fridge. I find myself picking up another six pack as soon as I drink the last. One can never have too many great Imperial IPAs on hand, right?


Mark Harvey

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lagunitas Brewing Company Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale

Hello beer lovers and welcome to another edition of the NorCal Beer Blog's brew review.

Tonight’s featured beer is Lagunitas Brewing Company Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale. As I roll through the beers that Lagunitas brews (as the case that they’d be the brewery on my deserted island is strengthened) I decided to review Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale – a beer I hadn’t purchased up until somewhat recently, but it seems to be the beer I gravitate towards most when deciding what to drink. With that said, I knew I had to review it since I’m probably two cases in to my Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale addiction.

From the Lagunitas website: “We brewed this especially bitter ale in dedication to all the world’s would-be astronauts, in remembrance of the 2005 St. Patrick’s Day Massacre on the Brewery Party Grounds and also in joyous celebration of our 20-day suspension that following January. Do the crime. Do the time. Get the bragging rights. Cheers.”

I did some research on the 20-day suspension…and this is what I came up with…

From Barlow Brewing: “The story behind the Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale is well known, but it bears repeating. The brewery was holding regular tastings every Thursday night and some do-gooder had noticed someone smoking pot (not an unusual occurrence) outside the brewery. That led to the police to conduct an eight week undercover investigation into the brewery. Every week the undercover cops would come to the brewery tasting and try to buy pot. Plenty of people offered it to cops, but no one ever tried to sell it to them. Finally the police just got pissed off and on St. Patrick’s Day arrested a few people and shutdown Lagunitas for 20 days.

In an act of wonderful subtly, Lagunitas later released their Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale. It is a whopping 9.7% ABV and, despite being a borderline barleywine, the brewery calls it an “oxymoronic imperial mild””

I kept searching as the story got more and more interesting.

From The Drugspot: “Our Beer of the Week is about as unusual as beer gets and I don't know whether to laugh or cry or just scream. The beer is Lagunitas Undercover Investigation on Shutdown or "Whatever, We're Still Here”, from Lagunitas Brewing in Petaluma.

Five-star-world class status isn't for the beer, although it's a typically delicious, major Lagunitas brew: 9.9 percent alcohol by volume, pale barley malt, a touch of wheat, Horizon bittering hops and a mix of mild and spicy Willamette hops, plus Centennial and Liberty hops that effectively mask the high alcohol.

Here's the story: Lagunitas, with its roots solidly in Petaluma in Sonoma County, a county that is home to many a marijuana stash, long held a beer tasting every Thursday evening: $2 beer, free food and music. Founder Tony Magee explains they advertised in a weekly newspaper, under the headline: "420."

The term 420 started, I understand, as the time — 4:20 p.m. — a group of students met to light up joints. Today, it signifies the weed itself. Anyway, the Lagunitas tasting always started at 4:20 p.m. "We were having fun with it," Magee says. "It wasn't like a giant pot party. There might have been three or four people out of 70 smoking pot. It's like, well, this is Sonoma County."

But the state Alcohol Beverage Control Board got the idea that Lagunitas or its employees were selling dope at the tastings. So, for eight weeks, they sent undercover investigators, a man and a woman, to the tastings to try to buy marijuana.

They had no luck. "People kept trying to give them some," Magee says. Finally, the ABC gave up and on St. Patrick's Day, 2005, they cited three people, including one Lagunitas worker, two for possession of marijuana, one for possession for sale.

ABC spokesman John Carr says he isn't sure, but Magee says charges were dropped against all three.

Bottom line: The ABC suspended Lagunitas license to sell beer for 20 days and placed the company on one year's probation, ending Nov. 18. Magee got the message. Although it began in his kitchen in the hamlet of Lagunitas in Marin County, the craft brewery's now a multimillion dollar business with 26 employees.

"Once in a while, God — the ABC — drops in and tells you he's in charge," Magee says.

"Last year, we made 32,420 barrels of beer," he says. "No kidding, that number was in our report (to the federal government)."

Proving there's still free speech: Lagunitas released Undercover Ale as a regular seasonal.”

