Beer Review – Dogfish Head 61 Pushes Boundaries by Bridging Them

We’re all busy. I get it.  Twitter, push notifications, and news scrolls have reprogrammed the way we go about getting information.  Soon enough, books may go the way of 8 track tapes or laser discs of the Director’s Cut of Young Einstein.  With that in mind and for those of you whose attention span becomes challenged over 144 characters (let alone 144 complete words) I’ll toss out a bold prediction right off the bat:

Bold Prediction for the Twitter Character Limit Attention Span People:

Sam Calgione will open a winery before the end of 2015

You could stop reading here and continue surfing for deals on plush giant microbes (the Ebola virus was a big hit with our kids) or soup tureens etched with Despicable Me Minions by the expert artisans at the Franklin Mint but you’d miss what could be an interesting review of Dogfish Head 61.  Remember how empty and out of touch you felt the day after Sharknado when you were the only one left out of the loop because you missed it? Don’t let that happen again.  Your Dunkin Donuts gift card is almost tapped out anyway and you don’t need the large Mocha Coolatta you’ll inevitably drown your sorrows in when you realize that you’ve been left out again because the rest of the world is all abuzz about this post.  By the way, it’ll only take 2 minutes to read.  I timed it.  Well, not yet because I don’t know what I’m actually going to write but I will.  Promise. (I kept my promise – it might take 3)

THIS JUST IN:  The editorial board reviewed the final draft and decided to move the review up in order to catch some readers who might already be suffering Google/Twitter Withdrawal DTs

photo-3

A picture says a thousand words but so does a number.  60, 75, 90, 120, 61.  One of those numbers is not like the others (OK, maybe two are but one is more not like the others – kind of like Hemmingway’s six-toed cats).  Knowing that Dogfish’s stock in trade is pushing boundaries and crafting unusual ales I figured I was in for something modestly challenging and potentially horrific, a.k.a., their ill-fated Au Courant.  I’m happy to report that my fears were the only things ill-fated.  61 is a really nice, complex, yet accessible craft beer.

Right off the bat you’ve got a crystal clear, effervescent ruby pour with small, quickly dissipating white head that throws off a bouquet of intrigue and inviting aromas

Yahtzee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yahtzee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

dominated by sour cherry/grape, mild citrus and earthy yeast notes.  You know those beers that practically make you want to drop everything (except the glass) and belt out the Portuguese version of Strawberry Letter 23?  Well, this is one of those.  It’s also perfect for those times when you have visions of Christiane Amanpour battling Treat Williams in the Yahtzee Thunder Dome while she lip-synchs Pee Wee Hermann’s version of Surfin’ Bird.  I know what you’re thinking… not another one of those beers.  I began to think that way too as the syrah must in this brew worked its magic alongside modestly sweet summer cherries and tart nectarine.  No real malt backbone or serious hoppy punch.  Instead, the flavors are strands suspended between delicate, yet sturdy spiral rails of malt and hops.  A veritable DNA Double Helix of craft beer.

The texture is both silky and light with lots of prickly carbonation that harkens back to that Yahtzee death match but this time the Thunder Dome is ringed by a second level where Attila The Hun impersonators (I assume they’re merely impersonators) sit behind vintage manual crank deli meat slicers slowly carving Boar’s Head Honey Smoked Turkey like a precision drill team.  Yes, yes, plenty of those beers too, I know.  Believe me, this really is a very different brew despite the common images it evokes.  For instance, its bi-polar finish is a thing of brewing artistry.  Crisp, abrasive, and dry, but with thin ribbons of velvety sweetness enticing another sip.  You suddenly find yourself departing the party in a conga line lead by Willem Defoe while singing the chorus of Nights On Broadway AND Juice Newton’s Queen Of Hearts at the same time.  Yep, it’s that beer.

Hybrid anythings are always sketchy.  Look at killer bees.  For a spectacularly funny write-up of the trouble with hybrids take a look at this great post by Beerbeque.  One of the funniest things I’ve read all year.  Dogfish Head 61 is a brazen and unabashed beer/wine hybrid that pulls it off seamlessly yet begs the question:  Is Sam trying to tell us something?  Is he going to start making wine or will he be content to play yenta between the wine and craft beer families.

So let’s see if I have this straight:

1.  Sam Calgione founds Dogfish Head Brewing in 1995 to brew interesting, bold beers unlike the bland industrial pale lagers that dominated (still do but to a lesser extent) American brewing.  “Off-centered ales for off-centered people™” was and remains their motto.

