Sunday, May 24, 2015

Two Roads Ol’ Factory Pils

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1355) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 24, 2015
Authentic pilsners are quickly becoming some of my favorite beers to drink. It’s hard to believe beers of this general style have been around for centuries. It’s not surprising that American brewers would make minor, but noticeable changes such as Two Roads Ol’ Factory Pils which appears to be brewed with both German and American hops as well as a little rye. Spicy and bitter for sure, but still flavorful and interesting as well as crisp and refreshing.

I poured a 12oz can into a pilsner glass. It was canned on 4/6/15 and cost $2 ($0.17 per ounce).

Appearance: Beautiful pure golden color with crystal clarity and visible carbonation. Pours to a fairly large, white, foamy head which laces and retains pretty well.

Smell: One of the most aromatic pilsner I’ve encountered. Strong spicy aroma from, presumably Noble hops as well as some citrus character from American hops.

Taste: You know you’re drinking a good pilsner when the flavor jumps out at you immediately. In the case of this beer it’s a strong spicy/bitter sensation, akin to rye or maybe just a lot of Noble hops (which tend to be quite spicy). Lot of pale malt base here, but with a little more nuance and character than your average pilsner (macro, craft or otherwise). Strong spicy flavor on the back end that seems to light up the palate as it goes down. A hint of lemon or other citrus/fruity flavor emerges briefly on the finish, but eventually fades away to a dry, rye bread-like taste. Overall, one of the most unique and interesting American pilsners I can recall having.

Drinkability: I’m glad this beer is available in cans, because its palette lends itself to the container. The mouthfeel is light, but in no way “thin” or watery. Plenty of carbonation, but always contained. Two Roads Ol’ Factory Pils is refreshing while in the mouth, though I would probably prefer a cleaner aftertaste. At 5% ABV it rides the fence as far as being a session beer (though I could see it easily working as such in the summer).

Score: 9/10

Saturday, May 23, 2015

New England 668: The Neighbor of the Beast

   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 18/20
Chad9976 (1354) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 23, 2015

New England Brewing is known for making some great beer with odd names and funny labels. Their Belgian Strong Pale Ale – 668: The Neighbor of the Beast – is no exception. It’s not often you see a Belgian-style beer in a can and it’s even rarer than you see such a great example of the style from an American brewery in a can. The name is subtle but clever reference to Duvel and even uses a font found on Iron Maiden album covers. What’s in the can is an outstanding beer – Belgian, American or otherwise.

I poured a 12oz can into a snifter. There was no freshness date and it cost $2.59 ($0.22 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark shade of maize. Extremely hazy body (translucent, but not opaque). Pours to a fairly large, white, frothy head that lace and retains very well.

Smell: Huge banana notes – totally authentic. Some spices. Classic Belgian yeast esters.

Taste: Sometimes I think American breweries actually out-Belgian Belgian breweries. Meaning: they take all the things that make a Belgian beer great and go even further with it. This beer definitely has a familiar palette akin to Duvel, La Chouffe or plenty other beers of the general style. Though not a tripel per se, it does have a lot of spiciness to taste. The yeast esters give it a sweet banana flavor in the front and finish with a strong peppery sensation (akin to white peppercorn or even table black pepper) on the finish. Other spices and fruits can be found lingering in the background from start to finish (especially peach and coriander, respectfully). The palette never gets old or tired – it’s as delectable on the last sip as it is on the first swig. That’s what I call a great-tasting beer.

Drinkability: At 8.5% ABV, 668: The Neighbor of the Beast is certainly a hefty, beastly brew… at least it should be. The mouthfeel is remarkable comfortable; full-bodied to be sure, but not intensely carbonated. It’s surprisingly comfortable with a smooth texture and finish to match. A slight drying/peppery sensation in the aftertaste, though it scrubs the palate clean each time it crosses the tongue. I do feel the alcohol in the taste and a warming sensation in the throat, but it’s not harsh – quite tolerable, actually. From a guzzler, but it’s difficult to simply sip. 
Score: 10/10

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tree House Sap

   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1353) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 21, 2015
Chinook is a hop that’s probably best used in moderation (or even as a garnish). It tends to be very astringent; almost smoky, so it’s surprising that a brewery would use it as a “main course” hop as it were. That’s exactly the deal with Tree House Sap – an IPA “brewed almost exclusively” with Chinook hops (I’d be curious to know what other hops were used). The result is another excellent New England-style IPA that’s flavorful and quaffable.

I poured a 16oz can into a tulip glass. There was no freshness date (thanks to Jason for the can!).

Appearance: Extremely hazy shade of orange. Pours to a large, white, frothy head that retains well and leaves gorgeous lacing.

Smell: As its name implies there’s a strong piney/sap aroma here but also a significant tropical fruit juice character. Very clean and inviting.

Taste: The palette opens with a slightly sweet, juicy-like flavor of citrus and tropical fruits. Mango, papaya, passion fruit and straight up orange juice are all quite prominent at first. It almost turns on a dime into something more abrasive and astringent. Strong earthy notes of resin, tree bark and sap emerge from out of nowhere and give the beer a different flavor on the second half. The bitterness remains fairly strong throughout; though doesn’t feel like the supposedly 80 IBU rating (seems closer to 60-70 to me). Not much in the way of distinctive malt character, though this brew is much more than simply hops in carbonated water. Delicious, innovative and at the very least interesting – this is an IPA I can really get behind.

