Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Blue Point Brewery - Long Island's Best Beer

Recently, I took my annual trip back to Long Island. A stop off at the Blue Point Brewery to enjoy some locally brewed beer is always on the agenda. The brewery's Toasted Lager, Hoptical Illusion and Oatmeal Stout beers are pretty much legendary by now, but I was hoping we would get a chance to try something new. With a healthy-thirst, my friend Glenn and I hopped in the car to make the trip to Patchogue.

We walked through the back entrance, past the fermentation tanks and into the insanely crowded tasting room. You just have to love a brewery that allows its patrons access to all of the equipment used in making their tasty beers.

We opened the door to the tasting room and blam! Wall-to-wall people! We fought our way to the bar, and checked out the selections on the board.

Whoa! To our delight, they had added a Dunkel Weiss and a Cherry Imperial Stout!

We quickly ordered up some of the Dunkel Weiss. Wow! A beautiful chestnut-brown fizzy head, and notes of caramel, cloves and a hint of orange. The first sip was sent from heaven ... delicious, malty goodness, a touch of bitterness and a clean, crisp finish. The Dunkel Weiss had the perfect amount of carbonation, and for me, that's quite a bit when you're talking wheat beers. Full-flavored, but not over-powering, the Blue Point Dunkel Weiss is one of the best American wheat beers I've ever enjoyed.

Next up was the Cherry Imperial Stout. My smile was ear-to-ear when Glenn handed me mine. An abyss-like darkness at first glance, followed by a crimson, dark-cherry red when I held the glass up to the light and gave it a slight tilt. A light foamy head on top, and aromas of chocolate and black cherries popped from the beer.

The first sip ... ahhhhhhh. A winter warmer for sure! The Cherry Imperial Stout was filled with rich flavors of dark malt, bitter chocolate and sour cherries ... absolutely wonderful. You could enjoy this with a slice of German Black Forest cake and probably never need to have another thing to eat or drink again. Amazing stuff.

Due to the ridiculous number of people in there, we decided to bolt, but before we did, we made sure to grab a jug each of those two outstanding Blue Point Brewery beers. I sure hope they get some distribution out west very soon!

Overall Score of the Blue Point Brewery Dunkel Weiss: 4.75 out 5.0

Overall Score of the Blue Point Brewery Cherry Imperial Stout: 4.5 out 5.0

I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays, and I wish you all a wonderful New Year!


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Weekend Brews - Week 52 - An Uncommon Celebration

It's the official one year anniversary of the Weekend Brews Report!

This week I wanted to do something special and give a little taste of what I plan on offering on this blog in 2009. One of my goals is to meet the brewers around the world making the wonderful craft beer we love, and share their stories with you here. I'll still be reviewing beers and posting news items and whatnot, but I think it's about time everyone gets to know the brewers we support and put a story behind the beverage.

So, tonight I'd like to offer you my short interview with Alec Stefansky of the Uncommon Brewers microbrewery in Santa Cruz County. The brewery is very new and at the moment, they have two beers on the market, the Golden State Ale and their Siamese Twin Ale, the latter of which I'll review after the interview.

The Uncommon Brewers use Belgian brewing techniques and some truly unique organic ingredients. I think you'll find yourself falling in love with the flavor if you give their brews a try.

Alright folks, time to crack open a cold one, and read below!

So, Alec what exactly is an "uncommon brewer," and what's the background behind you and your brewing partners?

I certainly fall into the category of an uncommon brewer. My educational background is in politics. I was in an International Policy Master's program down at the Monterrey Institute back when I decided to make the move into brewing. It seemed like a better career choice at the time.

Reed, my Assistant Brewer, hails a little closer to a brewing education, with a degree in organic chemistry. We plan to put his training to work in the coming year.

You've got two beers on the market right now, the Siamese Twin Ale and the Golden State Ale, and you're starting to get some buzz in California and the west coast. What are your plans for the future as far as distribution, new beers, brew pub, etc. go?

