August 30, 2010

The week in heavy drinking. Day 3: Bear Republic Pre-GABF party

Praise Beer by Bart'ers Gail & Steve...for driving me up on Sunday to Healds-burg in Sonoma County (why is there no train yet?), home of Bear Republic Brewing. Their best known beer--their flagship--is Racer 5 IPA. It took home a gold medal not for American IPAs but for Strong Pale Ale at last year's Great American Beer Festival. So how many medals are they shooting for this year? 23!

Sunday, founding father-son team Richard and Richard ("Rich" or "Ricardo") Norgrove, along with their crack team of brewers welcomed a crowd of about 100 to the patio area behind the brewpub to taste any and all of the 23 beers they will be submitting to GABF in Denver in a couple weeks. (I'm looking forward to my 4th fest, now in its 29th year.) I got to 13 of them.

I started out with the light'n'low ABV to high strategy, but after a few lagers, I realized I'd never get to the fun, bold flavorific end of the spectrum. First up was the Volksbier, which Bear Republic is entering into category 29-D, American-Style Premium Lager. In other words, it's trying to take the crown from Coors Banquet (Miller High Life got the silver). With 4.1% alcohol by volume (ABV) but 30 international bitterness units (IBU), this leapt into the realm of one of my favorite lagers of all time. I can't say the same for the next two I had, El Oso amber lager (I rarely cotton to ambers) (#33-D) and Late Harvest Oktoberfest-style lager (#28-B), but kudos for being one of the few American breweries to even do an Oktoberfest, especially this far west of Milwuakee.

I sampled every rye ale since it's a flavor I like but still ascertaining which ones I truly dig and which ones are just on the bandwagon. I can tell you that between the Roggenbier (#8-B, German-style Rye Beer), Hop Rod Rye from their annual line-up (#58, American-style India Black Ale), and Ryevalry (#15-A, American-Belgo-style Ale), I heartily concur that Hop Rod belongs in the year-rounders. The Roggen is fermented with Hefeweizen yeast so the spicy rye and banana-y Bavarian yeast don't gibe on my tongue. The Ryevalry is fun and tasty, but the Belgian yeast made it too fruity for my liking. Whether or not Hop Rod belongs in the IBA category without roasted or carafa malt making it truly black is for someone else to debate.

And among the sours, I tried all three. Entering in category 20-A, Wood and Barrel Aged Sour Beer, I think I preferred the lighter Toyon Brut (aged in French Oak and wine barrels) to the muskier Cuvee de Bubba (a special blend aged in wine barrels) but suspect that the latter will appeal to fans and judges more as it was more like a Flemish Red. The Prickly Pear Barrel Aged Grizz (aged 10 months in neutral oak on roasted prickly pears) was darker than I expected and I felt the wild yeast flavors were too subdued by the caramel maltiness.

Among the beers you shouldn't get your hopes up to try at the brewpub so I'm glad I got 'em while I could, Bob Peak's Pro-Am Marie Laveaux III black pepper Pilsner tasted like a great pils but should've been pepperier if you ask me. And finally, there was Clobberskull. Here's their description: This English Estate October Ale is brewed with 10% raw wheat and 10% split peas. Fermented with our house Scottish ale yeast and barrel aged for 100 days in French Oak barrels. Not sound like that falls under any category you've ever heard of? That's because it's #4-A. A new one. "Field Beer." Don't look for it to be as crowded as American IPAs or Sour beers; in fact, if Bear Republic is medal fishing, there's no guarantee their flagship Racer 5 IPA will repeat with gold in #46 American Strong Pale Ale but my money is on Clobberskull to win, place, or show... especially if there's only three entries.

Oh, and on the way home, we stopped for dinner at Flavor, a new gastropub I’d yet to hit in Santa Rosa. The gnocchi was awesome and you can never, ever go wrong with Moonlight Death & Taxes.

Monday night's bar-venture: Alembic Bar with two of the principals of the upcoming Cherry Voodoo Brewing.

August 28, 2010

The week in heavy drinking. Day 2: X-mas in August

Some time after the holidays, my friend Chris noticed he had a bunch of holiday beers leftover. I think I suggested he have a "Christmas in July" party. Maybe it was his idea and I just named it. Maybe I'm giving myself credit where none belongs. In any event, July turned to August and he finally got down to it. And he brought it.

The Evite called for winter warmers and holiday beers of every ilk. It also called for guests to don their most hideous Christmas sweaters or outfits, to bring cheapo gifts for a white elephant exchange, and there was the promise of Santa Claus making a surprise off-season visit. He didn't. But the Christmas playlist which included the Wham chestnut "Last Christmas" to lesser known nuggets from Jimmy Buffet more than made up for it.

Dave and Tiila brought Three Floyds Christmas Porter and Captain Lawrence Nor'Easter. Both excellent. Jesse and Eliana, fresh from their honeymoon in Italy and Belgium, brought a vertical of Shmaltz's Chanukah beer, Jewbelation. Jason showed up late but was forgiven when he pulled out a bourbon-aged Santa's Little Helper from Port Brewing and a quixotic Alameda Brewing winter warmer from '09. What'd I contribute? My mixed pack of 12-ouncers included a Shiner Cheer, y'all. Hey, it's not like Chris busted out his Bruery Partridge in a Pear Tree or vertical Samichlaus or anything.

I wish I had a photo of Half Pint and I wearing our furry hats with ear flaps we scored in the white elephant exchange! I'm sure that will surface soon.

If I keep drinking like this, Rudolph won't be the only red-nosed reindeer around here.

Tomorrow: Bear Republic Pre-GABF Cellar Party.

The week in heavy drinking. Day 1: Eat Real

I'm a lightweight. I mean, my weight isn't light (due to my beer consumption), but I can't consume all that much beer. So I went on a one-week wagon in preparation for the coming week, which began yesterday in Oakland at Eat Real.

I was interested in all the ice cream carts and fusion taco trucks, but if we're being honest, I was there for the beer shed (over 20 local breweries) and to participate as one of the 10 judges of the first annual homebrew competition. We were given the option of which of the 5 categories we wanted to judge, and while I would've been happy with any of them (session, hoppy, farmhouse, strong, and taco), I opted for the later to see what area homebrews thought constituted a taco-worthy beer. For the record, no, they didn't have to be made with carnitas or cumin or queso fresco, they just had to pair well with tacos. There were only four entries (the winner was an herbal number, possibly jasmine or lavender and ground ginger, maybe grains of paradise; the runner up was a jalapeno stout but it lost points for having a strong root beer flavor, perhaps from fermented in a carboy or keg that previously held root beer). Of course, the sampling continued through the Best of Show round, which went to a Bretty farmhouse ale. Whoever the winners were--congrats, and thanks for entering. Ditto for those who entered the jam competition. I loved sampling 'em all and while I believe the blackberry-chocolate was going to win, my hands-down vote was for the Lemon-IPA marmalade!

From there, it was over to the beer shed. I was surprisingly disappointed with Sierra Nevada's Tumbler (autumn brown ale) because their new releases have really been killing it. But fortunately, I got to try Ale Industries' Rye'd Piper and Black Diamond's Saison (from the description, it tasted like Red Headed Stepchild).

As I was leaving Jack London Square, I cashed in my remaining drink ticket at the juice stand and the perceptive rep from Odwalla steered me toward a tropical number with coconut juice ("It has extra potassium"), hence, while I had an easy-breezy BART ride home, I did not wake up hungover.

Tonight: a Christmas in August Beer BBQ.