Drinkability: I’m starting to think unfiltered is the way to go for strong IPAs as some of the best examples of the style look and feel like a milkshake. The body to Tree House Sap is certainly full, but amazingly soft and comfortable with a smooth finish I’d normally associate with a stout. The hops do linger on the tongue, leaving a slightly dry/piney sensation but it’s much much more than simply tolerable – it’s pleasant. At 7.3% ABV, this makes full use of its weight and is “crushable” and actually refreshing while in the mouth. Thank God it comes in a can!

Score: 10/10

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fuller's Vintage Ale (2014 edition)

   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (1352) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 20, 2015
There’s a niche British style of vintage ales that tend to be pretty amazing due to their complexity. The problem is they’re hard to come by, and their rarity is what makes them all the more appreciable. Fuller’s annual Vintage Ale is a perfect example, and the 2014 edition is probably as good as it’s ever been.

I poured a 500ml bottle into a snifter. There was no specific bottling date.

Appearance: Out of the bottle it’s apparently a dark copper/maize hue, but in the glass it has a nice burgundy/brown color. Not quite opaque, but definitely hazy with sediment and carbonation visible. Pours to a two-finger, white, foamy head which laces and retains very well.

Smell: Quite sweet with notes of berries and dried fruit with slight piney notes from dry-hopping (with American hops, interestingly enough!). Has the classic British ale character I enjoy in brews of the style.

Taste: Strong British ales tend to have many of the same flavors as strong Belgian ales, but somehow they’re different. Consider that the palette here consists of nuanced fruit notes of cherry, plum, prune and even strawberry notes it’d be easy to compare that to a Belgian Quad. Yet the British yeast gives it a completely different character than the Belgian yeast. Instead of being spicy it’s more refined, calm, and confectionery-like. Notes of caramel and treacle can be found, though I would not describe it as a sickly sweet beer at all. Even the hops are rather prominent – imparting a slight citrusy flavor with significant bitterness to match. For such a strong beer, the alcohol is nearly invisible and does not distract from the base brew.

Drinkability: I was a little hesitant going into Fuller’s Vintage Ale as it’s 8.5% ABV, which is pretty strong but not mammoth. Though it has plenty of flavor and is full-bodied, what it isn’t is intimidating. The mouthfeel is soft and comfortable with a smooth finish going down. There is only the faintest trace of alcohol warmth, and it finishes remarkably clean, too. No cloying aftertaste here. A beer like this should ideally be for seasoned drinkers, but I’d think even acolytes would enjoy this immensely.

Score: 10/10

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sixpoint Jammer

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1351) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 19, 2015
Believe it or not, there are some beers that I can honestly recommend even though they disappoint me. Take, for example, Sixpoint Jammer – their latest offering which is their take on the gose style. Sixpoint isn’t known for making beer “to spec,” though they usually at least finish with a good, decent product. As a gose, this beer is really lacking; but as a beer it’s okay.

I poured a 12oz can into a mason jar. It had a best before date of 10/25/15 and a six-pack cost $12.99 ($2.17 per can or $0.18 per ounce).

Appearance: Pure golden hue with a crystal clarity; some carbonation visible. Pours to a large, bright white, foamy head that retains and laces fairly well.

Smell: Fairly muted nose with just a scent of lemon or coriander. Almost smells like children’s cereal or cleaning products.

Taste: I haven’t had too many goses, but the ones I’ve had I’ve noticed have similar palettes. This beer is the most dissimilar of them all. I was prepared for an assertive salty/sour/tart combo of flavors, but what I got tasted more like a generic blonde ale. Pils malt is pretty prominent throughout most of the swig – it’s easily identifiable. On the finish I get a slightly sweet taste of lemon and a light, fruity spice often found in generic summer ales. It tastes the way a cleaning product smells and it’s pretty good for that short-lived moment at the end of each swig. What I don’t get is any real tanginess from the salt or lacto (if it’s even brewed with that). Someone who’s never had a gose might be more apt to detect it, but I really don’t. Overall, this is a fine blonde ale but not what I consider a quality gose.

Drinkability: While the taste of Sixpoint Jammer may have been underwhelming, at least it was easy to drink. At only 4.2% ABV, it’s extremely quaffable and sessionable. The mouthfeel is noticeably light and a tad watery. However, it does remind crisp throughout – never going flat – and it always finishes clean. Drink it as a liquid refresher.

Score: 6/10

Monday, May 18, 2015

Butte Creek Organic Porter

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 12/20
Chad9976 (1350) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 18, 2015
I bought three bottles of Butte Creek beers when I was at Mendocino’s taproom in Ukiah and all but one seem to be old. That’s a really terrible way to run a taproom (but that’s the subject for another sermon). Of the three that were old, Butte Creek Organic Porter has at least held up fairly well. Tangy to be sure, but the base brew is still detectable. I’m sure this would be more than simply an above-average beer when it’s fresh.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a nonic pint glass. It was bottled on 8/31/14 and cost $3 ($0.25 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark brown hue, though more of a dark burgundy when held up to the light. Pours to a small layer of tan foam which never completely dissipates and leaves minor lacing.

Smell: Sweet dark malts with slight fruity character. Mild though.

Taste: What separates porters from stouts is that they rely on their sweetness rather than intensely roasted and bitter malts. That’s evident here as there’s no roasty sensation at all, though it’s certainly nothing in the amber malt range. Mild notes of dark fruit or dried fruit with a hint of milk chocolate and perhaps some iced coffee undertones. I do get some slight metallic or astringent tanginess on the finish, but it’s fairly minor. What’s here is at least enjoyable, but not amazing.

