Saturday, April 30, 2011

Torpedo Extra IPA (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company)

Tonight I'm drinking another Beer Club offering, Torpedo Extra IPA, from the estimable Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, in Chico, CA. I don't know which of my colleagues contributed this selection (my guess is Phil), but in the interest of full disclosure I admit that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is one of my all-time favorite beers, and I've never been known to decline their porter either. I've tasted Torpedo Extra IPA on one previous occasion, so I know what to expect, and I'm looking forward to it.

The pour raises two inches of billowy, persistent head with fluffy lacing. In the glass the beer is a clear copper orange. Sierra Nevada's dry hopping process results fresh hops oil effects throughout the brew, starting with a ton of grapefruit in the aroma, detectable with the nose six inches from the glass.

The taste is massively bitter from the start. Mouthfeel is quite round and glassy. The flavor moves into a nice full apricot and light malt -- yet there is still some grapefruit in the mid body, high on the palate. And bitterness is there through the finish, leaving the back of the tongue puckered and begging for mercy under a long-lingering impression of pine sap residue.

In summary, it is very easy to describe the flavor contour of Torpedo to someone who have never had it: grapefruit, then apricot, then pine. That's an oversimplification, of course, but it's accurate. It really is quite a delicious beer, but honestly, drinkers without a high tolerance for intense hops flavor need not dally with this one.

From the bottle's label:

Sierra Nevada Torpedo Ale is a big American IPA, perfectly balanced, yet full of flavor and aromas highlighing the complex citrus, pine, and herbal character of whole cone American hops.
[Editor: No word of it a lie!]

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Anchor Porter (Anchor Brewing Company)

One of the aspects of Beer Club that I look forward to is responding to ideas from the other guys and fleshing out a dossier on a given brewery by sampling its various products over time. This week I answered Wade's Anchor Steam by pitching in Anchor Porter. Porter being one of my favorite styles, this is a beer I have enjoyed many times. Hoping to get some other opinions on it.

I issue the caveat that I have been sneezing from pollen dust all day, so my taste buds may not be properly calibrated. That's why I decided to review a beer that I've tasted before rather than to risk short-changing an unfamiliar one.

The pour into a pint glass produced four inches of billowy, persistent foam of a brownish cream color. This beer is a dark one -- black-brown, with reddish mahogany tinge around the edge. The aroma is musty, with a minty sweetness, and unmistakable alcohol undertones.

Upon sipping, I am first struck by the weighty, creamy mouthfeel, and this creaminess continues to impress throughout the pint. There is a sweet beginning, with butterscotch moving into dark chocolate, molasses, alcohol, and hint of smoked bacon. There is some bitterness, locked tightly together with the sweetness and the ethanol presence. As the considerable complexities sort out toward the finish, lying deep beneath the dark, sweet flavors is a roasted malted barley core.

Compared with great English porters like Samuel Smith's Famous Taddy Porter or St. Peter's Old Style Porter, Anchor Porter is quite different. It is not as easy to detect the "three threads" -- and particularly missing is the dank, musty component. It is overall sweeter, too, I think. In fact, at the moment its stout-like qualities strike me as much as its porter-like ones. (Then again, see caveat above.) Regardless, here is a quintessential American brewery's take on a quintessentially English beer style. So be it!

From the bottle's label:

San Francisco's famous Anchor Porter brand is made in one of the smallest and most traditional breweries in the world by the brewers of Anchor Steam Beer. Our old-fashioned porter is virtually hand-made, with an exceptional respect for the ancient art of brewing. We use 100% malted barley, generous amounts of fresh, whole hops, entirely natural carbonation, and a simple, natural brewing process which is like no other in the world. The deep black color, the thick creamy head and the intensely rich flavor of Anchor Porter, made in San Francisco since 1974, have earned this delicious and unique brew a worldwide reputation for outstanding quality. It is aesthetically pleasing and wholly superior in every respect.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Beer Club (week one)

In what is arguably the best idea to come out of the News Journal's Local Information Center since the inception of the Quad-screen Dumbotron™, Justin Williams (professional daredevil, content whiz, and beer lover) has assembled a group of hardy fellows to partake in the sharing of beers and beer-tasting opinions.

The blog is still ramping up, but someday you may be able to follow the action and meet the personalities here: Brewsroom (That's an example of Jeffrey Gentry's wordplay. I guess if all our opinions agree it will be the Bros Room, and if we disagree violently it could become the Bruise Room...)

The first round of brews being consumed:
Anchor Steam (Anchor Brewing)
Chang (Thai Beverage)
Hop Hazard (River Horse Brewing Company)
Hoss Rye Lager (Great Divide Brewing)
Mojo IPA (Boulder Beer Company)
Yakima Glory (Victory Brewing Company)

St. Boisterous Hellerbock (Victory Brewing Company)

So, my friend and former coworker, Kelly, left to work in the PR department at Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, PA. She is truly a Good Kid® and I was very sorry to see her go, but excited that she will be working for a great craft brewery with an impressive line of beers. I have no doubt that her fun, smart energy and methodical work will to boost the company to even greater success.

