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Archive for the ‘Grade: A plus’ Category

COOP AleWorks

December 22nd, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 5 Comments | Filed in Brewer: COOP AleWorks, Country: America, Grade: A plus, Grade: A regular, Grade: A-, Grade: A-/B+, Grade: B plus, Grade: B regular, Grade: B-, Style: Amber Ale, Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Style: IPA, Style: Stout, Style: Wheat (Hefeweizen), Style: Wild Ale

Back when I lived in Oklahoma, back in the 90s, there really wasn’t any decent craft beer.  (Of course, I was a teenager.)  I kinda felt like it would always be that way.  This is a state where you can’t buy cold beer over 3.2% anywhere.  Then, I started hearing some rumblings that a brewery called COOP AleWorks was really cranking out some legit shit.  So, when I made my triumphant return to town over the weekend for a “How to Fail” book tour signing, I knew I would have to seek it out.  On both Thursday night and Saturday, I met up with COOP partner/bon vivant J.D. Merryweather (above) for some serious tippling, pretty much drinking anything in the brewery he would let me.  I was like a kid in a candy shop.  Or, to be less trite, like a drunk in a brewery.  And, wow, was it all good.

Horny-Toad Cerveza

One of two canned COOP offerings (along with Native Amber; the rest are currently tap only), this 5.3% ABV American Blonde Ale would seem to be the “lamest” offering from COOP, the one meant to convert the Bud Light drinkers…and it is.  But that doesn’t mean it’s lame.  No sir, this is a 5.3% beer with some serious flavor.  The Noble hops, the malt body, the carbonation, made me think this was more along the lines of a pilsner, but whatever it is, it’s damn good.

A-/B+

Zeppelin German Wheat

Yeah, no craft beer drinker likes American wheat beers, right?  If more places were making great efforts like Zeppelin, that might not be the case.  5.6% and packed with tastes of wheat and rye with just a little hops coming through, this is a solid drinker, better than most on the market.

B+

Native Amber

Red ales are always a crap shoot for me as they are a delicate balance between hops and malt that if you fuck up, they are just gross.  But COOP nails this one.  Caramelly and biscuity with a nice hoppy finish, this is the beer Fat Tire wishes it could be.

A-

Gran-Sport Porter

Porters are another beer that breweries never seem to completely nail.  Often too bitter and acrid, COOP has made one of the best I’ve had recently.  Chocolately and nutty, this had such a smooth, fluffy finish I was certain it had to have been served on a nitro tap.  Nope.  I really enjoyed this one.

A-

F-5 IPA

I highly doubt there’s an IPA this good made within 500 miles of COOP.  The classic West Coast bitter grapefruit and pine IPA, a little hefty at 7%, this is the beer that will turn a ton of Oklahomans into hop heads.

A

DNR Belgian Style Golden Ale

What an insanely intriguing beer.  An over-the-top complex mix of Noble hops, European malts, and Belgian candi giving this tastes of vanilla, cinnamon, and dark fruits.  And, at 10% this is one of the most deceptively alcoholic beers I’ve ever had.  You’ll want to keep sucking them down.  But don’t.  Or do.  I don’t really care about your health.

A

Territorial Reserve Oak-Aged Imperial Stout

By now every brewery is trying bourbon-barreled stouts and they should excite me as much as another boxing movie being released.  But just like “The Fighter” stunned me and found new ways to tell the pugilist’s tale, COOP has made a real corker of a barrel-aged stout.  Aged on Bulleit bourbon barrels, this might seriously be the smoothest, most perfectly melded bourbon-barreled stout I’ve ever had.  It’s not lacking in boozy taste, no way, but it’s not something that brings you to your knees either.  Rich, chocolately, and a “mere” 9.0%, it’s quite dangerous when you’ve become friends with a guy with the ability to over-serve you this.  I probably had five full pints and never got sick of it.  Wow.

A+

Red Zeppelin

This final beer is one that isn’t even available yet, one whose recipe isn’t fully created yet, and one that I’m not even sure I’m allowed to publicly discuss (I’ll wait for a cease and desist from J.D.), but it was my favorite beer I had from COOP so I want to scream to the hills about it.  Red Zeppelin is Zeppelin German Wheat aged in barrels on wild bing cherries.  This is a recipe they’re still working on and, admittedly, by now the souring had given the beer a slightly vinegary nose which some more amateur beer drinkers found unappealing, but I fucking loved it.  Just the perfect tart, sour, yet still slightly fruity taste I love.  It actually reminded me of Cantillon Kriek if I can be so bold.  I will be.  I hope they release and bottle this one day–it’ll sweep the beer nation.

A+

COOP is only available in Oklahoma so for now you’ll have to hope your company sends you there for work if you want to get some (or maybe write a book and go on tour there???) and I’ll have to hope J.D. is kind enough to build a pipeline to my house so I can always have some around to enjoy.  COOP is gonna be a big player in the beer world soon.

Pick up a last minute copy of my book, HOW TO FAIL!!!

Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout - Laird’s Apple Brandy Barrel

August 8th, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | No Comments | Filed in Brewer: Cigar City, Country: America, Grade: A plus, Style: Stout

11.5% from a growler

The Vice Blog just keeps racking up the awards. (Or getting spam emails.) To wit:

Dear The Vice Blog,

Congratulations! Madison here, and your blog, The Vice Blog, was determined to be one of the blogs to learn about your topic, and has received our 2010 Top 30 Alcohol Blogs award!

You can see your name amongst our winners here at: [redacted]

Winners were chosen through a scoring system led by internet nominations, which came from your reader base!