2.  Over time, Dogfish Head turns out an impressive, growing, and unconventional lineup of brews, including their Ancient Ales and Music Themed series.

3.   More and more of their beers are sold in large format, corked, wine style bottles.

A hybrid of a different kind

A hybrid of a different kind

4.   Professor Calgione launches a well publicized and successful “beer vs. wine” food pairing campaign featuring tasting dinners pairing various beer and wine styles with each course to highlight the versatility of craft beer.  During those dinners, Sam champions craft beer while his guest nemesis for the evening takes up the cause for wine.  A veritable Matalin versus Carville battle royale.

5.   In spite of the widening adoption of canning within the craft beer industry, Sam Calgione steadfastly and without hesitation has proclaimed that Dogfish Head beers will not be distributed in cans because it runs counter to Dogfish’s efforts to elevate craft beer by presenting it in large format bottles.  Can you say “up-market” or “wineification?”

6.  Dogfish begins to brew beer with elements, processes, and ingredients borrowed from wine makers such as Red & White, Noble Rot, and finally….. Sixty-One.

Is he wavering in his commitment and passion to craft beer or merely pushing the brewing envelope yet again into uncharted territory? Blaspheming apostate or brilliant mad scientist.  Hell, in Medieval Europe brilliant scientists were often branded as apostates (just dust off the Ouija Board and ask Galileo) so the distinction may not be all that easily defined.

Regardless of his intentions, DH61 is an interesting, well-crafted, refreshing, and versatile craft beer that pushes boundaries by bridging them.

Cheers!

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Beer Review: A Hurricane’s Hoppy Lining

Lasting image of Hurricane Sandy

Lasting image of Hurricane Sandy

First things first: There’s nothing good about hurricanes.  Whether Sandy, Katrina, Andrew, or ones yet to be formed and named, they kill people, tear apart families, destroy homes, businesses, futures, and hope.  That said, some of the finest examples of human kindness and compassion are often tragedy’s most lasting memories.  First Responders and nameless neighbors risking their own lives at the height of the storm to save people they’ve never met and may never know.  Physically unaffected people from every state in the country and from countries around the world donating their time, resources and money to help crippled communities get back on their feet.  It’s in that spirit that a small craft brewery which recently moved from Cherry Hill, NJ (just a couple miles from my blogging global corporate campus and research facilities) to Somerdale, NJ lent a hand by brewing a special beer with profits donated to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

So THAT's what "FU" stood for all these years...

So THAT’s what “FU” stood for all these years…

Just about everyone in NJ and all along the Northeastern Coast has more than one memory of Hurricane Sandy.  Those of us who live in the area remember all too well where we were when it struck land and forever changed the geography of much of New Jersey’s shoreline.  I was lucky – sort of.  I missed all the excitement because while Sandy was wreaking havoc I was tethered to a hospital bed at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, 12 floors up with so many IVs in me that they must have thought I was an octopus.  Too add insult to professionally planned and executed injury (a.k.a. major open abdominal surgery), none of those IVs delivered craft beer (but one offered up something a little more potent).  Anyway, Sandy hit about 24 hours after I was told I might not survive the night and less than 24 hours after middle of the night trips through deserted corridors into the bowels of the hospital for emergency diagnostic studies.  As I said – I was lucky.  The rest of you aren’t.  I’m still here to pester you with these posts.

While recuperating at home and rebuilding my strength with a diet of matzo ball soup and Han Dynasty Dan Dan Noodles I saw a tweet from my home town craft brewers announcing that they were going to brew a very limited beer with all profits going to Sandy relief efforts.  One reason why the release was going to be very limited was simply the fact that they couldn’t bottle this beer.  It was going to be distributed in kegs only because there was no way they’d get approval for labels.  No F’n way.  Not for a beer called FU Sandy Ale.  “Forever Unloved”, yeah, right.

Flying Fish Brewery did a great thing by donating all of the profits from every keg of FU Sandy to relief efforts but they did something else which has gone largely unnoticed:  They brewed a spectacular beer.  I’ll admit it.  I’m often a critic of local brews, strongly favoring the bolder, brighter beers of the California Coast, especially San Diego’s flagship West Coast IPAs.  As I wrote a few months back in my post on the Converging Coasts of Craft Beer, I checked out many years ago but never left.  When it comes to a bias for West Coast craft beer, I’m guilty as charged.  That said, Flying Fish flat out nailed it with FU Sandy.