I have another beer, a Baltic Porter that's brewed with Star Anise and Black Licorice, hitting the market in another week or two. There's a still-unnamed Red Ale brewed with Maple sugar and wild mushrooms in the works, and a half-dozen other recipes fighting for their place in line behind it.

I should be adding a major retail chain in the coming month, making it a lot easier to find cans of the Siamese Twin Ale. A deal is in the works to have smaller runs of can labels printed, allowing us to bring more of our beers to the retail market. I should know more about that in a month or so.

We plan on continuing to self-distribute our products within the Bay Area region. I'm adding two sales reps in the coming weeks, so existing accounts will be seeing better service, and local bars and restaurants can expect to be hearing more from us as well.

There is a brew pub concept, but it's a few years out from being realized. I do have an excellent chef already lined up to handle the kitchen, and a restaurant manager available, but my focus has to first be on getting the beer right.

One of the things that caught my attention when I first heard about your beer was that you are packaging in 16 oz. cans. Awesome. What made you decide to go with cans vs. bottles, and why 16 oz. instead of 12?

If a culture of returning bottles to the brewery existed in this country, as it does in other beer-drinking countries, I would have gone with bottles in a heartbeat. Unfortunately everything we produce here gets melted down in recycling. The energy cost to recycle a can is vastly lower than what's needed for a bottle.

We went with cans for many other reasons, too. Cans are a light and oxygen-proof package, with better product stability. They're also more efficient to ship, and less likely to break. Have you picked up a case of 16 oz. bottles recently? They weigh a ton. I'm in the business of selling beer, not glass. Pound for pound cans deliver more beer to my customers.

The 16 oz sizing came about because we knew that we couldn't compete as an Organic craft product in a six-pack price point. The four-packs give us a different place on the store shelf.

We're also using KeyKegs for many of the same reasons. They're a recyclable keg, one-way.

Uncommon Brewers is their launching customer in the U.S., and I wouldn't expect us to be their last. They're currently expanding like mad in Europe.

I'm sure it took awhile to finally decide on the two beers you were going to package and bring to market as your first offerings. I'm guessing there were quite a few test batches and other ideas before you made a final decision. What were some of the craziest beers you tried to brew before settling on the Siamese Twin and Golden State Ales?

I'm not sure if the early beers were more crazy, or just bad. We actually began by working without hops at all. Then we started using hops again, and making drinkable beer. Well that's not quite true. I have a wonderful gruit recipe, entirely unmarketable, but really tasty in its own way. The strangest experimental batches involved wild medicinal herbs, yarrow, milk thistle, and the like.

I noticed your slogan is "uncommon beer for uncommon people." I have to admit, that sounds a bit like the Dogfish Head slogan, "off-centered ales for off-centered people." Do you guys have plans to be the west coast version of Dogfish Head and take on Sam Calagione and company in producing the most adventurous beers out there?

The funny thing is that I'd never even heard of Sam's amazing beers when I came up with our slogan. Living here on the West Coast, and as a relative hermit while working on our recipes, I first came across Dogfish Head a year or so after coining our motto. It followed naturally from the brewery's name. I don't know that we'll ever be competition for Dogfish Head. We'd be happy enough to be ranked as a co-conspirator.

As I'm sure you've heard, SF Beer Week is coming up in February. Do you guys have any plans to participate, or come up and drink with us in the Bay Area?

We will be participating in SF Beer Week. Thanks for reminding me that I need to post our event. I'll be hosting a dinner at the Red Lounge in Santa Cruz. It's going to be a 5+ course dinner with beer pairings, prepared by Todd Williamson of Nepenthe in Big Sur.

Are you planning on being at any events in the near future you can tell us about, so my avid readers can meet the brewers and sample your wares?

There aren't any special events planned, but your readers are welcome to contact us for a visit if they're in our area. We do open the brewery to visits by appointment.

Finally, where can people get your beer?

The best place to check for availability is our website. I'm working on expanding our distribution outside of the Santa Cruz area. There should be a large spike upwards in the next two months.

Thanks Alec!

As promised, here's my review of the Uncommon Brewers tasty Siamese Twin Ale.

First off, it comes in a 16 ounce can. How cool is that? There's always something special about drinking a great beer from a can.

