He’Brew Bittersweet Lennys R.I.P.A on Rye

Not a great pic, I know...but the best I could do without a blinding flash!

A  little over a week ago Andrei and I stopped by one of our favorite beer bars in SF, Church Key.  Despite it being in one of the worst areas in San Francisco to find parking, it has a great selection of beer, a cool atmosphere and to top it off, a killer Foursquare deal.

While perusing the menu we came across Shmaltz Brewing Company’s Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A on Rye. Seeing that it was a “limited engagement” beer, we opted to go for that.  Church Key was selling the 22 ounce bottle for $25, but with their foursquare deal we got it for $12.50. SCORE!

This beer had a beautiful amber color to it with an off-white frothy head with a lot of lacing on the glass.  You can definitely smell the whiskey barrels that it was brewed in (to me it gives an almost vanilla-like aroma) as well as caramel.  It has a light carbonation to it and the taste is rich and delicious.

This beer is barrel-aged in Sazerac 6 year rye whiskey barrels and is 10% ABV.  I’m giving it 5 out of 5 pints although maybe I’m being a bit biased because a)I love barrel-aged beer and b)It’s the best I’ve had from Shmaltz so it was a wonderful surprise to find such a tasty brew from a brewery I wasn’t a huge fan to begin with.
Because they’ve limited the release on this I would have to say to buy it if you see it!  Yes, there are better beers out there but this is a sweet gem from Shmaltz that is worth tasting!

Oregon Brewer’s Fest 2010

Aaaaaaand….I’m back.

Sorry for the lack of posts lately.  Between traveling and craziness at work, I’ve had this saved in drafts for some time.

So the last weekend in July I headed up to Portland which just happened to coincide with the Oregon Brewer’s Fest.  I was pretty excited about this event as I had heard a lot of great things about it, and knowing how many great breweries were in Portland made it even more enticing!

We arrived in the afternoon and the event was already in full swing.  The location is idyllic, right along the Willamette River and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect.  They had tents all along the river with beer stations situated in the shade next to the tents.  There were definitely a lot of characters, including this band we saw below.

Here’s how the beers were set up.  You purchased a cup and tokens as you walked into the park and it was 1 token per taste.

The variety of breweries there was pretty impressive, although I felt that most of them brought their mediocre/well known beers.  Out of the more than 20 I tasted, only 3-4 were worth remembering. However I gather this is how most beer festivals work…and the best beer will always be tasted at breweries or beer bars.  My top two beers for the festival were Cascade Brewing’s Summer Gose/Summer Sour and Goose Island’s Sofie.

Above you can see Scott…likely double fisting the Summer Gose…he can’t resist the sour beers!

This guy’s “beer goggles” cracked me up so I asked him to pose.  He obliged.

To get a sense of what the tents were like, you can see below.  It was pretty crowded and I could only imagine what Saturday would be like.  They had some tables but most people ended up standing around in groups.

As you can see, PintMuse doesn’t particularly like getting her photo taken. 😉

Frank the Tank!  What you can’t really see in this photo was the kilt he was also wearing.  It was amusing to watch people walk past him.

Not having been to many beer festivals, I’m not sure how to rank this one.  I had a great time with my friends and checking out the scene, but realized that if I really wanted great beer, going to the actual breweries is the way to go.  Still, I would definitely head back to the Oregon Brewer’s Festival in a heart beat.  Clearly the love of beer is overwhelmingly felt there and Portland is a great city for any beer lover to visit.

Thank you Portland for being such a welcoming city for this beer lover.  Can’t wait to go back!

BreastFest: Good beers, good times, good cause!

This past Saturday I attended the 10th annual BreastFest at Herbst Pavillion at Fort Mason in San Francisco. This was the first year this event has made it across the bay to San Francisco, having previously taken place in Marin Brewing Company’s parking lot up in Larkspur.  This event was a combination of two of my favorite things…beers and breasts!  This event supported the Charlotte Maxwell Clinic dedicated to holistic healing for women suffering from breast cancer.  A good cause no doubt, and a great reason to bring together so many great breweries.