You can let your readers know you won by embedding the badge code to one of the different awards graphics found at: [redacted]

If you choose to accept or decline the award, please let me know.

Please do not hesitate to call or email if you have any questions. Many questions can be answered at [redacted].

Again, Congratulations, and I hope to see your badge soon!

Cheers,
Madison Evans
2065529587
www.onlineschools.org

Thank you, Madison.* I am honored. So fucking honored to be a recognized leader in my “topic.” And I have chosen to…take my talents to South Beach. I mean, I have chosen to…

ACCEPT the award.

To wit some mo’:

Dear The Vice Blog,

Congratulations! Madison here, and your blog, The Vice Blog, was determined to be one of the best blogs to learn about your topic, and has received our 2010 Top 50 Clubbing Blogs award! [...]

Whoa, Madison, I’ll accept that sucker too. And to think I thought no one had been noticing all the great topical clubbing content on The Vice Blog!

And check out these sweet “badges” I have been awarded to trick out my site. Score!

[redacted]

Get a load of this beaut. I may make that into an actual badge to stitch onto my Ed Hardy shirt and wear out when I’m doing all this award-winning clubbin’.

[redacted]

Now that I’m an award winner–TWO TIME AWARD WINNER–I will have to carry myself differently. Classier and what not. In the manner befitting a two time award winner of a spam email contest. I’ll start that by now sloppily putting up posts, ones with photos that aren’t even correctly turned.**

I’ll also continue to drink incredibly rare and delicious beer, only rarely deigning to tell you about it. The Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout aged in Laird’s Apple Brandy Barrels is one I just had to brag about trying though. Only coming in at 89 total lottery-issued bottles, I was lucky enough to score a taste from one of a mere (reported!) twelve 64 oz growlers that the brilliant new Hawthorne’s Cafe filled a few months ago. They have one of those special growler fill stations so a thick and boozy stout can keep almost indefinitely and indeed our growler opened with a nice pffffft!

Now the first ever Cigar City beer I drunk and reviewed, their flagship Jai Alai IPA, I didn’t particularly love and said as much on this here AWARD WINNING blog. Joey Redner, Cigar City founder, was nice enough to write me and chew me a new asshole but eventually we came to a nice understanding and even became somewhat of online buddies and he even said he’d send me some more beers for review (they never arrived. Sad face emoticon.)

But every since that Jai Alai, literally every single Cigar City beer I’ve had has been good and most have been great, highlighted by the epic 30plus Cigar City beer event Rattle ‘n’ Hum put on this February which I still think is the best overall beer event Manhattan has ever seen.

At that event, in which my besotted grade-inflating ways awarded eleven beers an A- or higher, my two biggest winners for the day were the much ballyhooed “normal” Hunahpu’s, a most unique imperial stout aged on pasillo and ancho peppers as well as vanilla, cinnamon, and cocoa nibs and–totally unexpected to me–Cigar City’s Warmer Winter Winter Warmer Old Ale aged on Laird’s Apple Brandy. I previously knew nothing of this beer and simply ordered it to fill out a foursome flight, but it was far and away my favorite beer of the evening and currently in the running for my #1 overall beer of 2010. A true masterpiece I will never forget. So as you can imagine, I was most excited for that masterpiece of Hunahpu’s aged on that very same Laird’s Apple Brandy. And the shit didn’t disappoint one bit.

Amazingly, the spiciness of the base Hunahpu’s still comes through quite nicely but is somewhat neutralized by the delicious and slightly sweet apple brandy which adds an insane complexity. The thick and chewy mouthfeel reminded me of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout–I’d love to see a Brandy County Brand Stout!–and it was so amazingly luscious. There’s really nothing else on the planet like this beer–all the more reason we need some other brewers to try apple brandy barreling. The beer improves greatly as it warms and I relaxingly indulged in a good 1/3rd of the growler on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I still like the Laird’s aged Warmer Winter a tad better, but this beer will most likely make my top 10 beers for 2010 as well.

I’d encourage you to go find it, but like most of Cigar City’s experimental beers, you probably won’t be seeing this anywhere. Then again, neither will I again.

A+

*Fun fact: The classic 80s comedy “Splash” actually popularized if not created the name Madison. Daryl Hannah’s (spoiler alert!) mermaid character takes her name from Madison Avenue after walking past the street sign. In the years since the film was released, the name’s popularity has skyrocketed by the kinds of parents who name their children after a mermaid slut from a Ron Howard movie.

**In all honesty, blame the iphone’s fucked up new OS for that quirk. Any one else having problems with this shit? I’m going to be really pissed if I have to dig my digital camera out of some drawer.

Goose Island Bourbon Country Brand Coffee Stout

May 13th, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 12 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Goose Island, Country: America, Grade: A plus, Grade: A-, Grade: B plus

13% ABV from a bomber

I always get asked by non-beer geeks what my favorite beer is.  It would be easy to be a snob and name some hard to find curio that they’ll never get to try, that I may never get to try again, but that’s just annoying.  So I usually name Goose Island’s Bourbon Country Brand Stout, a masterpiece of a beer that can be easily found just about anywhere and which, despite the lack of rarity, stacks up with anything and everything.  I never get tired of it.

You can imagine my excitement when news came that 2010 would see the release of several new iterations of the beer.  It was like hearing a half-dozen new sequels would be made of your favorite movie!*  Last year saw the release of Nightstalker, essentially just Bourbon County before being bourbon-barrelized–I think it’s apt that while most breweries are bourbon-barrelizing ever solid beer they make, Goose Island, arguably the creator of the modern bourbon barreled stout decides to reverse engineer it back to its base–and that was a swell little brew with a breathtaking complexity.