Drinkability: For an old bottle, Butte Creek Organic Porter still drinks surprisingly easy. The mouthfeel is a little tepid, but in no way flat or watery. Soft and smooth in texture with a finish to match; it leaves virtually no aftertaste. At 6% ABV it should have more body and complexity than this, though. Perhaps it does when it’s fresh but it’s unlikely I’ll ever know.

Score: 6/10

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Tree House Green

   AROMA 9/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 18/20
Chad9976 (1349) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 17, 2015
Tree House Brewing out of Monson, Massachusetts seems to be the “it” brewery of the moment around here. Based on this beer alone I can see why, as it’s brewed very much in the “New England-style” IPA, which is trendy and popular now. I don’t mind if a beer is trendy just as long as it’s good, and in the case of “Green” it most definitely is good (much more than good, actually).

I poured a 16oz can into a tulip glass. There was no freshness date. Thanks to Jason for the can!

Appearance: Pale orange hue over an extremely murky/opaque body. Looks like an Orange Julius. Pours to a large, white, frothy head which laces and retains tremendously.

Smell: Extremely clean, bright, fruity aroma – especially of pineapple and orange juice. A slight grassy/herbal note can be found, too.

Taste: There definitely is a difference between a highly-hopped beer and a beer that’s hopped with finesse and style and this is a great example of that. The citrusy/tropical fruit aromas carry over to the palette perfectly. Almost sweet or even tart at first with pineapple and orange flavors. But it’s also significantly bitter. Juicy up front, but more grassy and herbal spiciness on the finish. The ability to make that transition is what separates the good IPAs from the great ones. Not much in the way of distinct malt character other than a general pale base. That’s okay, because the final product is so delicious and enjoyable I don’t mind that it’s not perfectly balanced.

Drinkability: When I saw Tree House Green pouring out of the can I thought it looked like an orange milkshake. When I drank it, it thought it kind of felt like a milkshake, too. The body is so smooth and velvety – almost like a nitro stout. Though it’s certainly crisp on the backend, which makes it almost self-cleaning (the hops do linger on the tongue, though). At 7.5% ABV it’s certainly a strong beer, but in no way intimidating. I had to hold myself back from slugging it all down at once. 
Score: 10/10

Saturday, May 16, 2015

North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout (2015 re-review)

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1348) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 16, 2015
I first tried North Coast Brewing’s flagship beer “Old Rasputin” back in 2011 and I enjoyed it immensely (so much so that I included it in my book – The Handbook of Porters & Stouts). I had not had it much in the years since; maybe just a short pour if I found it on draught. I was actually vying for a job with this brewery and they liked me so much they flew me out to Northern California for an in-person interview and gave me a complimentary 4-pack right off the bottling line. I was told this beer is only intended to be served on nitrogen when on tap. I drank it as such at their adjacent taproom and it’s nearly a different beer as it’s rich, sweet and chocolaty. I think the draught version deserves its own review, but for now I’m content to give the standard bottle a re-review since it’s so fresh. It really is a different beer as it’s quite hoppy and bitter – maybe a little too much so, actually. Regardless, this is still an excellent imperial stout and it deserves its place in the annals of beer culture and history.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a snifter. It was bottled on 5/7/15.

Appearance: Inky opaque black body; nothing visible within. Pours to a large, brown, frothy head which retains and laces tremendously.

Smell: Quite hoppy for a stout (general floral/citrus aroma). Strong chocolate presence as well. Alcohol is noticeable.

Taste: Believe it or not, the first thing I taste here is hops. I suppose that’s understandable considering the bottle was so fresh and the beer is quite hoppy and bitter at 75 IBUs. Slightly citrusy/flowery hops help to balance out the strong malt base of the brew. When fresh, this beer is not extraordinarily sweet, though it’s noticeably sweet. Dark malts impart slight chocolate notes through the middle (bittersweet dark chocolate to be specific, though the nitro draught version is almost like pure milk chocolate). The deeply roasted malts are prominent throughout the backend – accentuating the bitterness of the palate, but changing it from hops to that of burnt toast. Some alcohol lingers in the background; not doing much for flavor other than imparting some dryness. I could see a barrel-aged version accentuating the base palette perfectly (there is such an edition, but I’ve yet to try it).

Drinkability: At 9% ABV, Old Rasputin is definitely a big beer by anyone’s standards. That being said, it’s not a beast of one. The mouthfeel is thick and full-bodied for sure, but not chewy, sticky or cloying. The strong hoppy presence cleanses the palate and leaves a slightly dry aftertaste. I detect minor warmth from the alcohol, but it’s in no way distracting or intimidating. Few beers this big sit this well on the system. A great brew to enjoy on its own.

Score: 9/10 
Read my 2011 original review here:

Watch my 2011 video review here

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Butte Creek Organic India Pale Ale

   AROMA 5/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 5/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 12/20
Chad9976 (1348) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 14, 2015
It’s always been my policy not to review beers I know are old. However, if I’m not entirely sure – due to an illegible or non-existent freshness code – I’d say it’s fair game. Based on my experience with Butte Creek’s Pale Ale the other day, as well as many years of experience with old beer, I’m inclined to believe this bottle of their IPA is out of code. Had I bought it at a bottle shop or supermarket that would almost be understandable, but I bought this at the brewery’s taproom. Old or not – any beer sold at a brewery’s taproom deserves scrutiny. Let’s just say I’ll bet this beer is pretty good when drank as it’s supposed to be tasted.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It appears to have been bottled on 8/28/14 (the code is difficult to decipher) and cost $3 ($0.25 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark brownish/orange color; translucent with particulates in suspension. Pours to a two-finger, white, frothy head which laces and retains surprisingly well.

Smell: Mostly sweet golden malt. Some lemon lollipop (usually indicative of old/oxidized beer).

