Reflections, Another Year In Craft Beer…

The craft beer world changed this year. We witnessed our hearts breaking and the fall from grace of one of our favorite breweries in Wicked Weed with the selling to AB InBev. We also saw the retaliation from the craft world with the “Independent” movement in the wake of the sale in the form of the label signifying breweries as such, or as the Three-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named saw it, a big middle finger attacking them for doing nothing wrong. Nothing indeed. You know what you did… Anyway, this year I saw myself taking a step back from massive consumption and trying to focus on quality and the rare. That went out the window pretty quickly and the focus turned to whatever I could get from the east coast. That followed through the aforementioned window soon after and the focus was then supporting local. Mix that all together and you get the craft beer drinker we have today.

So this year I have decided to go about this whole categorized awards thing differently and soon after, throw it all out the window. So again, here are some of my opinions, my experiences, my favorite moments, and even some heartbreak. Here are my reflections…

Favorite Tradition

I have yet to make it to a GABF, or do a brewery tour of Brooklyn, but I have made it a mission over the past few years to make the journey to the Bay Area for the release of a beer that along with the brewery has a special place in my heart, deep in the cockles, Pliny the Younger. Nothing like braving the early morning frost of a Bay Area February in order to be in line for first wave sips of what has become one of my favorite beers ever. Is it one of my favorites because of its exclusivity? Because of its cult like following, or perhaps its ability to seriously impair your good decision making skills? Or maybe it’s actually just that damn good, and as with all good beers is even better when shared with friends over great food. That’s a trip to Russian River Brewing in a nutshell, and I am one big nut.

Biggest Surprise Beer

The landscape of amazing beers produced many oohs and ahs this year, but are there any that I still dream about, even long for? Okay, there are quite a few but one above all stole the show this last summer. Fort George out of Astoria, OR gave us their highly anticipated collab beer, the 3-Way IPA. The collaborating breweries being Great Notion out of Portland and Reuben’s Brews out of Seattle and boy did they ever collab! GN and FG have been able to corral the nuances of the New England style IPA better than most and gave the west coast a dream of what they have been missing. This beer stacked up toe to toe with the likes of Other Half and Tree House like it was a real contender. Cue “Eye of the Tiger”…

My Favorite Beer(s) of 2017

Okay, so asking a guy what his favorite beer is might be like asking him to narrow down his favorite breath of air, so as it happens I cannot bring myself to pick just one. First stand out that took my liver away was Mylar Bags from Other Half. In a lineup of outstanding east coast hop juice, on a frosty night in Poulsbo, WA, everything was beginning to run together. Other Half, Trillium, Tree House, all the heavy hitters and there was only so much my palate could take… or so I thought. The hazy beast was poured and the aromas popped like a citrusy dream with an army of hops to conquer my soul. Something perfect about this beer, and I like me some perfect.

Then there was this whole milkshake IPA thing. Skeptical I was. But then I was fortunate enough to win in a game of chance, much like Jack in Titanic, a ticket that would change my life. For the better in my case (I still maintain that there was plenty of room on that floating door) and I was blown away by the Extra Vanilla Double Milkshake by Tired Hands. A mouthful to say, and an even better mouthful to… fill your mouth with? As I expected, my tastebuds were a-flurry with confusion at first, but with each succeeding sip the layers peeled back every detail until they all came together in a cacophony of harmony and discord. The vanilla mellowed the hops and vice versa like a dance on my palate which resonated long after the can and glass went dry.