Many great breweries there, some of which I’d heard of and others that were new to me.  I’d have to say the highlights for me were Firestone Walker’s 13th Anniversary Ale and Nectar Ale’s Black Xantus, neither of which were being tasted, but lone bottles were opened at Firestone Walker’s table and I was lucky enough to try them.  Many mediocre beers but also some surprises like Anderson Valley’s Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema (a surprise to me as I have feelings of mundanity associated with this brewery) as well as Iron Spring’s The Crippla.

This event was a great opportunity to try many beers and for some of my friends, to be amazed at how many breweries there are out there just in Northern California.  I really hope this event comes back to Fort Mason next year, although I had such a good time I’d be willing to cross the bridge to attend!

Pictures below.

Tried Brenda and Jessica’s Bridal Ale – light, crisp and refreshing

Boys from Stone share their pale ale

Tried all of the above from local brewery, Triple Rock

One of the highlights from the day: Firestone Walker 13th Anniversary Ale

Joined by friends in partaking of the festivities

Another highlight: Black XantusRandom hair band rockin’ 80’s and 90’s music

Oddity of the day: Blanco Basura aka White Trash which was decent!

Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo pours 2008 Temptation aged in Chardonnay barrels

This photo about sums up the day

Port Brewing Hot Rocks Lager

Port Brewing's Hot Rocks Lager

Thanks to the genius that is Twitter, I found out that Monk’s Kettle had Port Brewing’s Hot Rocks Lager on tap a couple weeks ago.  Since I hadn’t been able to try it on my recent brewery trip down to San Diego, I made a point of heading over there to check it out.

I was fascinated with the idea of a “stoned” (adding hot stones to the wort during the brewing process) beer and having never tried one, was eager to check it out.  From what I’ve read, adding in hot stones caramelizes the sugars to give it a toffee flavor which sounded right up my alley as I generally love toffee and caramel flavors in beer.  As you can see, it has a beautiful ruby brown color with an off-white creamy head.  Definitely had a caramel-y smell and taste with quite a bit of lingering flavor.  I found this beer to be quite drinkable; not overwhelming in its taste and really enjoyable.  And at 6.2% ABV,  you can savor a few of these without too much punch.  Definitely worth checking out if you happen to come across it.

I love the sweat dripping down...it's the hot rocks!

What are your favorite characteristics in beer?  Caramel?  Toffee?  Sour?  Hops?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

Social Kitchen Brewery

A few months ago a new brewpub came to town.  Social Kitchen Brewery is located in the Inner Sunset district of San Francisco and it is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.  I finally made it here this past Tuesday night for the start of their Köln Night.  From their website:

“Throughout the evening, servers circulate through the dining room with trays of freshly-poured beers, depositing a full, cold glass each time a patron’s glass is nearly empty. Guests enjoy the conviviality of good company and good beer, with nary an empty glass, and no need to flag down a server to order another. They enjoy the continual hospitality of cold, fresh beer. The stanges are a moderate 250 ml (8 oz.), and the beer is less than 5% ABV, so the glasses don’t linger, and the sessionable beer stays refreshing, cold, and lively.”

Kölsch and pretzels

As the first person to arrive, I made my way upstairs to their mezzanine, grabbed a table for Andrei, Gene and I and waited.  Being their first time doing this, I think the waitresses were a bit confused but they figured out a system (marking your coaster to know how many beers you’ve had).  The Kölsch they tapped was very refreshing as a Kölsch should be.  The flavor was good and light enough to enjoy several glasses of it.  They passed out pretzels and some of their IPA mustard to each table which went really well with the beer.  There were also sausages, sauerkraut and other German noshes for people to share, although you had to be on top of your game if you wanted to grab something before it disappeared.  We stayed up in that area for a while but meandered downstairs so we could try the other beer.  They’ve got about 5 brews on tap and all were very tasty. My particular favorite was their L’Enfant Terrible belgian style dark ale. It sounds like they’ve tweaked the recipes a bit because both Andrei and Gene had gone there when it first opened and they thought the beer tasted better this time around.  We also shared some spicy hot wings and chili fries which were both good.

I’ll definitely head back here whether it be for one of their German drinking nights or to drink good beer and have great food.

More pics below.

Allagash Interlude

Photo courtesy of http://blog.winemag.com

On my recent trip down to San Diego, I stopped by Downtown Johnny Brown’s to check out their Allagash night.  In the past I’ve had a few Allagash beers and really enjoyed them, so was intrigued to try out more.  The favorite of the night for me was Allagash’s Interlude.