The first release of this new series was Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout and, while I of course expected it to be rarer than its godfather, I never expected it to fly off shelves as quick as it has and become one of the rarest and hottest beers on the market today.  Luckily, luckily, luckily–because I would have cried if I’d missed out–my man Sam surprised me with a bottle and I am eternally grateful.  Simply put, this beer stacks up to its predecessor if not most of the bad boy stouts on the market.  I had it alongside, just off the top of my head, Black Tuesday, Canadian Breakfast Stout, Darkness, and several Dark Lord vintages and it was definately able to mix it up with those bullies.

Regular Bourbon County seems to have been specifically created for me.  Deliciously hot and boozy, packed with chocolate and vanilla and about as un-subtle as a beer can get, the Intelligentsia Black Cat espresso added to this Bourbon County Coffee makes it a little smoother, a little more palatable, a little more “user-friendly.”  I can completely understand why this effort has meteorically shot up to, as we speak, #3 on the BA Top 100 list while the regular Bourbon County languors a little lower at #45.  Bourbon County Coffee simply has less things to dislike about it.  Personally, I think I like the initial effort just a tad better–I like the harshness of it–but let’s say that maybe two out of seven days of the week I might like Coffee Brand better.  It may even be the best coffee beer ever made.  Not to be missed.

A+

Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout

13% on tap

I thought I could relax in my whale-hunting for a bit as the 2nd release in the Bourbon County series wasn’t slated until October but while procrastinating yesterday afternoon I happened to notice online that The Pony Bar was having a Goose Island event which would have this little gem on tap.  Not sure if I’d ever luck into a bottle of this, I had to hightail it over to Hell’s Kitchen for what I’d long expected to be my favorite of the Bourbon County series.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Bourbon County Vanilla is good, amazing even, but just a little lacking and certainly not in the class of regular, Coffee, or even Nightstalker.  It’s incredibly hot and boozy right now which is saying something when it’s coming from a guy like me who likes hot and boozy (and not just in my women.)  It’s also extraordinary sweet right now.  Bourbon-barreled beers are already quite vanilla-y due to the bourbon and oak presence and adding even more vanilla on top of that makes it almost superfluous.  A “Death by Vanilla” your favorite Times Square chain restaurant might call it on the dessert menu.  The eight ounce glass I had was more than enough.  This is a quite interesting beer but it could surely use some age, which makes me wonder if the bottled release in October might be significantly better.  Let’s hope.  Until then, though, I’m gonna give it an…

A-

To my knowledge there’s quite a few more iterations coming, though I’m not sure that all will be bottled.  A raspberry one, a “rare” one aged in 23-year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels (one of my favorite bourbons ever), and a blueberry one that, oddly enough, several “people in the know” keep insisting is the best.  Excited to try all of them.  Hopefully.

Maple Bacon Stout

6.5% on tap

One of the worst things about being a beer “collector” is that if you see a beer you’ve never tried before, and may never get to try again, and you want to try it…well, regardless of your plans for the day, you’re going to have to try that beer.  It’s not like being a coin collector or something where, if you hear about a rare coin somewhere you can just sprint downtown and buy it.  No, us beer geeks actually have to affect our bodies’ chemistry to enjoy our hobby.  So while I had absolutely no plans to get drunk yesterday, to have even a sip of alcohol, the second I started seeing all these Goose Island oddball rarities on tap, I had no option but to drink them.  I mean, this could be my only chance ever!  And there was no way I was passing up something called “Maple Bacon Stout.”

Not another issue from the Bourbon County series, just a “simple” “low” (enough with the scare quotes) ABV stout, but with some seriously weird shit going on.  It smells like a meaty rauchbier (a style I just haven’t got into yet) but the maple addition adds a nice sweetness to the taste that levels it out and makes it a quite pleasant non-imperial (an endangered species!) stout.  I considered asking for a one ounce taster before purchasing a full glass but, fuck it, I’m a man.  I dove in head first.  Glad I did, cause this one was pretty good.  It’s the perfect beer for those kind of ugly fattish girls that like to pretend they enjoy stuff that men like in order to ingratiate themselves to said men.  “See, I’m not like those other girls–I like beer!  And bacon!  And football!  And giving you unrequited head in the men’s bathroom!”

B+

*Then again, I wish that single sequel had NEVER been made to “2001:  A Space Odyssey.”

Surly Abrasive Ale

May 4th, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 3 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Ale Asylum, Brewer: Minneapolis Town Hall, Brewer: Surly, Country: America, Grade: A plus, Grade: A regular, Grade: A-, Style: IPA

Like anything in American life, the IPA debate always gets whittled down to an East coast/West Coast thing and I won’t make a 2Pac/Biggie joke in the year 2010.  But there’s more to America than the coasts, than “flyover” country as us snobs call it, and the Midwest is making some absolutely stunning IPAs as well, the Eminems of the IPA debate if you will.  And why shouldn’t they be making good IPAs?  They have hops just like we do.  Then again, they have yeast and dough just like we do and their bagels still suck.

Abrasive Ale

9% ABV canned and tap

No matter how Beer Advocate classifies it, Abrasive Ale is not the much beloved 16 Grit simply repackaged and renamed.  Surly brewmaster Todd Haug told me as much.  It is recipe-wise very similar to 16 Grit though–a beer I unfortunately never got to try–and it is a magnificent beer.  Within a few hours I was fortunate enough to get to try batch 1 on tap, batch 1 canned, and an ever so slightly tweaked batch 2 on tap. Now while batch 1 and the first canned version I tried were both magnificent, both A level beers, batch 2, the batch that I suppose will be the recipe from now til iniquity, blew my mind and is clearly one of the best IPAs I have ever had.  This is a darker than normal DIPA, a rich and gorgeous caramel with potent smells of tropical fruits and hops.  The taste is as good as it gets–an over-explosion of hops with strong brunch tastes of grapefruit and sugar, a perfect combination that adds a kiss of sweetness to balance out the bite stripping the enamel from your teeth.  Wow.