Biggest Disappointment

This is hard. A gut check to my morales and maybe even a calling out of my craft beer ideology. I, because of this one vice, am a hypocritical lump on the log of a conflicted belief system that I will defend forever, and compromise when it suits me. The beer that causes such an unrest within is Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout. To be clear, my disappointment is not with the beer but with myself. Not because of the beer, which is the pioneering bourbon barrel aged stout that is nothing if not consistently awesome, but because of its affiliations. The business practices of Goose’s parent company are deplorable, instilling actual outward frustration and even anger. So why do we flock every Black Friday to find our allotments worth if we do not support where it is coming from? I don’t have an answer. I don’t have the logical reasoning to support my actions. What I do have is my shame, and nothing drowns shame better than a BCBS…

Best Brewery

Let us not bicker. Let’s understand that we all have our sentimental attachments to both the local and abroad. So it makes sense to highlight both, in my opinion of course, and state the drunken obvious. Let’s be real. No “Best Brewery” conversation can be had without bringing up Other Half out of Brooklyn. And rightfully so. Their growth in popularity is undeniable. Their dedicated drinkers are also campers (lining up the night before for a chance to score some sweet cans is fanatical). And the excitement that I have experienced after receiving beer mail of these beautifully hazy concoctions is just about unrivaled. They get it. They obviously love what they do which shows in their product and their rabid fanbase. There’s legitimate love there, and I’m not afraid to admit it.

Locally, I have been smitten. I am in deep smit. Claim 52 out of Eugene, OR has been consistently raising my eyebrows in delight for the course of a year or so. Like Other Half they have a focus on the New England style of brewing, and dare I say do it just as well, if not better at times than some east coasters. Home is where the heart is, and my heart is cemented in the foundations of that amazing house of hops. All I can say is thank you…

Most Anticipated Beer

I have made it a mission in my craft beer life to obtain and consume those beers that I once thought not possible to obtain, the whales if you will. Like Joe Dirt says, you can’t have “no” in your heart. So what do I want, nay, need this year? There in lays the problem. Everything is at the fingertips of the modern craft beer drinker and trader so the exclusivity factor has taken a major hit. Exclusivity makes a beer taste better. Call me a liar. Something you had to search out, pay up the wang for, fight, claw, do unmentionable things in truck stop bathrooms for always tastes of victory. So allow me to crave for an experience over “a” beer. The Great American Beer Fest is my new “White Whale”. One beer? More like I’m gonna need another liver. It’s the top of the mountain, and I can’t wait to take in the view. Maybe I’ll see some of you there? I’ll be the only drunk crawling on the ground, somehow, still Upright. Cheers you silly suds!


A Beer For Everyone…

I believe that somewhere out there, a beer exists that suits the stingiest of palates. I hear it all the time, “I don’t like beer” or the even more prejudicial “I’m not a beer person”. A beer person? Am I offended or just confused? I take a step back and realize that they are basing their entire outlook about beer on the big three (known as the Three-who-shall-not-be-named) and now feel obligated to educate them about the wonders, nay, the wonderment, nay, the wonderfulness, nay, the one bottle night night time experiences of the craft beer world. I’m about to Miyagi/Obi-Wan the heck out of you…

Let’s start with the easy nibble on my line, the sweet tooth and coffee drinkers. If you can’t start your day without your grande mocha-choca-frapabullshit then I have something for you that will be sure to please, the stout. No, I’m not calling you fat, but to be honest if you were on a steady diet of dark beers then you could be on the fast track to “festively plump”, but there’s nothing wrong with that now, is there? The stout has the characteristics of that morning decadence that you survive the day by, with coffee aromas and palate tingles that put you right at home on an early Sunday. A well done stout is a starting point for rampant manipulation such as, the addition of the classic vanilla which gives it a rich sweetness that should make the fufu coffee drinker extremely contented, the use of chocolate that more or less turns this beer into dessert, the aging in Bourbon barrels that lends a boozy burn that can be lovingly described as elegant, and of course the addition of actual coffee that will wake you up with just as much ease as your bubbling pot of black crude. I’m barely scratching the surface of where the stout has gone so take a risk and give some a try. Observe the different mouthfeel’s, boozy burning sensations, sweet dances of flavors about your taster, and enjoy an actual beer.