Taste: You can always tell an IPA is old because the hop character has really faded (though I’ve never quite understood where the hops go – it’s not like they evaporate in the bottle!). Quite malty for sure – a palette akin to that of an amber ale. Sweet caramel and slight toffee notes, along with yellow lollipop. A mild, but noticeable and consistent bitterness lurks in the background through. It becomes slightly dry and sharp at the apex, but otherwise has no citrus, piney, or floral flavors and features. For what it’s worth, this is tolerable but not really enjoyable.

Drinkability: Butte Creek Organic India Pale Ale weighs in at 6.5% ABV, which is about average for a single IPA these days. Though the palette is uninspired, the actually deliver is passable. Low carbonation provides for a slightly thick/tepid mouthfeel. The hops linger and leave a dry, pasty/starchy aftertaste. I even get some alcohol warmth on the finish, but at least it’s smooth going down.

Score: 4/10

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

North Coast Le Merle

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1347) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 13, 2015
There seems to be two general sub-styles of the saison: the juicy/hoppy version and the dry/spicy version. North Coast’s “Le Merle” (the blackbird) is definitely a member of the latter. Though not actually brewed with peppercorn or other spices/seasonings (as far as I can tell), it definitely has the zesty palette of one. This is probably the least boring saison you’re ever encounter, but whether you enjoy it or not depends on how you like your saison.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 2/17/15.

Appearance: Golden/light orange hue over a fairly cloudy body; steady carbonation visible. Pours to a two-finger, white, foamy head which laces and retains fairly well.

Smell: Strong peppercorn scent with some banana and lemon, but more spicy than fruity.

Taste: The palette starts out with a slightly fruity flavor of banana and a touch of lemon fruit. It immediately transitions to something more spicy and savory, however. Peppercorn is a pretty dominate flavor here – spicy to be sure, but also quite dry. There’s no heat from capsaicin (not that there should be), though I do feel and taste a bit of warmth from the alcohol. The malt base is quite pale and crisp, akin to a cracker. Not especially bitter at only 26 IBUs, though not much in the way of actual hop flavor (I do like saisons that use citrusy hops to their advantage). Perhaps a touch of caramel sweetness to found in the background, though it’s just a nice little bonus to those with discerning palettes.

Drinkability: At 7.9% ABV, North Coast Le Merle is rather hefty for the style (but not uncommon). It’s a full-bodied brew to be sure. There’s a lot of weight and energy to the mouthfeel – crisp and effervescent but by no means thin or light. The alcohol imparts some warmth, and the natural spicy sensation from the yeast leaves the palate quite dry – almost starchy. This would be ideal to stand up to a spicy chicken meal or any kind of fish.

Score: 8/10

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Butte Creek Organic Pale Ale

   AROMA 6/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 6/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 12/20
Chad9976 (1346) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 12, 2015
As a beer reviewer, there’s little that’s more baffling than trying different beers from the same brewery and finding a major difference in quality. I was pleasantly surprised (shocked, really) but Butte Creek’s Organic Pilsner, so I had high hopes for their Organic Pale Ale. Perhaps the bottle I was drinking was old (can’t tell – there’s no freshness date), but whatever the case may be it’s a major downgrade in quality from the last beer. Not that this beer is bad – for what it’s worth it’s at least drinkable and somewhat enjoyable. That’s not much of an endorsement, though.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. There was no freshness date and it cost $3 ($0.25 per ounce).

Appearance: Dark, nearly opaque copper color (too dark for a pale ale, frankly). Pours to a two-finger, white, frothy head which retains and laces very well.

Smell: A faint floral hop aroma with a general earthy overtone. Otherwise mild. Nothing off-putting.

Taste: The palette begins with a fairly mild taste. I get amber maltiness, but it’s not especially robust or sweet. Slightly bready to be sure, but this is a flavor I associate with amber ales. I do detect a slight off taste; perhaps a bit of green bean on the finish (indicative of DMS). The hops impart a slightly sharp, dry bitterness – though nowhere near the citrus or juicy character a West Coast brew of the style should have. I do find some caramel sweetness lurking in the aftertaste - which is nice – but too little and too late. Overall, this is either flawed but drinkable a pale or just an old bottle. My money’s on the latter.

Drinkability: Old or fresh, one thing’s for sure - Butte Creek Organic Pale Ale is actually no challenge to drink. The mouthfeel is fairly light and crisp. The texture is soft and smooth, which makes it easy to drink quickly and in larger quantities. At 5.5% ABV it has the body and weight that potency should have, but none of the complexity.

Score: 5/10

My jaunt to three Northern California breweries

You may have noticed that there hasn’t been a lot of original content on this blog in a while. It’s not because I’ve slacked off or lost interest, it’s because I was laid off from my day job about a month ago and most of my time has been spent looking for work. Obviously, beer blogging has been a low priority for me and will be until I’m employed again (note: I went to TAP New York beer fest because I got in for free as a member of the media).

Being unemployed sucks, but it does afford me some opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise; namely – applying and interviewing for jobs in the brewing industry. Though I’m not a professional brewer by trade, I do have a lot of experience as a homebrewer, plus I’m pretty familiar with the industry through over seven years of beer blogging. I’ve made a lot of connections and I’m taking advantage of them now. Many breweries of various sizes have been interested in me, including North Coast Brewing Company all the way out in Fort Bragg, California. North Coast is best known for their famous Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout (which is featured in my book The Handbook of Porters & Stouts). I had recently interviewed with the head brewer via Skype and it went so well that they flew me out to the West Coast to meet with the executive staff, tour the brewery, and explore their seaside town.

northern california 016

Note: I’m not going to get into the details of the business discussions and whatnot. I just wanted to tell you about my trip.