OK…now that’s quite a back story and I appreciate these fantastic blogs for putting up the story. Thank you to both Barlow Brewing and The Drugspot their reporting. Hopefully they won’t get mad at me for reposting their reports.
Let’s get started!
Appearance: Pours a mahogany/dark brown color with a nice off-white head and excellent lacing.
Aroma: Caramel malt, sweet almost toffee nut scents followed by citrus and pine hops and a hint of grapefruit. It has a beer candy thing going on. A little boozy after effect.
Taste: Sweet caramel, toffee flavors and roasted barley are soon dominated by the classic Lagunitas hop punch. Well balanced with pine and citrus notes and a little spice. Finish is sweet and sugary with a bit of alcohol begging me to drink several (or maybe that’s just in my mind).
Overall: Fantastic strong ale that is perfect in every way. Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale - BEWARE of the 9.75% ABV. This is one beer that I will eagerly await every year (much like Brown Shugga’ and Hairy Eyeball. I better stock up before it goes away and I suggest you do the same! Now if I can only figure out how to clone this one…


Mark Harvey

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I don't travel FOR beer, but I do get to have beer when I travel

Greetings my fellow beer lovers,
I travel on business.  Some years more than others and before every trip I look into what there is to drink wherever I'm headed.  My co-workers who travel with me have learned that I'll do this and they've all accepted it.  Breweries? Brewery tours? Brew Pubs? Where's the beer in this town?
I have taken photos and written down notes from the places I've been and now I am going to attempt to put those thoughts and photos here in an effort to chronicle where I've been and what I've had to drink.

The most recent trip I took was to Nashville, TN and Huntsville, AL.  There were a lot of places that I wanted to go to, but work is the primary reason for travel (not beer) so I went where time would allow me to go.
The first stop was for lunch and based on where we were and where we were heading we my co-worker friend and I decided to hit up Big River Grille & Brewing Works.  We had been there years before and it was a good place to grab a bite and some brew so we figured we'd head back.
It didn't take long to figure out what I was going to order.  Being an IPA fan I ordered their House Brand I.P.A. From their website - "This classic copper colored ale has a pronounced hop aroma and assertive bitterness. American grown Galena and Cascade hops are the star of this fragrant and citrusy dry-hopped masterpiece." 
The appearance was dark golden with little to no head and barely any lacing to speak of.
The aroma is primarily heavy caramel malt followed by light floral hops. Doesn't really hit the IPA range in my opinion.
The taste is malt forward followed by a quick bittering and floral and citrus hops. Malty sweet and not as hoppy as most of the IPAs I drink, but a nice beer on a hot day.

My overall take on it is that it is more of a crossover, not quite an IPA.  I liked it enough to order another.
We made our trek down to Huntsville after lunch and I starting thinking where we'd hit for dinner (and if there were any brewpubs in Huntsville).  Since I only had one night in town I thought I would hit a place that served more than a few of the local beers to get a taste of what Alabama has to offer.  That place was The Nook Tavern. With over 370 beers available and a huge draught beer list it was hard to know which beer direction to go.  I asked the guy running the place what he'd recommend in terms of local beers and he made some suggestions.  Since I had read up on the local breweries he pointed at the table next to us and said that three of the local brewers were there. It looked like a brewmaster summit of sorts. You know you're in a good place when it is where the brewers drink! Unfortunately he was out of all of the local IPAs.
I decided to turn my attention to a local Belgian style beer from Straight to Ale in Huntsville. Brother Joseph's Belgian Dubbel is a 7.0% ABV treat.  From their website, "Maimed in an accident that left him with a hunched back, Brother Joseph Zoettl worked in the St. Bernard Abbey power plant shoveling coal. In his spare time, Brother Joseph used found objects such as marbles and chunks of concrete and tile to build miniature shrines and buildings on the Abbey grounds. Over 40 years, he created 125 different models and replicas. Today, the Ave Maria Grotto covers three acres and is world-renowned as both a fun roadside attraction and an awe-inspiring collection of folk art. We have named our Belgian dubbel after Brother Joseph as a testament to his perseverance, his hard work, and his indomitable spirit. A full-flavored abbey-style ale with a complex taste and aroma, Brother Joseph’s Dubbel is filled with specialty malt and dark fruit character."

