November 30, 2009

Victory Yakima Twilight

The Victory Yakima Twilight - a dark IPA, and seemingly nothing to do with the movie Twilight - was the beer I had to kick off my Black Friday festivities. And what a good choice it was!

While it's a dark beer - it pours a deep, reddish brown - the smell of the hops really come through. You get that wonderful grapefruity/piney smell with a nice hint of toasted malt. The taste is overwhelmingly hoppy but I think nicely balanced with bready malts and even some chocolate. While I think it's very drinkable, it is on the bitter side and may be a bit much for some people - including my friend who tasted it, made a face, looked at me and said, while shaking her head, "Oh, Hel". She just doesn't get how I can take the bitterness of the beers I drink.

This is definitely a strong ale. It comes in at 8.9% ABV (which is why I only had one; I knew I was in for a long day of drinking). It's only available through January, so be sure and get one while you can.

November 28, 2009

Santa's Butt

Is it blasphemous to talk about Santa's Butt? If it is, then I guess I'll be smited (is that even a word?) because I have to write about this beer.

My best friend and I have an annual tradition of spending Black Friday drinking. It started many, many years ago by accident. She was home from college for the holiday and we decided to get together for lunch. It turned in to a drinking lunch and we had what can only be described as one of the best days ever. I don't think it really turned in to an annual thing until years later (and there have been a couple of years here and there we've been unable to get together) but for the most part, we make it a point to keep the tradition going.

Yesterday was no exception. We had lunch at the wonderful Isaac Newton's. I've written about them before, but it bears repeating that they're one of the best beer bars I've found outside of Philadelphia. Their bartenders are really knowledgeable, and they always have an amazing array of bottled and draft beers.

Which brings me back to Santa's Butt. I had to try it because it sounded good, but also because of the name (I guess I was channeling my inner 12-year old boy). I'm glad I did!

Santa's Butt is brewed by Ridgeway Brewing, which is in the UK. It's a very drinkable winter porter - perfect for those cold winter nights that are almost upon us. It pours a nice, dark brown that shows some red highlights if held up toward the light. The smell is mostly of malts - nice, roasty malts. There's also some coffee, caramel and toffee. There's definitely a coffee taste to this beer, and even some chocolate. It was a bit hoppier tasting than you might expect, given the smell. I found that to be a good thing, which shouldn't be surprising to anyone. It's also only 6% ABV, making it easy to enjoy more than one.

There's an interesting explanation for the name of the beer: in England ‘butt’ refers to a type of barrel used for brewing - a very large barrel that holds 108 imperial gallons. Back in the day, breweries put their beers in a large butt for storage.

Bottom line (pun intended) - grab Santa's Butt if you see one. You'll enjoy it much more than a lump of coal in your stocking.

November 19, 2009

San Diego Brewery Tour

Just got back on Tuesday from a nice 5-day vacation in beautiful San Diego. Had a great time. The weather was perfect - blue, cloudless skies every day. Temps in the 60s-70s. I even went for a nice, 10 mile run on the boardwalk by the beach and along the bay in preparation for the 1/2 marathon I'm running Sunday.

What really made the vacation perfect was the brewery tour I went on while I was out there. The tour included stops at Stone, Ballast Point, and San Diego Brewing. What an amazing day!

We started with a stop at Stone. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. The grounds are amazing and there's a beautiful garden in which you can enjoy your brews. They had some hops growing on the vine, although, admittedly, California isn't the best climate for growing hops. The main bar area is all light and huge windows overlooking the garden. We had 5 tastings there, including the Pale Ale, Porter, and IPA. I finished with an oak-aged Arrogant Bastard that was heavenly.

Next stop was Ballast Point. The best part about a brewery tour? Not worrying about driving yourself and roadies. Enjoyed a Sublimely Self Righteous on the way.

We were led on a tour of the brewery at Ballast Point. This is a much different brewery than Stone. Truthfully, it's a store front in an industrial park. (Actually, a lot of breweries are in industrial parks.) It reminded me of the post office or a FedEx location. I mean, obviously the coolest post office EVER since there were taps right there with some of the best beers, but it was a small window you'd walk up to and give the girl your order. I had some Big Eye, Wahoo and Yellowtail Pale Ale. I've mentioned before - Ballast Point can do no wrong in my mind, and being there proved it to me all the more.