First of all, I had no idea most of Northern California (between Sacramento and Oregon) is essentially a large void of nothing. It’s either flat like Texas or Florida, or a heavily wooded mountainous area. In fact, I drove through many different terrains over the course of four hours from the airport to Fort Bragg (imagine if the closest commercial airport to Albany was Rochester and the only way to get there was via Route 20). I will say I’m glad I was able to upgrade to a BMW 528i apparently for free (it was only $85 for three days!). That V6 and navigation system really helped when going through the redwood forests and all those roads on the face of cliffs and ravines. I can’t recall an area that’s both so beautiful and terrifying to drive through. I did video some of my drive to give you an idea of what it looks like, though I don’t think this really does the experience justice:

Anyway, let’s talk about the three breweries I visited.

northern california 019North Coast Brewing Company

This company started out as an ordinary brewpub way back in the 1990s and eventually expanded to a 50BBL brew house across the street. The brewery isn’t open to the public for tours, which is understandable because it’s one of the tightest, most cramped breweries I’ve ever seen. They did just do a major upgrade to their system which will make them more productive. They told me they’re hoping to build a brand new facility from the ground up; I can definitely understand why.

I didn’t take any pictures inside the brewery, since I was there on business, not as a tourist. However, they did take me out to dinner at their brewpub across the street – twice. They have a cool dozen beers on tap and one cask. I’m not going to review them all, but I will mention some of the more notable items:

iphone 023Old Rasputin (on nitro): Drinking this beer on nitro instead of conventional CO2 is a completely different experience. It almost seems like a chocolate stout, comparable to Southern Tier Choklat. I was told that this beer is only intended to be served on nitro when on draught – any bar that puts it on an ordinary tap line is doing the beer an injustice. I was able to taste a fresh bottle (they literally handed me a four-pack right off the bottling line) and it was surprisingly hoppy and very roasty, but more noticeably boozy than I remember. If you ever see this on nitro I highly recommend buying a glass of it.

Old Stock Ale: A huge barleywine/old ale at over 11% ABV. Very sweet and fruity – similar to the palette of sangria wine, interestingly enough. They gave me a bottle of a 2013 vintage which I will be reviewing soon.

Le Merle, Pranqster, and Brother Thelonious: A saison, Belgian Strong Pale Ale and Belgian Abbey-style Dubbel, respectfully. We can actually get these bottles here in Albany, but I’ve never seen any that were remotely fresh. They’re not bottle-conditioned, so I’m not sure aging them would be wise. All were solid and pretty much on-point as far as traditional specifications go.

Puck – The Beer: At only 4% ABV, this by far North Coast’s lightest beer and most eccentric brew. It’s the equivalent of a Session Saison as it has all the flavor of the real deal but without the heavy body. Pairs well with everything on their menu, speaking of which…

I got the “Brew House Burger” on Wednesday and did a make-your-own pizza on Thursday. Both were absolutely delicious. If you’re ever at this brewpub, I highly recommend either for dinner (or lunch).

northern california 027

LOCAL CONNECTION: Brewery owner Mark Ruedrich is originally from the Poughkeepsie area.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company

northern california 040

I had my interview with North Coast first thing Thursday morning and we agreed to meet for dinner that night. Since I had plenty of time to kill I decided to cruise down the coast to Anderson Valley Brewing in Boonville. Man, this place really is in the middle of nowhere (if you’ve ever been to Ommegang outside of Cooperstown you’ll have an idea of what I mean). They have a huge tasting room which looks like a beer hall, but it’s not a restaurant – just a bar and gift shop. I was honestly a little disappointed that there were only a few beers on tap that weren’t part of their regular offerings.

northern california 041

I decided to try a full pint of their experimental watermelon gose. It was good… for a few sips. The watermelon and the sour/tart character pair pretty well. Unfortunately, the salt ruins it and I wasn’t able to get halfway through the pint. I suppose if you like watermelon margarita (if there is such a thing) then you would like this.

northern california 043I also tried The Kimmie, The Yink and the Holy Gose – one of their seasonal goses. I had had this before, but the can I was drinking at the time was old, so it wasn’t very good. Drinking it fresh on tap… it was a similar experience. Perhaps I shouldn’t have gone from gose to gose, or maybe I just don’t like this beer.

They offer tours of the brewery only twice a day at designated times and I had arrived just in time to catch one. Their brew house is fairly modern and they derive about half their power from their own solar panels. We got to see their barrel room which smelled absolutely delicious. I finally learned the origin of AVBC’s weird vernacular you see on many of their bottles and cans such as “Bahl Hornin”. It’s a cockney-like dialect that locals used way back in the 19th Century as a way of talking to each other in code. I’ve never quite understood why they use it as part of their marketing since only locals would get that reference – to the rest of us it seems like gibberish. I suppose it’s meant to be funny or cute, but it seems dumb to me.

LOCAL CONNECTION: Did you know Shmaltz Brewing Company (aka He’Brew) was originally contract-brewed by Anderson Valley back in their formative years? Jeremy Cowan wrote about this in his autobiography Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah.

Mendocino Brewing Company

northern california 067

I really wanted to continue going south down to Santa Rosa and make a pilgrimage to Russian River Brewing (and hopefully score some bottles of Pliny The Elder), but it was just too far away to visit and be back in time for the dinner reservation I had with the guys at North Coast. Interestingly enough, the original West Coast location of Mendocino Brewing was about 20 miles northeast in Ukiah, so I thought I should take advantage of the opportunity to visit it considering their East Coast facility is located right here in Saratoga Springs.