I missed this beer when it was initially released, chasing Twitter feed sightings from bar to bar in the Cherry Hill area the day it was tapped.  No luck.  Not until this past Sunday night’s Fathers Day outing to South Jersey’s finest craft beer bar, the Pourhouse.  My buddy and last H.O.P.P.E.R. standing and I were long overdue for what used to be a semi-regular Sunday night research session (work week readjustment therapy session is more like it).  After some well-deserved abuse for having become near strangers for our recent lack of patronage, Marci, their rock startender, said “we have the last keg of FU Sandy on.”  That was all I needed to hear.  No need to read the tap list.  My Fathers Day started with a breakfast in bed treat with the whole family (including the newest editions, Guinea Pygmalians I & II – my manes, not the kids’, they’ve changed names so many times that I honestly don’t know what they are) and it would end with an unexpected craft beer treat.  A Happy & Hoppy Fathers Day!

Flying Fish describes FU Sandy as a hybrid Pale Wheat Ale brewed with an experimental hop variety dubbed ADHA 483. The experiment worked.  Gloriously so.  Big, bright tropical aromas exploded from the glass.  Plenty of fresh mango, guava, and grapefruit.  Those flavors carried through to the flavor, balanced beautifully by the lightly toasted, biscuity notes from the wheat side of this blended style family.  Even though this isn’t an IPA it has all of the hallmarks of an exceptional one – a West Coast profile at that.  Silky mouthfeel and a crisp, moderately dry finish.  A legitimate contender for the best craft beer I’ve had so far this year along with Stone Enjoy By 12.21.12, Three Floyds Zombie Dust, and (512) Pecan Porter.  By far the best beer that’s ever come out of Flying Fish and one worthy of mention along with the best brewed anywhere.  A Heady Topper topper hands down!  Don’t get me wrong, these guys turn out a few other really nice brews including Exit 1, Exit 6, and Exit 16, but this one is in a class all it’s own – a world class.

So while Jersey may best be known for Springsteen, Bon Jovi, The Sopranos, and those horrific tomatoes, I nominate Flying Fish FU Sandy for a spot on the list of Jersey’s icons.  It’s that good and it did some good.

Cheers!

Beer Review (Quest) – Ballast Point Indra Kunindra

I don’t remember where I was or what I was doing when I read about a beer brewed with coconuts, kaffir lime leaves, cayenne pepper, and madras curry but I know I was intrigued.  And pissed.  I also know that I was most likely minding my own business while possibly working up my design for Bose Fool Cancelling Headphones™ (more on that another time).  Then I read what had to be a preview of this very limited release by Ballast Point in San Diego and all bets were off.  So much for minding my own business.  Now I had to make it my business to get a hold of that beer when it was released.  That’s where the pissed comes in (I’m pretty sure nobody else typed those words in that exact order anywhere else in the world today – or yesterday – and I should probably apologize for it but I’m in a bit of a mischievous mood so I won’t).

Indra Kunindra Label - Its All In There

Indra Kunindra Label – Its All In There

Ballast Point is a pretty small operation in the first place.  They pulled distribution of their regular lineup from NJ (and I believe the rest of the Least Coast) for a couple of years around 2010/2011 because they couldn’t consistently meet demand.  Fortunately, Philadelphia is their top distribution market outside of San Diego and Southern California so if I needed a fix of Sculpin or Sea Monster it was occasionally available across the bridge (although you’re really crossing the river and since the river and the bridge are, by necessity, perpendicular, you can’t cross both at the same time.  Geometrically impossible.  Maybe the people with bridge phobias simply figured that out a long time ago).

So anyway, the words “very limited release” really meant “no f’n way you’re getting your hands on this one out in New Jersey.”  Very well.  The coconut shells and imaginary horse are next to the craft beer fridge for a reason.  The next Quest for the Holy Ale is on! Soon enough, some reviews are popping up about Indra Kunindra.  I managed to ignore the details (didn’t want to be influenced and they’d probably be wrong anyway) and focused on the location of the reviewers:  all San Diego/SoCal.  Appeared to be no distribution outside of that region.  Not one to be easily turned into a newt I started practicing my coconut shell clip-clops.