The Siamese Twin Ale is brewed with organic ingredients featuring Kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and coriander. The brewers recommend enjoying this beer with a hot and spicy curry. Now that sounds like a great idea!

Nice and cold from the fridge, the beer is ready to be poured and enjoyed ...

The beer is a beautiful orange/amber color and crowned with a fizzy head that simmers down, but leaves a little bit of foam lying on top. Aromas of coriander, lemongrass and a touch of brown sugar come forward to the nose. This "Belgian-style Double" is full-bodied and filled with flavors of sweet malt, a sample of citrus and the taste of a breakfast sweet roll. Mmmmmm.

It's an incredibly smooth beer, but you do get the warm tingle from the alcohol right at the end. Very nice. I'm looking forward to trying the Golden State Ale next, as well as the Baltic Porter Alec mentioned.

Right now they have limited distribution, but check the Uncommon Brewers website to find out where you can get yours. Keep an eye out for these guys, they should be making their way to your neighborhood soon.


Overall Score for the Uncommon Brewers Siamese Twin Ale: 4.25 out 5.0

Friday, December 12, 2008

Weekend Brews - Week 51 - Pale O' Mine

Happy Friday! Another Weekend Brews Report here and at week 51, it looks like next Friday will be the official one year anniversary of the Weekend Brews report. Woo hoo!

Tonight I was feeling kinda hoppy and thought I'd celebrate my Irish-American skin tone with some pleasurable pale ales. Huzzah!

First up is a pale ale brewed in Paso Robles, California at the Firestone Walker Brewing Company. This beer is aptly named, the Pale 31 California Pale Ale. Right on dude.

The beer pours into the glass with a light golden color and as the light shines through you can see the clean carbonation racing to the top. The pale ale smells of citrus and pine as this beer is well-hopped with Cascade, Centennial and Chinook. And now we taste ...

Hmmmmm, yes. That is one tasty mofo. Light malt flavor with a perfect amount of bite and bitterness. Well done lads. You can really taste those hops. Fantastic. It's no wonder this beer has won medals everywhere it goes.

You definitely want to get yourself some of this ... and soon!

Overall Score of the Firestone Walker Pale 31 California Pale Ale: 4.5 out 5.0

Beer number two tonight is another California Pale Ale. It's the XP Pale Ale from the Bear Republic Brewing Company in Cloverdale, California.

It's another left coast classic as it's light amber body fills the glass with a head like the center of a Moon Pie. The smell of fresh cut grass and citrus are the key players. A tip of the glass and and down it goes ... ahhhh. An easy-to-drink well-hopped beer is what I'd call it. A good balance of sweet malt and bitter hops, but nothing too abrasive. It's not at the top of my list, but it is a better than average American Pale Ale.
This beer would probably go well with a bowl full of fresh steamed mussels steeped in garlic and oil, served with some warm, crusty French bread, on an outside deck overlooking the Bay. Yeahhhh I'd be into that.

I enjoyed the XP. I think it's worth a try.


Overall Score of the Bear Republic XP Pale Ale: 3.5 out 5.0

P.S. Sorry about the crappy photos. The camera is out on another mission tonight.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Santa's Private Reserve

Who wants a seasonal beer?
Who wants a sip of a delicious Rogue Ale? Really? Me too!

Ya know, besides beer, the first thing that comes to mind when I read the words, "ho, ho, ho," is this ...

However, tonight we shall talk about beer. Please, please hold your applause. Let's discuss a seasonal classic from the folks at Rogue Ales.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Santa's Private Reserve.

I pop the top off this special seasonal ale and pour it into a glass that's just a bit too big for the 12 ounces of beer. Oh well. It's a ravishing ruby red color, and comes equipped with a velvety cream head that seems to want to stick around for the holidays.

Notes of brown sugar and pine trees blast the nose. The Rogue Ales brewery website even says there's a special hop called, "Rudolph" in the beer too (not sure I'm buying that story)! Okay, before it gets warm, let's give it a taste ...