Unfortunately, the brewery itself is not open to the public, nor does it have a tasting room on site. However, they do operate a pub up the road at a little shopping center. It’s surprisingly large and looks like a sports bar; but much like Anderson Valley, it’s just a bar – no food other than a few snacks.

northern california 069

The vast majority of the beers on tap were the same as those available in Saratoga. The place was pretty well empty (it was the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, after all), and the bartender was a nice guy who seemed fascinated to hear I had come all the way from New York. Unlike the Saratoga taproom, samples were free and unlimited (in 2oz pours). There were only two beers that seemed to be exclusive to the brewpub:

northern california 074Rock Point Session IPA: Standard example of the style with plenty of grassy and herbal hops.

Revolution X Double IPA: Basically, a West Coast interpretation of Heady Topper. Surprisingly good.

I tried a few other samples just to see how they compared to what I’m used to. Their Black IPA wasn’t nearly as good as the brew from New York, though I found their Kingfisher lager to be much sweeter than it is here.

Mendocino of California also owns a brand of organic beers by the name of Butte Creek. This was an independent brewery they acquired back in 2010. I bought a bottle of each of their four offerings and will review them on my blog over the next week or so (I already tried the pilsner and thought it was excellent).


I had always wanted to visit California for the beer scene, but I always figured it be down in San Diego. I did have a lot of fun on this trip and it was educational, enlightening and memorable to say the least. I’m not going to discuss my employment status (or lack thereof) until I’m actually doing labor so please don’t ask about that. Once I make a decision (or even decide to stay in the Capital District in the same field I was in) I’ll let everyone know. In the event I do move out of the area, I’ll probably still contribute to this blog, but obviously not from a local perspective (we are looking for a permanent local contributor to this blog, if anyone is interested please let me know).

northern california 030
The view from my hotel room.

Monday, May 11, 2015

North Coast Puck - The Beer

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1345) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 11, 2015
I hope “Session Saison” is the next trend in craft beer, because many of the lighter-bodied saisons I’ve had, like Brooklyn’s ½ Ale and now North Coast Brewing’s oddly-named “Puck – The Beer”, have been really good. Much like a session IPA, this has all the flavor of regular saison without the dense body. Crisp and refreshing but still plenty spicy – that’s what I want in a saison.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 3/3/15.

Appearance: Pale straw color; surprisingly clear with steady carbonation visible. Pours to a medium-size, white, foamy head which laces and retains well.

Smell: Lovely floral fragrance; slightly zesty and grassy.

Taste: There’s a lot of pep to this palette. Up front there’s a mild lemon peel/rind/pith flavor accompanied by distinct wheat character. Slightly cracker-tasting. Quite dry from beginning to end – no juicy sensation here. Though there is noticeable green pear and apple character to be found. The finish ends with distinct white pepper and a yeasty dryness. It’s quite impressive for such a small-bodied beer, and it doesn’t feel repetitive or old hat. An ideal introductory saison.

Drinkability: At only 4% ABV, “Puck – The Beer” is indeed a session brew by any standard. The saison yeast gives it plenty of consistent effervescence, though I did found the mouthfeel to be a little overtly thin and watery. It’s refreshing while in the mouth and goes down smooth. I could see this being ideal in the summer and would accompany food of a wide range. Now if only it were available in cans.

Score: 8/10

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Butte Creek Organic Pilsner

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1344) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 10, 2015
Pilsner is a style I never had much affinity for until the last few years. So many breweries make generic pale lagers than they call “pilsner” but really only few put out traditional, to-spec pilsners and Butte Creek’s “Organic Pilsner” is an example of one done right. This is a clean-tasting, yet fairly complex palette that’s gorgeous-looking and amazingly drinkable. I’m scoring it high because of those latter two factors.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a footed pilsner glass. There was no freshness date. It cost $3 ($0.25 per ounce).

Appearance: Perfectly golden hue; nearly crystal clear with plenty of effervescence always visible. Pours to a medium-sized, white, frothy head which retains laces very well.

Smell: Light spicy Noble hops and plenty of pils malt. No DMS.

Taste: There’s a difference between true pilsner and pale lager. Anyone that doesn’t understand the difference would do well to try this beer as a good example. Light spicy hop sensation right away. Not especially bitter at only 26 IBUs, though it is a little tingly from the Noble hops. Slight cracker-like maltiness through the middle with a zesty lemony sensation as it goes down. Well-balanced to be sure, but still quite delectable. It may not be amazingly delicious, but it is much much more than just satisfying. It’s a pilsner drinker’s pilsner.

Drinkability: It’s rare to find a commercial pilsner under 5% ABV. At 4.5% ABV, Butte Creek Organic Pilsner is one of the lightest versions you’ll find by a mainstream brewery. It doesn’t sacrifice body, though. Yes it’s thin and crisp in the mouth, but it’s by no means watery or boring. There’s constant flavor delivery from beginning to end and quite refreshing while in the mouth. This would be a perfect brew to utilize the convenience of cans rather than bottles. Sessionable for drinkers of all skill levels.

Score: 9/10

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot (2015 edition)

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1343) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 5, 2015
I don’t know why it took me so long to finally drink and review Sierra Nevada Bigfoot – it’s one of the most famous and revered craft beers in the country. Now that I’ve had it I can say it was worth the wait. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good beer for sure; but not quite the world class amazing brew I had expectations of. As an American-style barleywine it does exactly what it should do. I’m inclined to believe this beer gets better with age.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a snifter. It was bottled on 2/11/15 and cost $3.99 ($0.33 per ounce).

