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!

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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!