The appearance was a dark copper with a thick white head and nice lacing.  
The aroma was that of Belgian yeast, sweet caramel malt and honey, spice and dark fruits.
The taste is a little lighter than some of the Belgians I am accustomed to, but very nice.  Spicy, fruity with a nice caramel malt backbone.  The Belgian yeast profile is great. A solid beer.
Since The Nook was out of all the local IPAs I wanted to try I had a tough time making a choice for the next beer until I saw it...Rogue Ale's John John Dead Guy Ale...on tap.  I have previously written about my friend John Couchot who is the master distiller at Rogue (here) and since I've been trying to find other beers he's involved with. What's funny is that I had to go to Alabama to find a beer from Oregon. From the Rogue website: "Deep honey in color with a malt aroma, a caramel, vanilla, and oak finish."
The appearance was a medium amber color with little head.
The aromas of caramel malt, vanilla bean, whiskey and oak. Smelled fantastic!
The taste is complex.  Malty upfront, caramel and butter toffee, some hoppiness and fruit and a fantastic finish with vanilla, oak and bourbon.
At 6.4% ABV this beer is very drinkable (if you can find it). And it IS so worth finding!
So that ended my day of beers.  The next day I had work to do...I did and then had some lunch at Cracker Barrel (I love me some Cracker Barrel) - you can read about that part of the trip here.
My return trip took me through San Diego and what was a pretty close connecting flight turned into a delayed flight home.  With nothing better to do I decided to grab some dinner and what was close by? A little Karl Strauss Brewing Company place right next to my gate. Fantastic!
Needless to say with an IPA on the menu I went that direction.  Karl Strauss Brewing Company's Tower 10 IPA is a beer that I saw recently in the store, but hadn't made it into my shopping cart yet.
From the Karl Strauss Brewing Company's website: "Tower 10 IPA boasts hops from beginning to end, and everywhere in between. We fill the brew kettle to the brim with assertive Chinook hops, giving the beer its intense grapefruit and pine flavors that linger through its dry finish. After fermentation, we dry hop with a blend of Cascade and Centennial hops for a floral citrus aroma. A touch of lightly kilned caramel malts make Tower 10 a well balanced, full flavored IPA.
Mission Beach, the late 1980s. Amid a sea of neon bikinis, Tower 10 marked the spot where two college grads and a 75 year-old master brewer drew up plans for the first local craft brewery in San Diego since Prohibition. Named in honor of our first good idea, Tower 10 IPA is brewed to inspire the next one."
The appearance was a clear copper amber with nice foamy head and heavy lacing.
The aroma was primarily of floral and citrus hops, but there was a caramel malt and bread quality to the nose as well.
The taste was great.  Well balanced with moderate hop bitterness.  Caramel and toasted malts and a nice sweetness.  This is a West Coast IPA, but certainly not a hop bomb.  Great session beer...I had a couple waiting for my flight and at 7% ABV I didn't hobble onto the flight.  I'll definitely seek this one out next time I'm beer shopping.
Well, that's the beer side of the trip I took.  I'll be writing up more of my travels as time allows.


Mark Harvey

Friday, June 24, 2011

Black Diamond Brewing Co. Rampage Imperial IPA

Hello beer lovers and welcome to another edition of the NorCal Beer Blog's brew review.

Tonight’s featured beer is Black Diamond Brewing Co. Rampage Imperial IPA. This beer caught my eye while beer shopping (yes, I beer shop). Black Diamond’s other beers never caught my eye and honestly I hadn’t realized they were located in Concord, CA until I picked up the bottle of Rampage Imperial IPA. Being NorCal centric I figured I had better grab the bottle and see what Black Diamond Brewing Co. is all about.
From the Black Diamond Brewing Co. website: “A massive brew that is enormously aromatic with huge hop flavors wonderfully structured with a great malt body. The flavor comes on with huge notes of citrus, pine and resin which last into the crisp dry finish.”
Let’s get started!
Appearance: Pours slight copper/golden amber with a big white head and solid lacing from beginning to end.
Aroma: Dominant pine and citrus hops, tropical fruit as well as toasted and sweet malts. Oh, this is going to be GOOD.
Taste: Excellent and just like the aroma. Grapefruit, apricot, mango, pineapple with a little orange zest. Hop central. Slight caramel malt presence, but this is very hop forward.
Overall: A solid West Coast Imperial IPA. Very drinkable and at 9% ABV you’re certainly getting a whole lotta fantastic beer in every 22 oz. bottle. I’ll certainly pick up s’more of this one.


Mark Harvey

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lost Coast Alleycat Amber Ale

Hello beer lovers and welcome to another edition of the NorCal Beer Blog's brew review.