Appearance: Beautiful burgundy hue; particulates can be seen floating in suspension. Pours to a relatively large, beige, foamy head which laces and retains very well.

Smell: Fruity scent – dark dried fruits along with an assortment of berries or citrus. Significant alcohol aroma as well.

Taste: Plenty of malty sweetness right away. It’s not thick, syrupy or cloying, though. Slight confectionery flavors of toffee or caramel along with a general dark/dried/berry fruit taste. Not quite as intense or complex as a Belgian quad, but definitely not a simple, direct palette by any means. The hops are quite prominent – not surprisingly – imparting a substantial bitterness with minor citrusy and floral overtones. It also has that distinct Chinook hop character of dry bitter astringency. The alcohol is a major player as well, but doesn’t make for the woody or vanilla character often found in similar brews. I think this beer would improve with aged and a barrel-aged edition would be nice, too.

Drinkability: Weighing in at 9.6% ABV, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot is probably the strongest mainstream beer available in all 50 states. Yet, it isn’t the carbonated extract you might think it is. The mouthfeel is soft, smooth and thick, but in no way sticky. Much of that has to do with the alcohol warmth which seems to thin out the body a bit (I could feel it in my sinuses after each swig). Slightly drying on the tongue after each taste, but easily tolerable.

Score: 8/10

Monday, May 4, 2015

Rare Form Bioluminescence

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 5/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 5/5   OVERALL 16/20
Chad9976 (1342) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 4, 2015
The Black IPA was a trendy style a few years ago, but it seems to have lost its cache. When breweries can do one really well it impresses me greatly. That’s certainly true of Rare Form’s “Bioluminescence” – a Black IPA brewed with Brettanomyces yeast. It’s not an especially “wild” beer, though, as the brett is quite subtle and only accounts for a slightly dry, tart sensation on the finish – which complements the rest of the palette nicely.

I poured a 32oz growler fill into a tulip glass. It cost $13 ($0.41 per ounce).

Appearance: Opaque dark brown/black. Pours to a fairly large, dark tan, frothy head that laces and retains extremely well.

Smell: Strong nose of roasted malt and coffee; but a distinct sweetness like ice cream.

Taste: It’s weird drinking a black beer and getting the flavor of an orange one. That’s what’s happening here. Orange citrusy and clean, bright floral flavors are pretty strong throughout the palette. Interestingly enough, there’s also a strong sensation of dark malt. Roasted malt and coffee are prominent from beginning to end, with an underlying sweetness to give it an almost iced coffee or coffee ice cream flavor. A hint of milk chocolate on the back end with a light, arid tartness right as it finishes. It’s a fairly faint sensation, but it’s a nice twist on the style. It helps prevent the hops from becoming cloying.

Drinkability: A hoppy dark beer is the last kind of beer you’d expect to be refreshing, but that actually happened with Rare Form Bioluminescence. Probably due to the citrusy hop flavor and fairly tame bitterness that finishes clean due to the brett. The mouthfeel is soft and smooth, but not thick. At 5.5% ABV it’s perfectly medium-bodied; so much so that I was able to drink the entire growler myself!

Score: 9/10

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Rare Form Royal Toasted Coconut Cream Ale

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1341) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 3, 2015
Cream Ale is an underrated style, IMHO, and breweries that can do it well are worth applauding. It’s not too often you see major deviation or supplication to the style, but in the case of Rare Form’s Royal Toasted Coconut Cream Ale, the addition of the toasted coconut complements the tropical fruit-flavored hops quite well. My only complaint is that it doesn’t really taste or drink like a true cream ale, but rather some kind of blonde ale (I actually kind of like the overt corn taste in traditional cream ales as well as the lager-like crisp body).

I poured a 16oz growler fill into a tulip glass. It cost $8 ($0.50 per ounce).

Appearance: IPA-like orange hue; fairly cloudy; little visible carbonation. Pours to a fairly large, white, soapy head but it nearly completely dissipates and leaves no lacing.

Smell: Mostly coconut with mild tropical fruit scent. Pleasant.

Taste: This is exactly the kind of palette I would associate with a tropical location (and a brewery located in such a place). I’m not sure which hops are used in the brew, but they provide for a light fruity scent and matching flavor: minor notes of guava, papaya and passion fruit. Though I would not consider it to be citrusy or “juicy” tasting. The toasted coconut is impossible to ignore – and for good reason. It’s noticeable right away, but really comes out on the finish. It combines with the hops to create for an interesting synergy of mild bitterness and slight astringency. Maybe even a candy flavor. While all this is nice, I do find the beer to be a little simple and repetitive. The corn is a little too subtle, actually. All in all, it’s certainly a unique brew to say the least.

Drinkability: At 6.2% ABV, Rare Form Royal Toasted Coconut Cream Ale is a bit bigger than your average cream ale. It also has the body of a stronger beer and the mouthfeel to match. Instead of being light-bodied and crisp like most, it’s remarkably more viscous and slightly tepid. I will say this is extremely smooth and easy going down, but I would not consider it refreshing. A lighter, more crisp version would be ideal, but this is pretty nice.

Score: 7/10

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Anchor Saison

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 3/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1340) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 2, 2015
I have no problem with breweries being experimental with classic styles, just as long as the result is a tasty, drinkable beer. Anchor Saison is a very “California-ized” saison with Nelson Sauvin hops, lemongrass, lemonpeel and ginger. The flavors are a bit odd, which makes for an interesting palette – though not an especially delectable one. It’s also surprisingly boozy for the weight. This should be an excellent beer, but it’s only above average as of now.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a tulip glass. It was bottled on 1/27/15 and cost $2.95 ($0.25 per ounce).