Interlude is categorized a an American Wild Ale.  I’m sure most of you haven’t heard of this style and neither had I until a couple months ago!  To be honest, I think when beers become complex, they aren’t easy to categorize and thus styles like “American Wild Ale” come into use.  That being said, most of the beers that are categorized as American Wild Ale are beers that I like…so I guess I shouldn’t badmouth it. 😉

My initial thoughts on this beer: beautiful golden color; clear, champagne-style carbonation with an off-white head.  Smells of apples and light fruit.  You can definitely taste the brett, which most people characterize as being “funky”.  I enjoy that funky flavor!  I definitely tasted the apples as well as grapes.  The finish had a white pepper flavor to it.  Slightly sour as well, although I wouldn’t characterize it as a sour beer.   Interlude has an ABV of 9.5%, which means it packs a tasty and oh-so-delicious punch.  This beer has a lot going on flavor wise, so I would suggest savoring it…bask in the beauty and uniqueness of this beer.

Results: 4 out of 5 pints

Lindeman’s Framboise: A beer for non-beer lovers…

I think the cat adds a certain je ne sais quoi, non? Photo courtesy of http://beerathomejapan.wordpress.com

I think the cat adds a certain je ne sais quoi, n'est-ce pas? Photo courtesy of http://beerathomejapan.wordpress.com

I remember the first time I had Lindeman’s Framboise.  I was with the epic-ness that is Tim Van Loan and we were on our way to Dolores Park in San Francisco for a picnic of sorts.  We stopped by Bi-Rite Market to pick up food and drink and the conversation went something like this:

TVL: “Okay, I am going to introduce you to the most deliciously epic beer…see, it’s a beer that doesn’t taste like a beer, but it’s an explosion of flavors in your mouth!!  Have you ever heard of Framboise?!”

Me: “Uh, no….doesn’t that mean raspberry in French?”

TVL: “Who cares what it means in French, in Tim Van Loan language it means AWESOME!!!”

(at this point I must have backed up a bit because TVL was scaring me with the intensity of his words)

Me: “Uh, okay…I’ll give it a go.”

Now, I have to tell you, recommendations of “epic proportion” from TVL are a dime a dozen, so I didn’t really have high expectations (sorry, TVL! :-P) but as soon as I tasted it, I knew I was hooked.  Framboise is a fruit lambic beer, usually flavored with fruit or syrup, and has a sour finish.  However, Lindeman’s Framboise has quite a sweet flavor to it.  It has also got a lovely carbonation and is especially tasty on a warm afternoon.  If you don’t like sweet beers, stay far, far away from this one.  But if you like sweet cocktails, this beer is for you.  And at 2.5% ABV, you can drink this for a while before worrying about getting drunk.

Five out of Five pints!

Belgian Ales, Chapter One: Saison (Saison Du Buff)

On my recent trip down to San Diego, I stopped by Toronado to check out the selection of beers.  Similar to its sister location in San Francisco, they have a wide variety of draft and bottle beers.  As it was a warm afternoon, nothing seemed more fitting than a saison.  A saison is a style of beer from Belgium that is a delicious complement for a warm, sunny day.   Saison Du Buff is a collaboration of the guys behind Dogfish Head, Stone Brewing and Victory Brewing.  I was instantly drawn to this beer since it contains parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.  And like that classic Simon and Garfunkel song, it didn’t disappoint.

As you can see, it’s a beautiful honey colored beer.  What you can’t see in this picture is that it had a lovely, meringue like head.  Despite having parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme in it, I couldn’t really distinguish these herbs in the smell or taste.  This really smelled and tasted like a traditional saison, citrus and cloves with a dry finish.  The thing I love about Saison Du Buff (and saisons in general) is that it’s simple and refreshing.  At 6.8% ABV,  this could be a session beer…especially on a warm, sunny, not a care in the world, San Diego afternoon.