Most of the reviews were from people lucky enough to sample it at the source – the brewery at Scripps Ranch.  Thanks to my newfound fear of bridges I didn’t see myself driving out to San Diego anytime soon.  Especially not with that huge river bisecting the country – pretty sure I’d need to use a bridge to get across it.  Hope of a successful quest was beginning to fade when an opportunity presented itself to actually go to San Diego on an airplane.  No need to confront a bridge.  I hadn’t been to San Diego in over 10 years and the closest I came then to craft beer was craftily throwing back insults at Dick’s Last Resort in the Gaslamp Quarter.  The timing was perfect – or so I thought.  Indra was still pouring in the tasting room based upon the website and Twitter feed.  The day before I left they let me know that they thought I’d arrive before it kicked.  Panic.

No time to pack the coconut shells or invisible horse.  Not sure how the TSA luminaries would handle them anyway.  The Quest was going old school:  Planes, Trains & Automobiles (moving walkways replacing the trains).  I arrived mid afternoon and headed straight for the prize.  Finding the brewery proved a bit challenging.  I passed it twice before realizing that it’s a stealth brewery.  Completely unassuming space in a small section of a large corporate park facility.  No glitz, glamor, or stools in the tasting room either.  No matter,  I’d been seated in a D14 next to a custom chicken coup designer for the past six hours so I didn’t need a stool – I needed an Indra Kunindra.

Ballast Point Brewery Tasting Room (Scripps Ranch)

Ballast Point Brewery Tasting Room (Scripps Ranch)

Just in time! If I’d gotten there a few hours later I’d have been out of luck (though they still had some Indra bombers in the fridge to take home as stowaways – which I took advantage of).  The pint glass at the lower right corner above is the beer I’d flown 3,000 miles for (well, not exactly but we’ll go with that for now).  More often than not I find that beers brewed with unusual ingredients are actually quite tame.  The exotic additions used so sparingly as to require focused dedication just so that you can say, with absolute confidence, that you’re pretty sure you taste them.  Not so with this brew.

Indra Kunindra is everything the name implies – whatever that is.  It’s nothing short of astounding in terms of huge, aggressive, diverse, and completely unexpected flavors – despite the fact the label tells you exactly what flavors to expect. It’s that different.  Pours a clear onyx with faint ruby highlights with a very thin disk of a medium brown head.  The aromas more than hint at what’s to come.  Lime, toasted coconut, cocoa, and anise fill the nose.  The first sip is borderline stunning.  If you didn’t pay attention to the aroma or to the label you’d probably think you were having a sensory seizure – signals crisscrossing and colliding at frightful velocity.  The tart kaffir lime smacks the front of your tongue followed by heavily roasted barley, coconut, dark chocolate, curry, and burnt toast.  Three or four sips later I’m wondering if I missed the lit matches I must have unwittingly swallowed before realizing the the letters on the label spelling out “cayenne pepper” meant that cayenne pepper was in here too – and a healthy dose at that.  The mouthfeel was silky with prickly carbonation and the finish extremely dry.

I love Thai food but hate Thai beer (the real Singha Thai beer that is).  Ballast Point’s Indra Kunindra is Thai Coconut Curry in a pint glass.  That said, I wouldn’t necessarily pair it with Thai Drunken Noodles or Evil Jungle Prince Curry – the flavors are too similar.  I loved this beer but couldn’t drink two of them.  Probably couldn’t drink two in a week.  It’s just that intense.  Certainly not for everyone.  A polarizing brew to be sure.  I was able to bring a bottle home to share with G-Lo of the Booze Dancing Crew and his impressions were similar to mine.

 Turns out that if I’d been more patient I wouldn’t have had to endure airport security lines or a TSA fondling because this past winter Ballast Point ramped up production of Indra and it’s been freaking out lesser brews on craft beer shelves all around here.  I even had a chance to share a one-off Sculpin at Philadelphia’s Good Dog Bar  with the brewer who created Indra’s recipe and earned the chance to brew it at Ballast Point (later to be hired there) during Philly Beer Week last year.

Like I said, Indra Kunindra is not for everyone, not by a long shot, but I really enjoyed it.  Then again, I really enjoyed One Crazy Summer and Fog Of War too but don’t hold that against me.

This guy really liked it too:

Elf on a Craft Beer (be thankful its not an animated GIF)

Elf on a Craft Beer (be thankful its not an animated GIF)

Let me know how much you loved, hated, fear, or need to find this brew…

Cheers!