Mmmmmm. Ahhhhhh. This red ale is chock full of hops and bitterness, perfect for a cold Northern California night. The hop flavors stick to my tongue and make it tingle. Oh Santa you cheeky bastard, your magical elixir is making me smile!

It's a good one friends. Full of winter flavor and a piny finish, I'm going to have another after this one. If you enjoy a tasty, hoppy ale, I'd recommend picking up one of these Santa's Special Reserve ales while their around.

Happy Drinkingdays everyone!

Overall Score of the Rogue Ales Santa's Private Reserve: 4.0 out of 5.0

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Old Man Cometh

Coming from the east coast, I haven't had the chance to sample many of the beers coming from the Russian River Brewing Company. Luckily, now in Northern California, I can get my hands on all the good brews.

I've heard of and read about their famous Pliny the Elder double IPA, and I finally tracked some down at the City Beer Store. Sweeeeeeeet.

I immediately popped the top as I got home from work, and poured the liquid into a pint glass. A translucent gold and amber mix crowned with a thick and creamy head tell me this beer has potential. My nose just wants to dive into that foam ... a deep sniff and ... OHHHHH! I feel like I've just been transplanted into the heart of a Northern California forest with all the pine needle aromas coming from the glass.

Lordamercy. Down the hatch it goes bitches!

I say gotdamn! That is a tasty beverage. A sweet, marvelous malt base sets the stage for a big burst of bitterness from the tons of hops that fill this brilliant beer.

A champion amongst champions, Pliny the Elder is definitely working its way up my favorite beer list.

I compel you to find it. Drink it. Love it.

Now go on and get it!

Overall Score of Russian River Brewing Co.'s Pliny the Elder: 4.5 out 5.0

Weekend Brews - Week 50 - Happy Repeal Day! 75 Years and Counting

As I'm sure my fellow beer disciples know, today is the 75th anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution. Yes, god bless the 21st, the amendment that bitch-slapped the 18th Amendment and happily ended the evil era of Prohibition. Woo Hoo! Our ability to drink beer brewed by people from our own neighborhoods or from around the world is something that makes this country incredible. I'd like to support my local brewers tonight, and tell you about my visit to a special place ...

I can think of no better place to spend this blessed day then the aptly named 21st Amendment Brewery. Earlier in the week I was bummed to find out I missed the tapping of their new beer, the Beerly Legal Lager. But alas! Working only a stone's throw from the brewery, I quickly learned that they had plenty of that special beer still on tap and ready for a thirsty worker such as myself.

I rolled on over to the brewery to be greeted by a large gathering of people marching through the doorway holding signs that read, "We Want Beer!" and "Repeal Is Here!" One after the other, the gaggle of beer lovers dressed in period garb entered the bar shouting for beer. ha ha ha. Awesome!

The next thing I hear are the bright brass notes being blown by a small band playing some old-timey music to help keep the beer lovers marching straight to the back of the brewery. Brilliant!

With all this commotion and entertainment I almost forgot I had a beer in my hand. Whoa! It's a pint of the Beerly Legal Lager I had craved earlier in the week. Hooray!

The beer was a clear, golden sunshine shade of gorgeous, with a light fizzy head poking out the top of the glass. Aromas of malt and hints of pine from the hops fill the air. I quickly took a gulp and smiled. Flavors of delicious light malt followed by some hoppy bitterness, and a crisp, clean finish are what this beer is all about. Niiiiiiiiice. I could've easily had about 10 of these. Unfortunately I had to drive home. Damnit!

Overall, the Beerly Legal Lager was an easy-drinking golden lager fit for anytime. I'm not sure if this new brew is going to be a regular menu item, so if you're in the Bay Area, get some now just in case it disappears.

You can purchase some of the other canned goodness from 21st Amendment Brewery around the Bay Area and beyond, but if you live around here, or if you visit, it's worth your time to stop by and try everything on the menu.
Happy Repeal Day everyone!


Overall Score of the Beerly Legal Lager: 3.75 out 5.0

P.S. Check out Chipper Dave's thoughtful insight on the glory of the 21st Amendment.

I hoist a pint in your direction good sir!