A+

Tea Bagged Furious

6.2% ABV on cask

This has long been a most wanted beer of mine even though, like a dope, I didn’t even know what exactly it was.  I naively assumed it was your typical delicious Furious somehow infused with some tea flavoring.  Eh…I don’t know.  I now feel like some idiot 10 year old that never quite understood the birds and the bees until an older kid explained them to him.  Luckily, I finally did learn what the tea bagged refered to, right around the time I got to try this magnificent beer.  Tea Bagged Furious is simply Furious that has been dry-hopped in a firkin cask with various hop varieties in a bag.  OK, I think I get it now.  Kinda like Surly’s novelty answer to Dogfish Head’s Randall I suppose.  Whatever the case, this is a brilliant beer, packed full of juicy hops, made all the more interesting to enjoy on cask where that pesky carbonation doesn’t get in the way of your tongue picking up all those subtle flavors.  Not that this sucker is subtle in the least.

A

Town Hall Mango Mama

6% ABV on tap

A tap-only selection, pretty much only available at the brewpub, Mango Mama is another beer, another IPA, I’d long wanted to try.  I’m a typical “more is better and please Supersize that shit” American, so I usually skip right over IPAs and tell ‘em to make mine a double, but Town Hall’s regular 365 days a year offering, Masala Mama is a nifty little production, a no frills, incredibly drinkable and delicious effort.  The slightly rarer Mango Mama blows that one away and has to be arguably the best 6% ABV or lower IPA around.  I expected a sweeter IPA, but I guess I just don’t know what a mango is (most of my knowledge of fruit comes from the various Skittles packs, so that’s no surprise) because this was a shockingly citric and bitter IPA.  One of the more bitter ones I’ve ever had.  Seemingly no malt backbone or sweetness at all, this is just like straight fruit juice mixed with hops.  And that ain’t a bad thing.  Highly recommended.

A

Ale Asylum Bedlam!

Finally, we come to a Wisconsin IPA, and a Belgian one at that.  Bedlam!–I love when names of things force you to punctuate–is my first introduction to the brewpub’s offerings and one of my first introductions to citra hops, a semi-rare hop varietal that seems to add a somewhat green onion aroma and flavoring to the beer.  A not unpleasant and certainly unique sensation that makes you feel like you just got chives on your baked potato, scallion cream cheese on your bagel.  As we know, Belgian IPAs are pretty de rigueur right now and there’s several new and good ones on the market (Nebraska Hop God and The Bruery Mischief most notably) and this one stacks up for sure.  While not quite as good as those two, it’s certainly a unique offering as the citra hops meld with the overwhelming Trappist yeast for a nice bite and a silky finish.  Obscure, but worth seeking out fo’ sho.

A-

Brooklyn Wild One

April 16th, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 1 Comment | Filed in Brewer: Brooklyn Brewery, Country: America, Grade: A plus, Style: Wild Ale

ABV unknown from a 750 mL

My friends that don’t exactly know beer often assume that I will one day actually run out of beers to review.  I jokingly always assure them that if I simply reviewed every single Brooklyn Brewery beer that I’d have more than enough work to do for the rest of time.  And, you know, sometimes it does feel like I’m a hired mouthpiece for the Brooklyn boys.  Yes, my home team brewery has so many great releases that it seems I have a new one to try and review each and every week.  Their Wild One was a uber-rarity I had wanted to suck down for ages.  Long available only at beer fests and those pricey pairing dinners that sell out in a second, I finally lucked out earlier this week at a nifty Brooklyn Brewery event hosted by Blind Tiger.

Served to me in an unlabeled corked-and-caged bottle, this beer is the always reliable Local One bourbon-barreled with Brett for nine months.  But, whoa, does that take a terrific Belgian pale ale and allow it to enter an entirely new stratosphere.  The smell is fresh and funky like a typical wild ale but the taste is completely different.  Bubbling and effervescent, of course, the initial tastes are likewise sour, but the backend finish is delightfully yeasty, bready, vanilla-like, and most notably sweet from the Local One influence.  I just loved the complexity of flavors and the nice sweet and sour game battling it out on my tastebuds.  It was too good to even savor, I greedily slurped it down like it was Gatorade after a long run.

I would stand in line in the freezing cold for this beer if it was released at a yearly one-off event, that’s how much I adored it.  I even went back to the bar for a second $26 bottle.  I am going to assume it is only lack of knowledge of its mere existence that prevents this beer from being one of the most coveted rarities on beer trading forums throughout America, because simply put, it might be the best wild ale I’ve ever had.

A+

Tokyo*

March 4th, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 4 Comments | Filed in Brewer: BrewDog, Country: Scotland, Grade: A plus, Grade: B plus, Style: Stout

18.2% ABV on tap

I’d pretty much avoided BrewDog ever since their inception, assuming they were just some gimmicky Scottish brewery more obsessed with constantly holding claim to the “most alcoholic beer in the worldtitle above actually crafting great stuff.  Plus, their few bottles were prohibitively expensive around me and they didn’t really get that great of reviews on Beer Advocate.  I couldn’t help noticing that my beloved Stone seemed to have a little international crush on BrewDog though, and the two collaborations they’d done together–Juxtaposition black pilsner and Bashah–had been quite good on tap, I just never cultivated any real interest for BrewDog offerings.