Rating: 4 out of 5 pints

An Evening At La Trappe

Tuesday night was the first “Pint Sized Musings” sponsored event at La Trappe in San Francisco and there was a decent turn out.  It all started with my friend Suki mentioning to me that she had never been to La Trappe.  After I got over the shock of it, I immediately started looking at the calendar to see what dates would work for the both of us.  Then it turned into a “who else can we invite” which then turned into a “let’s make it an event!”  And so it went and I invited some good friends to come out to La Trappe for an evening of tasty Belgian beers.

I got there right at 6:00 pm to secure the back lounge area which would allow a larger group to sit together.  After my eyes adjusted to the low lighting, I decided to start with a Maredsous 8 dubbel (served in a Malheur glass).  I’ll save that for another review but I will say it was very good.  As people started to arrive, I took them up to the bar to try a few beers before settling on what they wanted.  Most people are not familiar with Belgian styles so luckily Mike (bartender at La Trappe) was kind enough to give tasters (he does this regularly so if you visit, don’t be afraid to ask if you’re not sure!).  People got settled with their first drink and there was a lot of conversation and merriment.  La Trappe offers Belgian fries and so a few people ordered those to share….they go so well with beer!

Next I started ordering bottles of various styles for people to try.  We started out with a saison, Sason D’Epeautre.  This was a perfect farmhouse ale, light and dry.  Everyone thought it was very tasty and refreshing as well (perfect for those monks working out in the fields…LoL).  Next up was Chimay White.  The name Chimay is familiar to most people although not everyone has had the white.  This is a wonderful example of the tripel style, fruity and well balanced.  For the last bottle I had wanted everyone to try Three Philosophers because of its unique flavor (thanks to the kriek that is added).  Sadly, La Trappe were out of it and so I opted to go with two other quadrupels, Allagash Four Ale and Koningshoeven.  Out of the two, Koningshoeven definitely won the favorite of the night from the vast majority of the people in attendance.   We also ended up trying a couple others, thanks to Andrei and Neha – Malheur Dark Brut (think champagne style beer) and Zoetzuur, a Flemish red.

Zoetzuur (Flanders Red ale), Koningshoeven Quadrupel, Malheur Dark Brut (Bière de Champagne), Allagash Four (Quadrupel), Saison d'Epeautre, Chimay White (Tripel)

Amazing selection or beer and I think everyone left feeling content and maybe a bit buzzed.  All in all, a wonderful evening spent with great friends, great beer, and a great locale.

Thanks to all who attended and I’m looking forward to planning the next one!

All photos courtesy of Andrei Zmievski

Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse: My Session beer of choice…

Photo credit: http://snailstales.blogspot.com/

After reading Steph Weber’s post about session beer, I started to think about what beers I like that would qualify as “session”.  I blog a lot about my love of high ABV brews, but at the end of the day, these aren’t beers you can drink pints of without taste bud overkill or an extreme hangover the next day.  That’s where Franziskaner comes in.

There may be some people who discount Franziskaner as “good beer” based solely on the fact that it’s made by Spaten, a “macrobrewer” of sorts.  I may have even discounted some beers in the past because of this, but I’ve had an epiphany: not all macrobrewers make crap beer. :-)  So Spaten “Darth Vader” Daddy aside, here are my thoughts on Franziskaner and why it makes a good session beer.

Franziskaner is a hefeweizen or wheat beer that is brewed with a high proportion of (you guessed it!) wheat!  This German style of beer has been popular for as long as I’ve been legal to drink and is often served with a piece of citrus.  Whether it’s required or not, this beer is good even without a lemon or orange in it.  Its appearance is a beautiful honey color and is a bit cloudy (normal for hefeweizens) with a decent head that drops as you drink it.  It has a distinct smell of cloves and citrus and the taste is refreshing…with flavors of spices (there’s that clove!), fruit and wheat.   There is practically no flavor of hops in this beer, so for those of you who don’t like hoppy beers, Franziskaner (and most wheat beers) would be a good choice.

This is my perfect hot weather beer although I can drink it year round.  The carbonation is light and mild and it feels smooth going down.  And at only 5.0% ABV,  I can drink more than one and not worry about getting drunk after a couple.  Four pints out of five on Franziskaner.  With the weather warming up, why not have one!

Other good hefeweizen to consider – Weihenstephaner

Note to SF’ers:  Mollie Stones had it on sale this past weekend for $6.99/six-pack.

What’s your session beer of choice?