Appearance: Surprisingly dark orange hue with crystal clarity. No visible carbonation. Pours to a small, pinky-sized white foamy head which dissipates completely and leaves no lacing.

Smell: Citrusy lemon scent plus significant spicy notes. Alcohol is noticeable as well.

Taste: There’s a certain recognizable taste to a saison – due mostly the yeast – and that’s present here right away. Instead of light, citrusy and wheaty, this beer is closer to a bigger, bolder, more complex Belgian-style ale (not unlike a tripel, actually). Spicy to be sure as those spices create for a zesty, peppery mélange of flavors. Clove and peppercorn seem to be quite prominent even though this beer does not contain them (the ginger probably accounts for a lot of that). There’s a syrupy sweetness here; almost like orange juice concentrate. Not much in the way of bitterness or hop flavor – maybe just a bit of white wine on the finish. Vanilla is also featured – reminiscent of a barrel-aged brew (that’s from the alcohol I’m sure). Not being a fan of ginger this palette didn’t really do much for me, but I will say that I enjoyed it more than not.

Drinkability: Though big at 7.2% ABV, Anchor Saison is not exactly a beastly brew. I’ve had others of the style that were just as big (if not bigger), yet this feels a lot heavier than it actually is. Alcohol imparts a lot of warmth in the mouth and lingers in the throat. The carbonation is surprisingly low – this is a fairly thick and fairly flat beer. It should be more effervescent and lighter in the mouth (it does finish clean with little aftertaste – which is nice).

Score: 6/10

Friday, May 1, 2015

Ithaca Cruiser

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (1339) - Albany, New York, USA - MAY 1, 2015
Everyone’s going crazy for the gose style these days, but there’s another style very similar – the Berlinner Weisse (which, as far as I can tell, is essentially the same style without the salt). I’m not an expert in the style, but I do know that I’ve had better examples than Ithaca Cruiser. That’s not to say it’s a bad beer – it’s not – though it is a rather simple, direct, repetitive beer. A little more genuine character and this would be a great beer instead of just an okay one.

I poured a 12oz bottle into a flute glass. It was bottled on 3/17/15 and cost $2.90 ($0.24 per ounce).

Appearance: Champagne-like complexion of golden hue and spastic carbonation. Initially pours to a large, white, soapy head but it fizzles away completely and leaves no lacing.

Smell: Prominent pilsner/pale malt scent; some lacto sourness. A hint of lemon.

Taste: Lightly tart up front with a slight lemony taste. Not spicy, not juicy, and not candy-like, either. Wheat and pilsner malt are quite prominent as well; imparting some tartness and other dry pale malt flavor. Nothing in the way of hop bitterness, but perhaps they account for the mild citrusy flavor here (I’ve never heard of the Lublin and Syubilla varieties). There’s a nice sour bite on the back end, though it’s short-lived with little residual aftertaste. Overall, the palette is tasty enough but doesn’t really pop or do anything that’s especially unique and/or memorable.

Drinkability: At only 4.2% ABV, it’s no wonder Ithaca Cruiser is so light-bodied. Though bubbly when poured, it calms down quickly and becomes rather tepid. Refreshing while in the mouth, which is nice. Though I find the texture to be rather watery and so thin that it’s difficult to overlook. I could see this being ideal in the dog days of summer – especially if it were available in cans.

Score: 6/10

Thursday, April 30, 2015

He'Brew St. Lenny's

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 8/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 15/20
Chad9976 (1338) - Albany, New York, USA - APR 30, 2015
From what I can tell, St. Lenny’s is Shmaltz’s “Bittersweet Lenny RIPA” fermented with Belgian yeast. I don’t believe the base brew was changed, as it is as much the malt and rye bomb as the regular edition, though the hops seem much less pronounced here. It’s also possible that what I’m drinking is a rather older bottle since I’ve had it on tap and it’s seemed a little more complex and robust. The Belgian character really doesn’t come through, but this is still a very interesting brew when viewed as an American Double IPA.

I poured a 12oz bottle into the official Shmaltz snifter glass. There was no freshness date. It came in a mixed 4-pack for $10 ($2.50 per bottle or $0.21 per ounce).

Smell: Malty sweetness; some vanilla; lemon lollipop. No Belgian esters.

Taste: For a supposedly hop-centric brew, there’s a lot of sweetness to this beer. It’s remarkably vanilla and woody-tasting, almost as if it were barrel-aged. Sweet amber malt mostly, some lemon flavor akin to hard candy (which is usually an indication of oxidation). The bitterness is so dank it’s almost cloying. Some notes of sticky resin can be found. There’s a fairly sold rye spicy bite on the finish, though it’s not as strong and bready as I’ve encountered before. It’s a little disappointing that there isn’t much in the way of noticeable Belgian characteristics that are often associated with the yeast esters. Perhaps a touch of perfume-like flavor and aroma; I think they’re actually obscured by the rye. As an eccentric variation on the DIPA style, this works.

Drinkability: Shmaltz knows how to make big beers drinkable and St. Lenny’s is no exception. The mouthfeel is quite big with lower carbonation and a bit of sticky sensation to the texture. Belgian yeast tends to create for a very spastic mouthfeel, but this feels more like an English barleywine in its delivery. At 10% ABV the alcohol is there as far as warmth, but it’s in no way distraction or overtly “boozy.” It finished remarkably clean, too, which is quite nice. I’m glad this is now available in 12oz bottles as it’s an ideal serving size.

Score: 8/10