Once she started her new gig, Kelly generously sent me a sampler of Victory products, and I will be posting reviews here as I make my way through them. I'll start with the seasonal offering, St. Boisterous Hellerbock, which I have never had before. (I've drunk and enjoyed Victory's Hop Devil, Golden Monkey, and Yakima Glory -- the last of which was also included in this sampler and which I will review shortly.)

I poured the beer into a pint tumbler. There arose a slightly spicy floral hops nose with a bit of grain sneaking through. The beer is a beautiful bright yellow-gold and crystal clear. There was a quarter inch of tight-bubbled head that left a small amount of oily lacing.

From my first sip I was impressed by the wonderfully complex flavor. After a ping of carbonation, you're straight into a sweet malt that drops into fruitiness far richer than expected from a beer of this color. It is almost the body of an amber ale -- dimensions beyond what I consider typical of a lager. Also present is a peppery spiciness, suggestive of well-integrated hops and also maybe a contribution from the yeast. Then the flavor drops off suddenly into an surprisingly clean finish. Very nice contour.

This hellerbock combines the bright, somewhat superficial qualities of a pilsner with a slightly deeper malt profile and even some of the richer, yeast-derived aspects of a Belgian pale ale. The combination of complexity and abruptness of finish combine to make St. Boisterous a highly sessionable brew, with each sip demanding another. I heartily recommend this beer and will be looking for it every spring.

From the bottle's label:
The harbinger of Spring, our St. Boisterous is a refreshing draft of warmth and pleasure. Brewed in the Bavarian hellerbock style, this robust lager can seduce any soul with its exuberant character. Honest and sweet at heart, this well-seasoned brew is the product of flavorful German malts and whole flower European hops. Rich and golden in color, this celebratory beer brings with it the warmth of Spring, and the promise of glorious summer sun. Savor the good St. Boisterous!
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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Damnation Ale (Russian River Brewing Company)

  • A really thumping hefty brown glass bottle. I guess they're worried about standing up to the carbonation pressure of in-bottle fermentation.
  • Straw color with bottle-fermented haze
  • Fluffy, nearly white head that stands indefinitely
  • Beautiful fruity aroma: pear, raisin, the inside of a candy shop
  • Grapey first impression. Quite sweet.
  • Subdued carbonation
  • Spicy notes developing toward the end
  • Riesling sourness

Featured beer:
Damnation Ale

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Anchor Steam (Anchor Brewing Company)

Wade Malcolm burst out of the gate strong with his first Beer Club contribution: Anchor Steam, one of the distinctive classics of the American brewing tradition. (After I wrote that I went to the Anchor Brewing website to check for details and in their first sentence is the phrase "the classic of American brewing tradition..." Hm. Maybe I need to go into the PR biz?) Anyway, the site says they have been making Anchor Steam out there in San Francisco since 1896. No telling how much the taste has changed between then and now, but it continues to be more or less unique in character.

From the squat brown bottle, the beer pours yellow gold to copper and very clear. I got an inch and a half of dense off-white foam with nice lacing. The subdued nose reminds me of cold champagne -- just a mild impression of yeast, any other flavor clues held close to the vest.

Sipping the beer, there is an immediate bitter hit, followed by a dense lightly roasted barley flavor. To be honest, the structure is not particularly complex in terms of having multiple layers or transitions, but its balance and the quality of the flavor is very impressive. The medium weighted, lively carbonated body drops off clean and dry, leaving a slightly astringent but pleasant grain aftertaste. It is a brief but rich trajectory.

The pint went down rapidly as I pondered the craftsmanship of the tight, controlled flavor. I kept trying to think of stylistic peers, and I kept coming up short. As good as any lager I have had, but not mistakable for any of them.

With this taste and its trifling 4.9% ABV, Anchor Steam is a true session brew! Versatile enough to stock as an everyday beer (i.e. not so slanted in any direction as to become tiresome), and certainly an ideal backyard barbecue accompaniment, but also of sufficient quality to serve without shame to house guests.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hop Hazard (River Horse Brewing Company)

  • Off-white foam, hazy orangey amber, traces of yeast in pour (unfiltered)
  • Nice bready nose, with a faint citrus or pine. Not the festival of citrus and floral hops I anticipated from the name.
  • The taste is a hop lover's delight, though.
  • Initial stabbing hops bitterness, minimal malt body support
  • Precipitous flavor drop-off into a quite dry finish
  • As it warms, bitterness moves from start to finish. More interesting light, pleasant malt flavors emerge.

Featured beer:
Hop Hazard