Beer Review – 21st Amendment Lower De Boom

I’ve learned a great deal from my children – especially my daughters.  At 6 and 8 they are virtuosos at the finer art art of changing their minds.  At my age (which will be the subject of a separate post in the not too distant future) the simple inertia of decades of synaptic struggles doesn’t allow for lightning quick shifts in the direction of thought or decisions already made.  During those 4+ years when I wasn’t writing because I was being Natty Lightboarded I decided that I wasn’t going to write craft beer reviews if and when I started writing again.  My enabler and craft beer wingman G-Lo of Its Just The Booze Dancing kept urging me to post reviews – to copy some from my archives on RateBeer – but I’d made up my mind.  No beer reviews.  Not interested.  Plenty of great reviewers out there and some of them even know what wet horse blankets and freshly filed Indian Ocean cuttlebone taste like.  At least they say they do.  I don’t know.  I’ve always had a very hard time distinguishing between Indian Ocean and Bellighausen Sea cuttlebones.  That’s why I leave the serious reviews to the experts.  Then I read a review of Coronado Idiot IPA that left me wondering if it was written by the brew’s namesake.  One line in particular caught my attention: “…with serpentine and velvety layers of rich, dark fruits that ascend to vinousness.” Um, OK…. What the f*ck does that even mean!?

Suddenly the lessons of my daughters came to mind.  If they can change their minds at the drop of a Baby Alive curling iron, so can I.  So I’ll occasionally dabble in craft beer reviews (already posted a soft opening of sorts with reviews of Black Crown and New Albion Ale) but they won’t be quite as traditional as the ones you might find elsewhere.  I have to keep myself entertained after all.

No mirrors were harmed in the staging of this picture.  Honest

No mirrors were harmed in the staging of this picture. Honest

So I’m meticulously negotiating the ample grocery aisles at Wegmans sourcing ingredients for my Schlomo Kameamea’s Kamikaze Sliders when I lost my way.  Somewhere between the miniature King’s Hawaiian rolls and the Golden Frozen Latkes I found myself in the craft beer section.  Still not sure how I got there.  Never did find any bruises.  My handlers apparently don’t leave marks.  In any event, next thing I know I’m inspecting a previously unseen and unusually small cube of cans from 21st Amendment Brewery.

Full disclosure: I’m not a huge barleywine fan.  I often find them just a bit too intense and burdened.  Screaming for attention like the drama queens of craft beer.  Stone’s Old Guardian and Sierra Nevada Bigfoot are exceptions.  Lower De Boom intrigued me for a couple of reasons.  21st Amendment claims this to be an intensely hoppy brew – unique for a barleywine.  In fact, they’re description is decidedly anti-barleywine:

Lower De Boom is a powerfully balanced American-Style barleywine packed with citrusy Pacific Northwest hops. Chestnut brown in the glass with notes of toffee malt, fruitcake, toast, piney hops and more than a hint of alcohol. Our liquid gold is the first American craft beer in a can offered in the traditional barleywine “nip” size. Perfect to enjoy sipped at the end of a long day. More than that and you might feel like the boom has been lowered on you.

The second thing that intrigued me was the size of the cans.  Not sure what they mean by traditional “nip” size cans.  They’re far from traditional.  Look like they belong in the Wawa cooler next to Starbucks Double Shot cans – though they’d deliver a decidedly different buzz.  I know – I know – get on with the review.  Fine,  Sort of.

Here are a few things Lower De Boom didn’t remind me of:

  • Ton Loc
  • Reruns of either the first or second seasons of Miami Vice
  • Bobble head doll collections (especially dogs)
  • Barleywine

OK, so one of these things is not like the others but the list is still accurate.  Lower De Boom doesn’t taste like any barleywine I’ve had but looks like plenty of them once freed of the nifty little cylinders.  Clear walnut/chestnut brown with mild carbonation supporting a very thin dusky tan head which disappears as quickly as a Salman Rushdie impersonator rounding the corner towards a flash fatwa.  Bold citrusy, piney, grapefruit aromas along with caramel and a hint of white pepper.  Things get a little weird in he flavor – but not in a bad way.  Hops still there.  Chewy, resiny, piney hops take the first few swipes before getting steamrolled by a Mavericks-like breaker of rich, sweet  roasted barley.  Caramel, toffee, vanilla, bittersweet chocolate and some snack fruits (Turkish apricots or figs – take your pick – I couldn’t figure it out).  I thought the texture was a bit thin for a barleywine but that improved the overall drinkability.  Despite the 11.5% ABV I didn’t get a big, boozy punch of alcohol in the finish.  A hint of warming perhaps.  Otherwise the finish is smooth, satisfying, and far less sweet than expected.  No vinousness, vinousing, vinophilia, or Venus and Mars anywhere to be found (all due respect to Paul McCartney & Wings’ greatly underrated album).