Maybe you like something with a juicy disposition. I am very fond of a brunch time mimosa so I get the appeal of an alcoholic beverage that you can drink before noon with little to no guilt. The newest craze in the industry right now is the New England style IPA which is characterized by its hazy appearance and up front fruit palate. It even looks like a cup of OJ most of the time so you won’t get those judgmental looks when you have one with breakfast… or lunch if you had a bunch of “juice” the night before and wake up a little later than usual. These NE IPA’s have been toyed with now by brewers and can satisfy just about any palate whether it’s someone craving citrus, or even something a little more decadent, like a milkshake! Yes, now there are “milkshake” IPA’s that in my experience push the envelope further than ever expected. They start off in a cacophony of flavors that are difficult to decipher, but after each adoring sip the distinction becomes clear as each ingredient starts to shine before they soon harmonize into a singularly enjoyable experience. Think creamy smoothie that’ll get ya drunk. Mmmmmmmm… There are also hop varietals that naturally give off a wonderful citrus palate in properly balanced IPA’s so they might be your gateway beer into a much hoppier existence. Look for beers that boast the copious use of citra, simcoe, and/or mosaic hops and you will be at a glorious starting point. 

Wine drinker? Do ya like the jaw straining delight of biting into a lemon? Were you addicted to the drool inducing Sour Patch Kids or Warheads in your yute (or yooouuuuuth)? Or are you just a sour sumumabitch? Then might I suggest a sour beer? It is what it is, a beer that has been introduced to elements with the intention to pucker your cheeks… on your face sicko. No other beer is scrutinized over the subtleties like a sour beer. The sour is overpowering at times so it takes a skilled (and lets face it, bonkers) mind to create something palatable and enjoyable. These took me awhile to get into and appreciate for what they were so it astonishes me when someone who is not into beer tries a sour and brightens up with excitement exclaiming, “Ooh, I like that…” I laugh in disbelief and request that they swear to god. They swear. I’m the asshole. If you’ve tried everything else and still don’t like “beer” then this might be the one you’re looking for. Give something a try from The Rare Barrel, de Garde, Almanac, Prairie, or anything from your local wild ale production facility and possibly, just maybe, so you’re telling me there’s a chance, blow your mind. 

Maybe you need a first love like I did. The Germans gave me that and opened a blitzkrieg upon my world when I discovered their liquid history. An average legitimate German Weisse beer is better than just about every domestic macro crap you will find on the abundant (paid for by the Three-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named) shelf space. Along with a sweet and spicy Belgian beer you may be on your way to being internationally sophisticated. Or just drunk (remain Upright). The spirit of Oktoberfest is what enticed me and I have been cultured ever since. 

So if you’re tired of taking shots, or maybe you hit the margarita wall and can’t even look at a tequila bottle anymore without the involuntary spasm, then don’t be afraid to look elsewhere, like the noticeably smaller section of beer at your local store, pick out a few different styles of beer and realize that you’ve been brainwashed by Clydesdales and the Rocky Mountains. By catchphrases and fancy color changing cans. By grammatically incorrect spellings of the word “lite” and images of people having a good time at a bar holding bottles with red and white labels (if you’ve been to a bar lately, did you notice anyone in this scenario? Me neither). There’s a big beautiful world out there, come join us sometime…

Porch Bombs

It’s been a long day at work. I just want to go home and curl up with some Netflix, a slice of pizza, and oh yes, a beer. Dragging my feet on my walk to the house and something catches my eye, an obstruction if you will at the door. It’s a box, and I know what lurks within…

All of a sudden I feel a pep in my step and I’m at full skip to get to my parcel that stands like a Christmas present under a tree. In quick but delicate fashion the package is swept up and brought immediately to an area of unveiling. Sliced, ripped, tearing, then as if I was delivering a baby I gently lift the bubble wrap encompassed libation from its womb and a single tear forms in the corner of my eye. Congratulations, it’s a beer!

The process continues like Christmas, the unwrapping of your goodies that you may or may not share with your friends. Smiles and giggles are abundant as you finish the massacre of careful wrap, you line them up for the inevitable “Look what I got” social media photo. Today is a good day (cue Ice Cube). 

