It has been a while since one of these massive “omnibus” beer review posts either here or on my recently-deceased beer blog Beer Samizdat, but I know you’ve been patiently sitting on your hands waiting for my verdicts on the ales and lagers of April, May and June. So it’s time to reward you for your unceasing patience. Without delay, here’s a compendium of short-ish reviews for every new beer that passed my lips during that time period that we haven’t already covered in separate posts on this here blog. I’ll helpfully break them down into categories to help you further with your purchasing decisions. You’ll undoubtedly note that the outstanding & very good ones are front-loaded very heavily this quarter, which I guess shows more than anything else that I selected and paid for beer based upon the good recommendations of others, and that strategy paid off, as it shall when you take my advice and do the same with the reviews below.
Let’s start with the winners before moving on to denigrate and mock the losers, shall we?
HAANDBRYGGERIET – “DOBBEL DRAM”: This Norwegian brewer, whom I’ve raved about before and whom I don’t believe have quite received their complete due in the beer dork world, had me from the get-go when advertising this one as a “Norwegian Double IPA”. What in the world could that be? Well, while it had absolutely zero head to speak of, bubbles just surged up the glass in a figurative race to my gullet, and the beer itself was tremendous. A malty, fruit-packed and mildly spiced orange IPA that definitely didn’t taste “American” or “west coast” in any way, yet retained many of the essential olfactory & gastronomic qualities of the classic imperial IPA. Definitely one to bring into regular rotation, provided you have the cash to do so (it’s pricey). 9.5/10.
RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING – “ROW 2, HILL 56”: A new and surprising bottled beer from one of humanity’s all-time finest brewers – a “tribute to the Simcoe hop” that is as good as Blind Pig IPA and better than Pliny The Elder. It has a lovely pine flavor and a tingling hop bite; more of a hoppy pale ale, I reckon, than an IPA straight-up. What’s the dif, right? Excellent beer and hopefully not just a one-off. 9/10.
ALLAGASH BREWING – “VICTORIA ALE”: You gotta hand it to Maine’s Allagash Brewing – I’d had this fruity Belgian pale ale pegged as only the second “low-alcohol” brew I’d ever tasted from them, only to find it pumped up at a big 9% ABV. It truly goes down smooth-n-easy, with herbal-ish tastes of apricot and grape. In my notes I’d totally pronounced it a “table beer”, and I’ll stand by that as long as you’re sitting at my table. 9/10.
THE VERY GOOD
ALMANAC BREWING – “SPRING 2012 BIERE DE MARS”: A beer made with fennel!! This delicious ale continues this San Francisco brewer’s 4-beer winning streak in a mighty way. “Biere De Mars” is very fruit-packed with a mild zest to it, and is quite different than anything else I’ve had, like, ever. It’s a farmhouse ale that tastes of figs and perhaps of honey, and is not dry and is far juicier than many of its ilk. Given its unique place among the many beers I’ve tried, not really sure what ilk that is, but I’m happy to bestow a hearty 8.5/10 upon it.
GREEN FLASH BREWING – “RAYON VERT” – Wanted to try this one so badly that I sprang for a 4-pack, something I never do (sixers are generally forbidden in the house as well - the better to try a new, weird and unfamiliar beer at every turn). Rayon Vert is Green Flash in Flemish or something, and this is a delicious, soapy Belgian pale ale which packs much more Belgium into its 12-oz. bottle than it does pale ale. Easily could have been made by De Proef or De Ranke or some abbey and we’d have been just as happy – nice to see this one for sale (and affordable!) at Safeway and Whole Foods. 8.5/10.
MIKKELLER – “BEER GEEK BRUNCH WEASEL”: This is a tribute to the transcendent and sometimes ephemeral powers of the imperial stout, attempted by many and mastered by few. So glad my pal Geoff hung onto this for me for many months just so we could experience it together. It’s a medium-bodied, roasty (but not bitter) chocolate ale; not velvet-smooth by any means, but certainly not a scorch-your-mouth firebreather either. It clocks in at about 11% alcohol but is finely engineered to taste like something closer to 8% instead. Outstanding. 8.5/10.
MARIN BREWING – “THREE FLOWERS IPA”: A super-fresh, light-yellow, crisp and juicy IPA that I drank on draft at City Beer Store and just loved from the word go. Not many notes taken on this one, but I remember its terrific hop balance and how much I just hated that I had to drive home and couldn’t drink seven more of these. 8.5/10.
DOGFISH HEAD BREWING – “MY ANTONIA”: I read the original “My Antonia” book in college, yet I missed the original beer, a collaboration with Italy’s Birra Del Borgo, in bottles and on draft. Looks like Dogfish is now going this one alone, and it’s exceptionally drinkable. It’s a creamy, hoppy pilsner that earns every letter of the word “imperial” but which is easygoing enough for the properly-adjusted palate. It’s as good a pilsner as I’ve had since Moonlight’s Reality Czech, and that’s pretty damn good. 8/10.