That all changed on a recent trip to DC where I made my first visit to Churchkey, one of the east coast’s finest new beer bars.  The manly 18.2% imperial stout stuck out like a sore thumb on the menu and, with Churchkey selling beers in as small as four ounce pours, I figured, “What the fuck?”

I was blown away.

Tokyo* (the asterisk is important) is flat-out one of the best, most unique stouts I’ve ever had.  This bad boy is not for sissies.  It makes Bourbon County Stout seem as mild as keg beer at a frat party.  Brewed with jasmine and cranberries added in the kettle, dry-hopped after fermentation, and aged for a few weeks on toasted vanilla oak chips, this beer is shockingly complex, flavorful, and sweet.  It’s remarkable that all the flavors I mentioned above actually come through, mixing flawlessly together.  It’s boozy sure, but not the kind of booziness that overwhelms that flavor into one hot mess.

Then again, four ounces was more than enough for me.  For one night.  Confused by lackluster ratings on Beer Advocate, a bit curious whether the few strong ales I’d had at the hotel before tippling Tokyo* had given me a screwy palate, I returned to Churchkey the next night for another four ounces.  Marvelous yet again.  Maybe even more so.  I have no fucking clue what these other online reviewers are thinking.  I really want to get a bottle of this, shit, I now really really want to try Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Sink the Bismarck.  I no longer think these Scottish boys are gimmickmeisters, I’m absolutely certain they are true beer artisans.

A+

Also at Churchkey, I was able to sample BrewDog’s Paradox Isle of Arran (Batch 016).  A 10% stout aged for six months in Single Malt barrels, this one sounded promising–there are so few beers aged in Scotch barrels as opposed to bourbon, at least that make it to the States–but this one didn’t quite stack up for me.  It was flavorful, smokey and roasted, a little earthy and boozy, but ultimately too thin for my liking.  Then again, maple syrup would taste thin after having some glorious Tokyo*.

B+

As a new BrewDog enthusiast, what are their must-try brews I need to seek out?

Alpine IPAs

January 15th, 2010 by Aaron Goldfarb | 16 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Alpine, Country: America, Grade: A plus, Grade: A regular, Style: IPA

A year ago at this time I’m not even sure if I’d heard of Alpine Beer Co.  That seems hard to believe now–now that they have four beers on the Beer Advocate Top 100–but even just a year ago they were a tiny tap-only outfit near San Diego worshiped by locals, not really known by outsiders.  Luckily, just last summer, a great man named Jesse the Hutt insisted I let him send me a growler of Alpine’s Nelson and my IPA world was rocked–it was probably the best I’d ever had.

Alpine finally started bottling stuff in the last few months, and in a recent trade, when Jesse asked what I wanted sent to me from the other coast, I pretty much just screamed:  “EVERY SINGLE ALPINE IPA POSSIBLE!”  And, indeed, last week I received Alpine’s four bottled IPAs, all of which I drank as fresh as possible last weekend.

Pure Hoppiness

8% ABV from a bomber

Seemingly Alpine’s flagship brew, I started my Friday night with this “mega-hopped” bad boy which uses hops in the boil, more hops in the giant hopback, plus an incredible amount of dry-hopping.  Honestly, I wasn’t that blown away at first, but just like Nelson, the more I drank it the more I noticed its complexities and really started to enjoy it.  Pure Hoppiness is a very citrusy hop bomb with just a tad note of sweetness. An odd but not unpleasant thin, cask-like mouthfeel too allowing it to go down easy with minimal bite.  I loved it, but was not OMG floored.

A

Duet

6.75% ABV from a bomber

Saturday afternoon I lugged Duet and Nelson over to an NFL playoff party at a friend’s apartment who, though he is a bit of a beer connoisseur, just doesn’t dig on IPAs.  Has never been able to enjoy that certain hops bitterness we all love.  I, of course, am constantly trying to force-feed him great IPAs and figured I’d give it one last go with these beauties, assuming that if couldn’t enjoy these, he truly would never enjoy hoppy beers.

My gamble paid off as Duet opened his eyes to the brilliance of the IPA.  It opened my eyes too.  I’ve drank hundreds of IPAs in my life, but never anything like this before.  An incredible smell of Simcoe and Amarillo hops “in harmony” (hence the name.)  Sticky and sweet, Duet is one of those great hoppy beers that causes two side-effects that you would think would be bad, but which always seem to denote a great IPA:

1.  Burping–hoppy beers always make me belch as the bitterness tickles the back of my throat and, you know, it’s not entirely unpleasant to keep “re-tasting” a great hoppy beer long after you finished drinking it.

2.  Phlegm production–hoppy beers can also be like a really pulpy glass of  fresh-squeezed OJ which causes the insides of your mouth to form sticky spiderwebs of throat snot, make it a struggle to just open your mouth.

Remarkable how much body and complexity comes out of a “mere” 6.75% beer.  I don’t like to quibble between single and double IPAs, but it’s hard to believe a single IPA could be better than this.

A+

Nelson

7.1% ABV from a bomber

My first time to have Nelson from a bottle and it totally stacked up to it straight from a fresh growler.  Much lighter and fizzier than Duet, almost looks like a macro beer in fact on the pour.  It’s amazing how different two IPAs of similar strength from the same brewery can be.  Nelson is far more bitter and grapefruity than Duet and lacks that sweet tinge of a finish that Duet has, but this is still a masterpiece and definitely a hallmark for those that prefer their IPAs drier.