This excitement comes at a price. The “beer trade” is usually a tit for tat, buddy to buddy industry of distribution that gives a middle finger to the three tiered system set forth by the government. A system that is almost all but monopolized by AB-INBev by the way, and these trading groups are what make it possible for all of us to partake in the amazing beers that are brewed all across the country where before it was not possible due to the cost through distribution companies. 

It is not cheap. But the best beer in the world is being brewed on the other side of the country (in some people’s opinion)! So we find our way around the broken three tiered system and in the process make some amazing like-minded friends. I am drinking a Double Dry Hopped Mylar Bags from Other Half out of Brooklyn (one of my favorite beers I’ve ever had), and to my knowledge, they don’t ship ANYWHERE! They sell out of the brewery and that’s the extent of their part in distribution, but thanks to the blood, sweat, and beers of some amazing and considerate people, I am throat deep on some considerably amazing palate pleasers. I win. We win. 

So I’m just saying, make some friends, drink some beers, learn how to wrap your beverages properly for hops sake and do your local brewery and like minded brew buddies a solid by spreading some liquids across state lines (I am 102% sure it is illegal by the way) for all to enjoy, because you’re not just sending beers, you’re sending good times, drunk texts, memories, and hopefully friendship. Cheers.

Reflections: Another Year In Craft Beer Pt. 2

My apologies. Had to take a break after my little rant about the Black Label Hopocalypse release. But now I am back with a couple more opinionated jabs at my favorite libation… Coors Light. Ha! Even typing that I couldn’t do it with a straight face! But seriously though, here we go with…

Honorable Mentions

Russian River Brewing Company

First off, I want to thank Russian River Brewing out of Santa Rosa, CA for keeping it real. That’s right, I said keeping it real, because throughout the years and many trips to their pub there is one thing that I can honestly say has never happened. I have NEVER been disappointed. They are the most consistent, unwavering, always gonna have a helluva good time kind of place, and in the hearts of the craft beer enthusiasts that is a treasure. This years Pliny the Younger, just as good as last years. I would actually say better considering that this year I knew what to expect and was still blown away. Amazed. Keep doing you brewbrew. 

Best New Brewery

Beer Lab HI

I may be biased with this one and I’m sure there are infinite amounts of new breweries throughout the country that deserve some accolades but my choice for this one is Beer Lab HI on the island of Oahu. The truest spirit of craft beer is alive and well at this year old house of hops. Passion and excitement, science and smiles, there is a stool waiting for you to expand your palate and give you something to talk about henceforth with all. If you plan a trip to Hawaii, make this brewery part of your itinerary. You will not be sorry. 

Biggest Let Down Beer 

The Beet Gose On

So, inevitably there were going to be some beers that didn’t live up to the hype, the expectations, the dream within a dream… Okay, so maybe not that dramatic but when it comes to our beers, it can get serious. At a local beerfest in Eugene,OR I noticed a beautifully colored beer in the hands of many floating through the crowd. The entire event I was searching for that beer. Which booth was it at? Who made it?! It’s coming down to the wire and I need that beer! Found it. The Beet Gose On by Agrarian Ales in Eugene. A beet beer? Sure, why not? Unlike Red Velvet from Ballast Point, the beet was more than a bit of food coloring for an otherwise tasty beverage. It seemed to play the lead in a one man show production of Titanic, sinking, ne’er to sail the open ocean of my palate ever again. It was blatantly beet juice, carbonated and apparently, if drank enough will get you drunk. The benefits though. Instead of being hungover you’d probably feel great the next day! I couldn’t imagine having even one more glass however. A valiant effort and points for thinking outside the tun, but some things are meant for the singular experience. Agrarian Ales is an amazing brewery. Their dedication to craft beer and using the best ingredients is unmatched almost anywhere, but this beautiful looking beer (and it looked gorgeous) will not be had again. 