Bottom line is that Lower De Boom is an interesting and well-crafted brew.  For me it’s more of an American Strong than a Barleywine but my name’s not on the svelt little can so 21st Amendment can call it whatever they like.  They’ve earned that and more.

Have you raised a Lower De Boom? If so chime in and let me know what you thought.

Cheers!

Stop Bashing The Yard House – It’s Your Date’s Best Gateway Beer Bar

Classic Yard House Logo

Being a craft beer evangelist is fraught with many dangers.  Wondering if I’ll actually have to dig a pair of Sanz-A-Belt slacks out of the Do Not Go There Drawer is only one of them.  Another is the risk of missing a critical plot twist in Homeland while responding to a friend in need – a friend in a far away, unfamiliar bar.  A friend in need of emergency advice before the bartender loses his or her patience.  I get those texts so often that some of my buddies don’t even bother to type words.  They simply send the name of the bar or send a picture of the tap list (often a daunting challenge to decipher after they’ve already had a couple of starter brews).

A couple weeks ago a good friend was on his way to Kansas City for business and knew he’d have a few hours of free time one evening so he asked me to suggest a good bar.  Not knowing where he’d be staying I set out to look into the local KC craft beer scene by checking out some reviews on RateBeer.  Before long I began reading multiple reviews of the Yard House and, being somewhat familiar with the bar, I was surprised to see so many negative comments.  First things first, I sent my buddy there (though he never made it), then I went back to the reviews.  Some clear patterns emerged.  The more I read, the more I understood the reasons for the complaints but the more I disagreed with them – for the most part.

The Yard House is a moderately large chain.  By my count there are 44 currently open and 8 more on the way.  I’ve been to two of them: Scottsdale, AZ and Pasadena, CA.  As best as I can recall I’ve visited each location 4 or 5 times and I’d happily return for another 4 or 5 sessions.  So why is it that my opinion of the Yard House differs so significantly from that of so many other craft beer fans?   Simple.  They’re all wrong.  That’s usually the case – well, maybe not always (I did say “usually”).

Here’s the thing: The Yard House isn’t a craft beer bar and it doesn’t hold itself out as one.  Unfortunately, many of the people who give it poor reviews do it from the wrong perspective.  They hold it to the same standards as a they would the Toronado Pub in San Francisco, Blind Tiger Ale House in NYC or Map Room in Chicago.  The comparison is unfair.  No Yard House location with its 120+ gleaming taps can match any of those iconic craft beer bars.  Again, it doesn’t try to – doesn’t need to.

Nice Job With Those Pours

Nice Job With Those Pours

The Yard House is more than just beer – and there’s a lot of that.  All of the locations have a similar, though not identical,  industrial design, large casually upscale pub-influenced menu and classic ’70s & ’80s rock.  Who can get enough of REO Speedwagon, Flock of Seagulls & Dexy’s Midnight Runners?  Not me – and I’ve tried.

The star of each space remains the beer.  Most locations have well over 100 taps, usually arranged around a large center island surrounded by a stainless steel bar.  Sleek, clean, industrial, purposeful.  So with over 100 taps what is everybody complaining about? (Well, not everyone complained.   I noticed a Canuck who still hasn’t figured out that Canada is Milwaukee’s largest suburb posted some complimentary remarks).

The truth is that craft beer flows from only a minority of those 100 taps.  It bears repeating: this isn’t a craft beer bar.  When I want to visit a world class craft beer bar in Scottsdale I hit Papago Brewing but when I want to catch a game, listen to some Men Without Hats and have a Bear Republic Racer 5 or Deschutes Black Butte Porter, I’m heading to the Yard House.  Granted, many of the taps are domestic and import Big Beer swill (Bud, Miller, Coors, Molson, Corona, Stella, etc) or widely available “Big Craft” (Sam Adams, Shiner), but you’ll find a handful of solid craft choices as well.  One criticism I do have is that local craft brewers aren’t well represented.  Last time I visited the Scottsdale location they only had one Four Peaks brew and no other Arizona breweries and there were no Craftsman handles in Pasadena.