A+

Exponential Hoppiness

10.5% ABV from a bomber

I saved them granddaddy of the all, the brilliantly named (it uses multiple kettle hop additions with the technique of doubling the hop amount each addition, thus exponentially) and beautifully labeled Exponential Hoppiness for last.  I saved this one for me, me, and only me, as my macro-swilling friends drank some Bud Light tallboys on Sunday afternoon.

Bluntly put, this is now the best IPA I have ever had.  It’s like a boozier Duet.  Sticky sweet with a bitter finish and the slightest hint of the oak chips its aged on.  Can Pliny the Younger seriously be better than this?!?!  I truly hope to find out in the next month or so.

A+

My final rankings:

1.  Exponential Hoppiness
2.  Duet
3.  Nelson
4.  Pure Hoppiness

and the first three would probably be in my top 5 or so IPAs of all time.  Alpine is the KING of IPAs!

On Monday I e-mailed Jesse to praise Alpine and ask him if they made any more delicious IPAs.  He quickly rattled off “O’Brien’s IPA, Bad Boy, Sippin on the Dock of the Bay, Tuatara, and a steam IPA called California Uncommon.”  Unfortunately, all tap-onlys.  I’ll try ‘em one day.

Surly Darkness (2009)

December 8th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 4 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Surly, Country: America, Grade: A plus, Grade: B regular, Style: Helles, Style: Stout

10.3% ABV bottled

How do you remember how good a taste was?  My “normal” friends always wonder how I can recall what beers I liked and what I disliked.  How I can recall that a stout I drank in September of 2007 is better than one I drank in November of 2009.  And, you know, they raise a valid point.  How can one ever remember a purely visceral experience?  For beers, one could review their tasting notes, but I’ll be honest with you, for 99% of us beer reviewers they’re just going to be packed with trite buzzwords scrawled on a cocktail napkin while toasted.  IPAs are “hoppy,” “piny,” and “citrusy.”  Barley wines are “malted,” “caramely,” and “boozy.”  Belgian dubbels and quads have tastes of “candi” and “dark fruits.”  Stouts are “roasted,” “chocolately,” and “coffee-like.”  Yeah, big fucking help.  We’re all frauds.

It would be like trying to explain why some random sexual experience in 2005 was better than some random sexual experience in 2007.  Yet you could probably do that, right?  Because what you’re remembering–what you’re using to “rank” the experiences–is the remembered pleasure you got from it.  So, yeah, I do remember Surly Darkness 2008 as being maybe the sweetest stout I’d ever had in my life but I more remember sitting on my friend’s couch on a cold November night and both of our eyes just popping out of our heads, our jaws dropping to the hardwood, staring at eachother after the first sip and just saying similtaneously, “Is this not the best fucking beer ever?!”

And so, when I tell people Surly Darkness is the best stout I’ve ever had, I’m not telling them that based on side-by-side tastings with every other halfway decent stout I’ve ever had, but rather based on my seemingly clear but probably hazy memory of how I felt that one time I drank that one rare bottle.  An inexact science, sure, something that will always be influenced by the time, place, surroundings, and what happened before, during, and immediately after the experience, but it’s all we got.  And, hey, that bout of great sex you seem to recall having a few years ago probably is better in your memory than it actually was.

Legendary Minnesotan The Captain got me that one rare bottle of Darkness last year and the gracious dude also got me that one rare bottle this year.  I’d heard that this year’s recipe was completely different from last’s–apparently brewmaster Todd didn’t like how sweet his last batch had been–and so I was a little concerned.  The sweetness was what I had liked about last year’s batch, what I felt had set it apart from all the other legendary imperial stouts out there.  So now I had assumed Surly had just gone all status quo and made your typical *BUZZWORDS!* “roasted,” “chocolately,” and “coffee-like” stout.  You know, good, but nothing unique, just throw it on the pile.

I’m glad to report I was quite wrong.  Darkness 2009 smells incredibly hoppy, totally unlike last year (as I recall!).  Honestly, if you were blindfolded and this was put to your face you might guess it a DIPA or a barley wine.  The taste is also a little more hoppy and bitter but that special underlying sweetness is still there.  It’s really blurring the line between what we think of as a stout and perhaps the catchall “strong ale.”  Man, this one drinkable motherfucker.  Most imperial stouts naturally have a drinking “governor” on them if you will and through pure booziness you’re forced to take eye-dropper-sized little sips each time the glass comes to your face.  But not Darkness.  I could chug Darkness and it’s so damn good I struggled mightily to savor each sip.  In my mind, I feel like Darkness 2008 was a hair better–of course even if I had a bottle of 2008 a comparison now would be invalid as it would be aged a year–but Darkness 2009 is still one of a kind and out of this world.  I will continue to call it my favorite stout on planet Earth.

A+

I had warmed up for Darkness with, perhaps, Surly’s polar opposite of a beer Hell (likewise provided by The Captain).  The cool name betrays the very uncool style–helles lager, a kellerbier (aka zwickel bier) technically–and based on the internet geek buzz I was already kinda pissed off at this beer.  Why was the great Surly, makers of boozy masterpieces like Darkness and flavor-packed hybrids such as Furious, Bender, and Cynic wasting my time with such a lame, low ABV (5.1%) style?!

I was so wrong.  I totally expected to hate this, to bitch at Surly for eschewing their high-ABV flavorful beers, but I really dug Hell.  So crisp and refreshing.  Light and grainy.  Bready and sweet.  It’s like the best “shitty” beer I’ve ever had.  That sounds like faint praise I suppose, but Hell is what Bud/Miller/Coors should aspire to.  If I gave this to my macro-swilling chums there’s no way the wouldn’t now realize that Bud/Miller/Coors is adjunct-ingredient garbage.  I’m not sure this style could be rendered any better.  I could drink these all day long and probably would if I live in Minnesota.