CIGAR CITY/THE BRUERY – “DOS COSTAS OESTE: LEMON-WOOD AGED”: “Two west coasts” – get it? A wonderful collaboration beer from Florida and California brewers who just happen to be two of the best in the business of great beermaking. This was brewed at Cigar City as part of a barrel-aging series of four ales. It’s a deep and rich beer; orange in color and taste; slightly sour with tastes of ginger, coriander and orange peel. Yes, like a witbier, except this one’s got a thick mouthfeel, lots of tang and has gone slightly off the rails in the best way possible. I’m crying in advance because I doubt I’ll ever see it anywhere again. 8/10.
STILLWATER ARTISINAL ALES – “OF LOVE AND REGRET”: Orange IPA color but a tangy, yeasty Belgian saison through and through. You definitely taste the yeast and even a little cinnamon once you let the enormous head of foam calm down and allow you to get down to business. Loads of spice in this one; like an experimental saison with enough moxie to beat the next beer by a half point. 8/10.
SLY FOX/DE PROEF – “BROEDERLIJKE LIEFDE”: This spicy saison sat in the beer fridge for a good 6 months waiting for someone to split it with – heavy bottle, cork-top, you know the drill. Imposing. Turns out it’s a very good dry Belgian saison with strong carbonation and rip fruit flavor. Smooth on the sip, but with a sharp and hoppy aftertaste. Expected something maybe a point or two higher – it is De Proef, after all – but no one’s gonna walk away sad after drinking a 7.5/10.
CATHEDRAL SQUARE BREWING – “BELGIAN-STYLE ABBEY ALE” : Got this via mail order from the excellent Wine and Cheese Place. I selected it somewhat at random in order to try some Midwest breweries I’d never heard of; Cathedral Square are from St. Louis, and let me tell ya, they make a pretty fetching Belgian-style abbey ale. In fact, that’s what they call it. Pours a reddish-brown, and is toasty, smoky and fruity with medium body. Ever had a Belgian “singel”, like Trappist Rochefort 6? This tastes like one of those – a little lighter and easier on the gut and on next day’s brain, but very impressive nonetheless. 7.5/10.
SIX RIVERS BREWING – “IPA”: I know this brewer, they’re part of the Humboldt county crew up in extreme Northern California, and now I also know that they make a strong and unique IPA that I’d be proud to go to again. Pours a deep reddish-orange with high carbonation, and while hoppy, has a citrus taste that actually leans more orange than grapefruit. Very approachable and good. 7/10.
BEAR REPUBLIC BREWING – “RED ROCKET ALE”: It had been many a year since I’d tried this imperial-ish amber ale, one of the first hoppy red beers ever poured far as I know; figured I should give it a go again. It is a sweet one, surprisingly, but still much grounded in the ways and means of the hop. It’s cool, smooth and malty but with a strong bitterness that was off-putting at first. This was tempered a bit by how much better it became as it warmed. I think this is exactly what I rated it five years ago, a comfortable and quite solid 7/10.
IRON FIST BREWING – “DUBBEL FISTED”: This zesty dubbel from the San Diego area is definitely not without its charms. It’s a deep amber-brown ale that’s a little thin for my tastes and perhaps a bit sweet. They say I’m supposed to be getting tastes of chocolate, caramel and plum. I get none of any of those. OK, maybe a little caramel. Moving on. 6.5/10.
STILLWATER ARTISINAL ALES – “HOLLAND OATS” : A Belgian amber made with Emelisse in Holland.. Super hoppy. Lots of aftertaste. That is all I can say about this fairly unremarkable ale. 6.5/10.
OSKAR BLUES – “DEVIANT DALE’S”: Keep in mind that I gave this normally stellar Colorado brewery’s flagship “Dale’s Pale Ale” a savage review a couple of years ago. Was it any surprise I didn’t really care for its “imperial” brother either? This is an 8% ABV version and is, yes, Very Hoppy. What’s deviant about it is its marginality. It’s a fairly standard, bitter IPA with not a lot of malt action. Definitely for hopheads, but not a smooth nor particularly enjoyable ride for me. 6/10.
KNEE DEEP BREWING – “SIMTRA”: With all due respect to the Sacramento-area’s Knee Deep Brewing, but this “triple IPA” is the worst beer I’ve tasted in 2012. Intense, ugly and teeth-gnashingly gross to its core, this is a total monster IPA but tastes like one that wasn’t completed. No head at all and zero balance whatsoever. It really tastes like someone grabbed it from an early-boil tank and forgot to complete the recipe. If you want to experience what a masterpiece “triple IPA” can taste like, grab a Moylan’s “Hopsickle” instead and stay far away from this one. 2/10.