Best Brewery of the Year

Its not about one beer. Its not about what your favorite beer might currently be. This is about a fire lit in the industry. A flame felt across the craft beer landscape that whether you liked the beer or not, you respect the heat and warm your toes by it. Locally here in Oregon specifically, a brewery that constantly ignites my passions and my internal warm and fuzzies is Block 15 Brewing out of Corvallis, OR. They have yet to release a beer that was less than outstanding, but the reach throughout the industry is just not there, yet. Other Half has been doing the same with just about everything they are brewing. Traders are doing their part to help the reach of this house of hops span the country, but as amazing as their beers are they tend to be a singular experience. So who is adding kindle to the flame? This decision will not be popular, but I stand by it with my liver in hand. The best brewery of the year, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. out of Chico, CA. Lets forget about the fact that the first craft beer I can remember is their Pale Ale. Lets not bring up the fact that their seasonal beers are some of the most anticipated releases of the year such as their Celebration Ale during Christmas time. What about Hoptimum, one of the hoppiest beers this palate has ever experienced? Consider their Beer Camp series, the widespread collaboration celebration of some of the countries best breweries. Their barrel aged series, Trip In the Woods is fantastic and their Belgian Ovila series makes me feel very evil, Dr. Evil… Countless beers flow from this place throughout the year and I almost always have the thought, ”Thats new… Gotta try it.” Granted, not all of the beers are mind blowing, but all of them are consistently well done and well received. They have hit the mark so many times with beers like Ruthless Rye, Torpedo, Estate Homegrown, Flipside, the list goes on and on, and thats what you want from a brewery. Give me reliability, peace of mind that when I grab one of your beers, I am not going to be let down. Sierra Nevada makes a good beer, and are well traveled enough to be in any one of your hands at any given moment. They have elevated the craft beer community by not only promoting their own brand, but lifting many others through collaborations and creating a sense of solidarity that the macros will never have. Come to think of it, can you tell me any other consumer based product that can say the same? Because I can’t…

 Best Beer of the Year

I have received numerous responses to this question. Opinion after opinion, argument after argument, all pointing to the same conclusion predictably enough. If you ask 100 craft beer enthusiasts what the best beer is you’re most likely going to get 500 different answers, because that’s the world we live and drink in. To the stout drinker you’re going to hear that maybe Bourbon County is the best, or Prairie Bomb! To the IPA drinker you’re most likely going to hear a laundry list of Other Half, Tired Hands, Tree House, Alchemist, or any one of the East Coast breweries that are doing awesome beers these days. You’re going to have people claim that their local brewery has the best beer anywhere (I am guilty, Block 15, you my boys) and who is to say otherwise? Certainly not me and shame on anyone who does, because no matter what is in your hand, at that moment at any given time, that might be the best beer for you. We as a community understand that and are doing our part to spread the word across the country through trades, raffles, giveaways, like mini distribution companies. It’s a great time to be a beer drinker. There’s excitement coming home to a porch bomb of cross country libations that before you would’ve had to actually travel great distances to enjoy. I myself recently had my head turned by Tired Hands’ Extra Vanilla Double Milkshake, a beer that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to try had not been for a raffle, that had me on the verge of being outwardly emotional. At that moment, it was the best beer that has ever been. But then again I might have been a little tips. I feel that the best is yet to come for us legions of thirsty. The next fad will flood the palates of the land and set our livers ablaze and the discussion will start again. From now on, when someone asks me what I think the best beer of the year is, I am going to say without hesitation, all of them. Cheers brewthren!