Typical YardHouse Tap Island

Typical YardHouse Tap Island

That said, craft beer fans can multitask here.  While enjoying a New Belgium Ranger IPA they can introduce their buddy or, better yet, their second date to a New Belgium Fat Tire (OK, maybe handing her something with “fat” on the label would present additional challenges regarding plans/hopes for later that evening but you get the picture).  We often talk about gateway beers such as Blue Moon.  Perhaps the Yard House is a gateway beer bar.  Yes, the tap list skews a bit heavily towards quantity over quality but there are some gems in there.  Might not be diamonds like a Founders KBS but there will be a few gleaming rubies and with such a wide spectrum there are plenty of opportunities to help open minds and educate palates.

And for the hard core craft beer geek (like me), when the game’s over at the Yard House Scottsdale there just might be an Alaskan Pilot Series Double Black IPA with your name on it in the cooler at Papago down the road.

Cheers!

He’Brew Jewbelation Sweet Sixteen – The Tribe Has Spoken

Haven't seen much of Long lately

Long Duck Dong in 16 Candles

I know what you’re thinking (which is even more impressive than it seems because I don’t even have a clue how I’m going to end this sentence).  What is Long Duck Dong doing as a lead photo for a beer review?  Simple.  This isn’t a traditional beer review.  There are plenty of great craft beer review sites and blogs that focus on reviews but this isn’t one of them.  Its not that I don’t like them – I do – and I have plenty of them right here on Ratebeer (go ahead, take a peek but come back for the good stuff).  I’ll get to my impressions of the beer in a bit but there are a few other things about Shmaltz Brewing and The Chosen Beer folks I want to get to before then.

I feel a certain connection to the Shmaltz Brewery.  Their beers are brewed and bottled (some of them) in Brooklyn.  I was brewed and swaddled in Brooklyn.  They moved to California (in partnership with Mendocino Brewing) for a while.  I moved to California for a while.  They’re Jewish – I guess.  I’m Jewish – again (long story – short first marriage).  They’re irreverent.  I have a PhD in Irreverent Communications and Sarcasm.  So its only fitting that I say a few words about HeBrew Jewbelation Sweet Sixteen.

This brew is not your Bubbie’s Manischewitz.  That stuff is fowl.  If you like Manischewitz wines, I don’t want to hear from you.  Your judgment is flawed.  Our people aren’t wine makers.  Not in our skill set.  We’re really good at comedy, running Hollywood studios, swimming, the occasional whopper white collar crime, and endodontics but we don’t have what it takes to make great wine.  Must have something to do with that grape stomping thing – a little too close to manual labor.

So wine making is out but what about brewing craft beer?  Shmaltz has been at it a while with some respectable success.  What’s truly surprising is that they don’t have a physical brewery.  Their beers are brewed under contract through a partnership with Mendocino Brewing.  The Jewbelation Series is their version of anniversary brews and that’s where Sweet Sixteen comes in to play (or out to play).  The concept is simple: celebrating 16 years of brewing by releasing a beer with 16 malt varieties, 16 hop varieties, and coming in at 16% ABV.   Like I said, simple concept.  Simple but screwy.  Right off the bat I’m a little leery of a craft beer that’s tied to a gimmicky theme and this one’s got classic Jewish schtick all over it.  Would anyone notice if they swapped out the Palisade hops for Nelson Sauvin?  I don’t think so.  So the whole 16 malts/16 hops is nonsense (though I’m thrilled they used flaked quinoa – checked that off the craft beer bucket list).

Here’s something that makes more sense in relation to Jewish beer than 16 hop varieties, 16 Jew varieties:

OK, 17 if you count Simon & Garfunkel as 2 but they were Bar Mitzvad together so I’m counting them as 1.  I’m not so sure the 16 malts and 16 hops would safely navigate the Hora, but once that 16% ABV kicks in any of them still spinning would soon need the services of a doctor (fortunately there’ll be plenty to chose from at any Jewish party).

He'Brew Jewbelation Sweet 16

He’Brew Jewbelation Sweet 16

Is it a good beer?  Well… I don’t love it but it does some things right.  It’s an impressive looking brew.  A ribbon of liquid obsidian pours into the glass with just the faintest glints of deep ruby highlights.  It’s got a thin, creamy dark tan head and plenty of thick lacing.  Intense aroma of coffee and bittersweet chocolate with a touch of white pepper that hints at the parting blow to come.  With all those malt and hop varieties I expected the flavors to mimic a combination of Hava Nagila & the Harlem Shake but, surprisingly, they were closer to the Hustle.  And while we’re on the subject of organized dances, here’s why we only attach ourselves to one another and go in circles:

Why we only dance the Hora

Why we only dance the Hora

Anyway, back to the brew.  Pretty straightforward imperial stout profile with robust coffee, cocoa bitterness, dark fruits (plum, cherry, raisin), molasses, and a bit of rye.  The mouthfeel seemed at times chewy yet also a bit thin.  The finish was long and sweet with a parting punch of alcohol – almost bourbony.

