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.

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