B

Veritas 004

November 18th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | No Comments | Filed in Brewer: The Lost Abbey, Country: America, Grade: A plus, Style: Wild Ale

The Brew Slut*

The Brew Slut had considered calling herself the Brew Hottie, or the Brew Bitch, or even the Brew HasAVagina, but ultimately nixed all those options.  The Brew Hottie sounded too childish, the Brew Bitch sounded too aggressively feminist, dykeish even, and she in no way wanted any cute beer geeks to think she swung that way.  That’s why she had briefly considered the Brew HasAVagina, but ultimately thought that might be seen as clinical if not confusing.   What has a vagina?  The brew itself?!  Suffice to say, Brew Pussy was also out for obviously reasons.

Thus she decided to become the Brew Slut (to differentiate herself from those boring girls that actually cared about beer), bought a URL from GoDaddy, and registered her new beer blog with Wordpress.  She was ready to go.  To take over the beer world.

Now the Brew Slut didn’t really know much about beer, but that was fine, she was young and didn’t know much about anything.  But she sure liked to drink, loved going to bars and having all the boys fawning all over her.  Not the cool bars of course.  At the cool bars the cool boys paid attention to the legitimately attractive girls, the thin girls, the non-annoying girls.

The Brew Slut had gone from club to lounge to tavern to pub to dive to watering hole until she finally found one place where men paid attention to her:  the craft beer bar.  At first, she had thought she’d accidentally wandered into a gay bar.  Besides the waitress, there wasn’t a single female in the joint!  But no, these men were dressed too schlubby and were far too out of shape to be gay.

She had sat down, ordered an Allagash White–the only beer on tap she’d ever even heard of–and before she’d taken one sip, guys were talking to her.  Yeah, the guys were kinda chunky, slathered in bad facial hair, wedged into tight beer-related tee-shirts, nervous and fidgety despite being socially lubricated–but they were talking to her!  They didn’t care that she was mediocre-looking, that she had a big beer gut, or that she was loud and annoying, they still desired her!  These were now her people!  And so long as she pretended that she might one day fuck these dorks, they continued to slobber all over her.  And she loved the attention.

The Brew Slut started posting three days a week on her Brew Slut blog, mainly cut-and-paste jobs of brewery press releases, stolen Google images of beer bottles, a rare review of a common beer she’d had which were essentially just regurgitations of other smarter people’s earlier reviews of said beer.  But what the Brew Slut most specialized in were posting photos of herself.

The Brew Slut comically hugging a huge flight of beer samples.

The Brew Slut shoving her sloppy tits into some unwitting bartender’s face.

The Brew Slut clinking glasses and cheers-ing her “fellow” beer geeks.

Man, the Brew Slut thought she was one gorgeous creature.  And why wouldn’t she?  For every time the Brew Slut posted pictures of herself she’d immediately get an enormous influx of comments from web-surfing beer geeks:

u look hawt brew slut lol

I really like you in that dress, Brew Slut.

more pics plz!!!!! :)

The Brew Slut’s blog traffic was increasing rapidly, as beer geeks told their geeky friends about this chick–this Beer Slut!–that actually likes beer!  Like US.  She must be the perfect woman.

Trying to spread her “brand”–the Brew Slut was one of those dumb people that always spoke in buzz words like “branding” and “paradigm”–the Brew Slut took to Facebook and Twitter with abandon..  She would use all the tools of “Web 2.0″ and “social networking” to become a star.  She befriended on Facebook all the big wigs in the industry.  Began writing to them on Twitter too.

The BrewSlut @dogfishbeer Hope to one day have a pint with Sam! #whore 1 minute ago from txt

TheBrewSlut @sierranevadaca Your beers make me horny! #whore 2 minutes ago from TweetDeck

TheBrewSlut @StoneGreg Me, you, and an Arrogant Bastard sounds like a terrific 3some!  #whore 3 minutes ago from Twitterific

Shamelessly e-flirting.  Dozens upon dozens of tweets and re-tweets and re-tweet-tweets per day.

Wouldn’t you know it, the guys that ran the beer industry soon took to her just like the beer geeks did.  They started buying advertising from her, inviting her to beer festivals and private tastings, special release parties and pairing dinners–gratis, comped, on the hizzy–where she would yak their ears off about her brand under the guise of interviewing them for her blog.  All the while shoving her tits in their faces.

The brewmasters were only human and a girl–even a mediocre one that brays like a donkey–was still more fun to be around than 99% of the beer geeks that hectored them with questions about proper attenuation.

Drunk one night off of some of the rarest beers in the world, after finally reaching the top, the Brew Slut went to bed thinking:

“What’s everyone talking about us gals having it tough?  All you gotta do is find an industry with a lack of females in it, and a ton of loser-ish men, and you will easily conquer it.  Man, it’s great to have a vagina.”

It was the only wise thought the Brew Slut had ever had.

Veritas 004

8% ABV bottled

I enjoyed this Lost Abbey masterpiece during an impromptu souring tasting alongside Temptation and Beatifcation–masterpieces in their own right–yet Veritas blew both out of the water.  My man DW provided this ultra-rare retired beer, a blending of Yellow Bus, Duck Duck Gooze, and Cuvee de Tomme, one of which I’d had before (Tomme), one of which I own but have yet to tipple (Duck Duck) and one of which I shall probably never touch sadly enough (Yellow Bus.)  I didn’t know what to expect and was a little thrown when the brew poured an an apricot orangey yellow with just a touch of foam.  Didn’t exactly smelled sour and I started to get confused about the style.  But my first sip was magnificently wild and each additional one was even better.  Fizzy but smooth, strong tastes of sweet peaches which blended nicely with a citric and grape tartness to make for some sumptuous drinking.  Just silly complex, juicy and bursting with flavor, I see absolutely no flaw in this offering.  Even most A pluses have a minor flaw or two, but not this one.  Not only the best wild ale I’ve ever had, Veritas 004 is in the running for the best beer of my life.  You’ll probably never get to try this beer and, shit, I probably will never get to try it again, so I guess we’re both back to square one now, aren’t we?