Our final stop was San Diego Brewing, and I treated myself to the Ballast Point Sculpin for the ride.

San Diego Brewing Company is a restaurant/brewery. Here I had the wonderful Hopnotic and the San Diego Amber. I also, thankfully, had lunch! It was about time to get some food in me. I had a wonderful mahi-mahi sandwich. We'd made our food choices earlier in the day, and I'd chosen fresh fruit as my side order. As usually happens with a couple of beers, I decided to put healthy eating on hold for a bit and changed up the fruit for french fries. Wise choice!

This was a really great way to spend a day. Our guide, Mindy, was very knowledgeable and told us lots of fun facts about the breweries. She also put up with us as the day wore on and we got louder and - I can only imagine - more annoying. If you're going to be in the San Diego area, check out Brewery Tours of San Diego. You won't be disappointed!

November 4, 2009

Lost Abbey The Angel's Share

Great back story to the name of this beer, which connoisseurs of whiskey may know, but I had never heard. When distillers of whiskey age their whiskey for many years, some of the whiskey evaporates. They refer to this evaporation as "the angel's share".

It's an apt name for this beer as the brewers at Lost Abbey age the beer for a year in a bourbon barrel, which is evident in the taste.

I decided to try this beer because I've been writing a lot about IPAs. I can't get over my love of them, but think it's only fair to write about all the wonderful varieties of beer available.

The Angel's Share is an American strong ale, which is a term that refers to a strong beer (greater than 7% ABV) that doesn't fit in to another existing category. Beers termed strong ale typically share certain characteristics - they're usually dark brown to black in appearance and have a strong hop flavor and bitterness that are balanced by sweet or caramel malt flavors.

The Angel's Share certainly lives up to this in terms of color. The pour is deep, dark brown. It looks almost syrupy. There's no carbonation in the beer, which probably adds to this appearance.

You can absolutely smell the bourbon, as well as some oak and a little bit of vanilla. No hops here!

The taste, to me, is overwhelmingly of the bourbon. Maybe because I'm not a huge bourbon fan (which is an understatement), I felt like it was all I could taste. I even got that burning sensation at the back of my throat like I get when drinking a bourbon, which admittedly I don't do very often. I was told by my fellow bar patrons that the warmer the beer got, the better it would taste as other flavors came through. But I have to admit, that for me, that just didn't happen. Some other flavors were evident - molasses, caramel, dark fruits. Even with all that, I couldn't shake the bourbon taste.

The Angel's Share is currently available on draft at both Tria locations. Even though I can't write that I loved it, I'm glad I tried it. After all, that's what this blog is all about - expanding my horizons. Obviously I can't love every beer I try. There were a lot of other people at the bar who were drinking it, and most seemed to really enjoy it - some had even had it before and were commenting on how it good it was. And while I didn't see anyone order a second, I'm going to attribute that to the hefty 12% ABV.

November 2, 2009

Green Flash Hop Head Red Ale

There are some breweries that, in my mind, seem to be able to do no wrong. Yards, Ballast Point, Russian River are just a few that come to mind immediately. I'm adding Green Flash to that list. I love their West Coast IPA, and I can now add the Hop Head Red Ale to my list of favorites.

The name really tells you what you're getting with this beer. It's a red ale but so much more than just a red ale, as indicated by the addition of "hop head". It's a red ale for those people, like me, who love the hops.

The pour is what you would expect from a red ale - a nice, clear red.

According to the BJCP, the aroma for red ales should exhibit "low to moderate hop aroma from dry hopping or late kettle additions of American hop varieties. A citrusy hop character is common, but not required. Moderately low to moderately high maltiness balances and sometimes masks the hop presentation, and usually shows a moderate caramel character". And the aroma (and taste) is where the "hop head" of this beer really comes through. The smell of hops overrides that of the malt - it's just the way I like it, piney and citrusy.

The taste starts off hoppy, with some nice malt flavors coming in after. This definitely isn't what you would expect from a typical red ale. I guess that's why even the brewers beg the question "Is it red IPA?" I would answer emphatically and excitedly "yes!" followed by "give me another!"