So in the end I can’t say I was blown away by the beer but I wasn’t disappointed either.  It has a place.  I’d proudly bring it to my next Shiva call.  After all, it’s a perfect brew for cutting through the somber emotions and horrific fish tray aromas at those things.  Its Big, Bold & Boozy.  In a newly coined and appropriately Jewish word: its “Babsy.”

Would you have preferred a picture of Mandy Patinkin?

Barbra Streisand (Hebrew but NOT a He’Brew celebrity endorser)

L’Chaim!

A Taste of Craft Beer History Reveals Today’s Higher Standards

A few weeks ago I hit one of the larger craft beer retailers in the area in search of nothing in particular.  Just looking to pick up a few options for the coming weekend.  No agenda.  All Quests for a Holy Ale temporarily suspended.  Just as well, I’d left my armor and coconuts at home and had I encountered Tim or a ferocious rabbit in the tequila aisle I’d have had to have run away for I’d also left my Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch in the booster seat of my car – the pink one (the seat – not the car).

Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch

Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch

Anyway,  unprepared to dispatch with a mortal foe I suspended the Quest and perused the aisles for less dangerous options.  Then a powder blue six pack in the Sam Adams section caught my eye.  New Albion Ale.  What? I’m pretty sure I would have noticed a tricked out DeLorean in the lot so I didn’t think this beer was delivered in a time machine.  Probably a good thing because I doubt the hops would have tolerated close proximity to a flux capacitor.  Something tells me florescent lamps are far more friendly.  OK, so if it wasn’t transported in time from circa 1980 then it had to have been brewed recently.  Turns out it was.  Samuel Adams brewed it using the original recipe with New Albion founder, Jack McAuliffe.  News to me.  So much for keeping up with he latest craft beer news.

New Albion Ale (brewed Samuel Adams)

New Albion Ale (brewed by Samuel Adams)

New Albion Brewing didn’t have a long run.  Even though they were only around for 6 years (1976 – 1982), their flagship hoppy pale, New Albion Ale, was critically regarded as a game changer.  It was one of the original legitimate craft beers along with Anchor Steam (already an elder statesman having been first brewed in 1971) and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.  Considered revolutionary in 1977 when Alan O’Day ruled the charts with Undercover Angel, I wondered how it would stand up to my modern palate.

Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada Pale are brewing stronger than ever.  They’re practically living craft beer dinosaurs like Galapagos Tortoises, Gila Monsters or Abe Vigoda.  As much as I still love to grab an Anchor Steam from time to time, I don’t feel as though I’m tasting history when I pour it.  New Albion, on the other hand, speaks differently to me.  Samuel Adams revived the wooly mammoth with this one and I really felt as though I’d be drinking back in time as I poured it, appropriately, into one of their glasses.

Nice rich amber pour.  Modestly hazy.  Supporting a short, dusky white head.  Good looking brew.  Not a whole lot going on in the aroma.  A little citrus.  A little toasted malt.  Unfortunately, the wallflower aroma was telling.  Sadly, the flavor was uninspiring.  Modestly hoppy with caramel and milk chocolate notes.  Nothing wrong – not unbalanced, just not worthy of having been a wingman in craft beer’s first attack squadron.  Was I being too harsh?  I have that tendency from time to time so I thought I’d check with the crowd over at RateBeer to see what the wider consensus was.  The reviews of New Albion largely agreed with my basic impression.  Nothing special here.  Not a drain pour by any stretch but certainly not a world class brew.

Not by today’s standards.  And that’s where the magic and legacy of Jack McAuliffe became apparent.  Our standards have grown with the wider variety and bigger, bolder brews that New Albion helped pave the way for. We expect more.  Hell, Sierra Nevada Pale barely gets noticed against a backdrop of today’s hoppy standard bearers like Pliny the Elder, Hopslam, Ruination or Nugget Nectar as a result of its own success.

So in the end, New Albion Ale came across as, well, ordinary, but thanks in part to the handful of years when it was regarded as a pioneering brew, it set the stage for today’s extraordinary brews.  Cheers to the hoppy history lesson!