Fuck what all the haters keep lobbing toward Lost Abbey–overpriced, overflat, etc–they have quickly become maybe my favorite brewery in America.

A+

*Any similarities to sluts living or dead, is probably intentional.  And, if there actually is some “Brew Slut” somewhere out there, I appologize for taking her name in vain.

Russian River Temptation & Beatification

November 11th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 5 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Russian River, Country: America, Grade: A plus, Style: Wild Ale

My favorite sport, college basketball, began this week which means it’s time for me to start drinking shitty beers.  I never mean to, but it always occurs.  Now I’m not exactly avoiding bars like Carrie Nation during the off-season, but once college hoops begins, it seems like I’m living in watering holes.  And, while in the off-season I’m a fixture at fine establishments such as Rattle ‘n’ Hum and Blind Tiger, drinking cask IPAs, quads, and imperial stouts, I’m forced to move to more, ahem, hoi polloi drinking establishments to watch games.  Good beer bars simply don’t excel at having good, if any, TVs to watch big games on (though Rattle ‘n’ Hum is passable) and I am fine with that.

Thus, I move to indistinguishable bars in the East and Greenwich Village that do have great TVs, all the obscure sports packages, but don’t have great beers.  Sure, this is Manhattan, and even the absolute most pathetic bars usually have Brooklyn and Sam Adams Lager on tap, a comically overpriced Chimay even on the bottle menu, but it’s impossible to avoid the $5 pitchers of Bud when you’re hunkering down for the next twelve hours to watch hoops.

And, you know, that used to trouble me.  The more refined my palate gets–I can’t believe I just said that–the less I’m able to even chug down a macro for pure drunken sustenance.  I used to think, the only thing that would make watching the great Syracuse Orange crush Georgetown yet again, would be if I was sipping a glorious beer while I watched the game, as opposed to the Miller Lite I held in my hand.  But now, I’ve come to realize, that I no longer believe that.  In fact, I know that’s patently false.  For you see, I think I maybe have become one of those douchebags that actually enjoys contemplating his fine beers.  Shit, I can’t have a TV blaring a silly game between a group of pituitary cases trying to stuff a ball through a hoop interrupt my beer enjoyment!  Thus, I think I am now thankful for shitty beer.  Thankful I can have something to do–like Jerry Tarkanian biting on his towel, Leo Mazzone rocking in his dugout seat, Jim Leyland smoking–to keep me occupied and keep my nerves at bay as I watch my favorite team in another nail-biter.  A pint of some obscure Belgian lambic simply wouldn’t do the trick.

However, when I’m not drinking shitty beer on game days, I’m gonna have to be tippling the shit out of the good stuff.  Like last week, when I was able to put together a pretty nice beer tasting leading up to game 6 of the World Series courtesy of friends DW (Beatification) and Jay at Hedonist Beer Jive (Temptation).

Temptation (BATCH #4)

7.25% ABV from a 750 mL corked-and-caged

Temptation, currently the 30th ranked beer in the world, is a blonde ale aged for nine to fifteen months in French oak chardonnay barrels.  A goldenrod color with a bubbly head.  Flavors of sour apples, white wine, oak and, of course, Brett, all nicely balanced together.  I didn’t find it to be that mindblowingly complex, but it’s nevertheless flawless for what it is.  Perfect for fans of wild ales that are smoother and less mouth-puckering.

A+

Beatification (BATCH #2)

6% ABV from a 375 mL corked-and-caged

A wordsmith, of course I love a beer that teaches me a new vocab word–”a state of supreme happiness”–as well as how to pronounce it–it’s bee-AT-uh-fi-key-shuhn not BEAT-uh-fi-key-shuhn as I dumbly thought–right there on the back of the label.  Currently the 85th ranked beer in the world, Beatification ages in the absolute oldest barrels Russian River has that no longer have any wine flavor or oak flavor left in them. Russian River notes, however, that “a cocktail of ‘bugs and critters’ (Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, Pediococcus & other wild yeast & bacteria) remains in the barrel.”  This is easily the most tart Russian River beer I’ve ever had, making Temptation seem soft in comparison.  Citrusy and earthy, I personally enjoyed this a tad more than Temptation, but, for you, it will all depend on how much you personally enjoy physically interacting with your adult beverages as this one will keep you puckered and wincing til the last drop.

A+

As it now stands, I’ve had four of the five Russian River -tion wild ales on the Beer Advocate top 100–Santification is all I’m missing, any one got a bottle to spare?–and perhaps I should be embarrassed, though I’m not embarrassed, that I have given them all unequivocal A pluses.  They are all that fine.  It’s amazing how unique each one is.  Russian River isn’t just pumping out the same wild ales and making different labels for them, no sir.  These are carefully crafted beers, each rather easy to different from one another, all worth going to the trouble to locate (and pay out the ass for!)  Russian River brings it ever single time, clearly in the argument for finest brewery in America.

And, just for the hell of it, my rankings at this second in time for their wild ales:

1.  Consecration
2.  Supplication
3.  Beatification
4.  Tempation

For anyone who has had 3, 4, or, lucky bastard, all 5 of the major Russian River wild ales, what are your rankings?