Tonight’s featured beer is Lost Coast Alleycat Amber Ale. I’ve been drinking Lost Coast beer for years and Alleycat Amber Ale was where my Lost Coast adventures began. I felt that it was appropriate to indulge in another six pack of Alleycat Amber Ale and review it. I’ve been moving away from lower ABV brews so I was a little rusty in my thoughts and feelings towards Alleycat.
From the Lost Coast website: “A full-flavored amber ale made with roasted caramel malt. Richly colored and medium-bodied, Alleycat is an assertive blend of malts with a sprightly cascade of hops”

Let’s get started!
Appearance: Pours a reddish copper color with a decent beige head and a little lacing.
Aroma: Sweet smelling malts, caramel, honey and mild hop and citrus notes.
Taste: Sweet, toasty, nutty…this is very well balanced amber with a nice subtle hop flavor. A nice spice to it as well.
Overall: Very enjoyable and smooth. At 4.8% ABV Alleycat is highly sessionable. The folks at Lost Coast never disappoint and Alleycat Amber Ale is well worth a place in the beer fridge.


Mark Harvey

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lagunitas Brewing Company Hairy Eyeball Ale

Hello beer lovers and welcome to another edition of the NorCal Beer Blog's brew review.

Tonight’s featured beer is Lagunitas Brewing Company’s Hairy Eyeball Ale. I believe I’ve made it quite clear that I love Lagunitas Brewing Company. At any given time you can find at least a few varieties of their beers in my beer fridge. Not only are they a NorCal brewery, but if I were stuck on a desert island and could only choose one brewery to supply my lonely self it’d be them. I know that’s a big statement to make and I am open to challenges on my personal preference – so bring it. I'd like to hear what brewery you'd like to be stranded with (Drakes Brewing is certainly a contender as well).

Alright, with that gauntlet being thrown down…from the Lagunitas website: “Our New Year's release for the seasoned beer folks … Big, brown warmer with several varieties of crystal malt. No actual eyeballs were added during the brewing of this beer.”
Let’s get started!
Appearance: Pours a very dark amber, almost chocolate in color. Dense head with a long lasting lacing.
Aroma: Reminds me of a barley wine. Dried drunken fruit, brown sugar, roasted malts and a slight citrus hop scent.
Taste: Caramel malt, raisins, chocolate and bourbon. A little sweet, a little boozy and a little bit of hops. Delicious!
Overall: Incredibly drinkable. Complex. Such a great beer. At 9.0% ABV your session might be short, but who cares…your eyeballs won’t get hairy, but could be bloodshot the next day. Highly recommended!


Mark Harvey

Monday, June 20, 2011

Stone Brewing Company Arrogant Bastard Ale

Hello beer lovers and welcome to another edition of the NorCal Beer Blog's brew review

Tonight’s featured beer is Stone Brewing Company Arrogant Bastard Ale. What can be said of Stone Brewing Company? Their beers are fantastic. The attitude is apparent. I guess when you’re beers are that good you can stand to have the bravado they do. Are you worthy? Probably not.

From ArrogantBastard.com: “Arrogant Bastard Ale - This is aggressive ale. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory–maybe something with a multi-million dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you it’s made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beverage will give you more sex appeal. Perhaps you think multi-million dollar ad campaigns make things taste better. Perhaps you’re mouthing your words as you read this.

At Stone Brewing, we believe that pandering to the lowest common denominator represents the height of tyranny - a virtual form of keeping the consumer barefoot and stupid. Brought forth upon an unsuspecting public in 1997, Arrogant Bastard Ale openly challenged the tyrannical overlords who were brazenly attempting to keep Americans chained in the shackles of poor taste. As the progenitor of its style, Arrogant Bastard Ale has reveled in its unprecedented and uncompromising celebration of intensity. There have been many nods to Arrogant Bastard Ale…even outright attempts to copy it… but only one can ever embody the true nature of liquid Arrogance!”
Let’s get started!
Appearance: Pours a deep copper with orange tones. Beautiful beer with a fantastic head and perfect lacing.
Aroma: Citrus and floral hop characteristics (I detect Chinook) with a faint earthy tone. Sweet caramel malts. Great blend of hops and malts.
Taste: Floral hops – a little citrus – is what hits me at first followed by the roasted malt and caramel malt flavors. Sweet and hoppy just like I like my beers. Balanced.
Overall: An amazing beer. Lighter bodied than what you’d expect this 7.2% ABV to be. Well crafted and one that I now must keep in the beer fridge at all times. You never know when you’ll need an Arrogant Bastard!


Mark Harvey