Since my last post, there have been some new developments in the search for the elusive Black Label Hopocalypse. Through social media it appears that just about anything can be acquired. I put the feelers out for a loose bottle of the white whale and after a few weeks I got a nibble. My faith was shaken, until the day I got the response that a bottle was available, and within a couple weeks I was holding it like the baby Jesus. I am excited beyond belief, and hold no animosity towards Drake’s Brewing. I have the one beer that took three years to get. I am at peace…

Reflections: Another Year in Craft Beer Pt. 1

Another year has passed, and we are again lost in the ethers of what was. The craft beer world saw outstanding variations of all beer styles that sent our palates to the heavens, and occasionally to the drain. It is time to honor the honorable, to reflect once again on the best, the most desired, the Rare, the beers that were like a beautiful sunset for our livers. And now, without further ado… 

Biggest Surprise Beer(s) of the Year

There is almost nothing better than to be completely blown away by a beer you’ve never had before. Expectations surpassed, sensory notes at full tingle and excitement, all after your first sip of a beer that you only know from the words on the menu board. There were two beers this year that showed me that I can still be taken to that special place in my hop shaped heart, which brings me to the first one, the Heart Shaped Box from Oakshire Brewing out of Eugene, OR. HSB was a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout with cocoa nibs, cherries, espresso, and vanilla beans. Now I can hear you saying it already. “Really? A BBA imperial stout? How’s was that a surprise?” Those of you who have noticed that you are never lacking in choice when it comes to a bourbon barrel aged anything these days know that when one is unique it stands out just a little further on that ledge. This one stepped to the edge and jumped off, confident that it could fly. The aromas were thick with coffee and cocoa while the palate backed it up with a sweet and velvety smoothness from the cherries and vanilla bean. No hype, no warning, just a lasting impression. 

Beerfests are always great venues to find those diamonds in the rough. Brewers bring out their secret weapons or smaller experimental batch beers that excite, and honestly, sometimes greatly disappoint. But disappointed I was not after trying Sunriver Brewing’s Sweet Mosquito On Fire. Their IPA Vicious Mosquito is a decent representation of the style but lacked the something that would make it extraordinary. SMOF, takes the VM and uses habanero and mango to enhance the ordinary, giving it that little extra. Sculpin threw habanero peppers in and it disrupted the balance of the force. Along with the mango which makes for a perfect marriage to the spice, the habanero helps bring everything back into balance. High praise. 

Best Variations and Manipulations

Sculpin has its grapefruit, pineapple, and habanero. Dogfish Head has their 60, 90, and 120 Minute IPA’s and Oskar Blues has Ten Fidy driving people crazy. Brewers take leaps of faith when they tinker with their classics and in some cases they make absolute magic. Prairie Artisan Ales had lightning in a bottle when they created “Bomb!” with its so-much-going-on mouthfeel and aromas that one wonders how you can pack any more punch for the palate. They have decided to create a Bomb! for every occasion whether it be a birthday, Christmas, a pirate party, or just a chilly night by the fire with a whiskey snifter. What sets this variation-healthy beer apart is that the base beer, while brimming with flavor notes that push your palate to its apparent limits, doesn’t allow for other additions to change what it is. You know you are having a Bomb! and anything else is just another layer of personality that define the moment that you’re living in. A beer for the “whenever” in your life, thats the “Bomb!”.

Most Anticipated Beer of the Year (2017)

I’ve had the Younger. I’ve had the Topper of Heady. 120 Minute? Check. I’ve been deep into the dark and the light of Other Half. But there is one that had alluded me, yet again. I missed out on Drakes Brewing’s Black Label Hopocalypse last year and the year before literally by minutes and now, this year as well and I am very pissed off. Moving on, I thought to myself that sure enough, I will be able to get it this year. Its the one I can’t stop thinking about, the one that keeps getting away, so what would another year of craft beer consumption be without the soul crushing disappointment of losing out on “The One Beer”. A social media post confirms my worst fear, the Black Label will be delayed. Not only delayed, but futures will ONLY sold on one day, a week before I am able to brave the air in flight in hopes to get there in time for it. I was (am) upset, so I went on to their post and voiced my displeasure with their handling of the situation. Their response was a bland sorry that I couldn’t make the bottle release and that they would have it on tap later on in the month. This helps me not. I love Drake’s beer, but I can’t help but feel a little disillusioned with them. I’m sure that will fade with time and beers, but right now the middle finger is stuck in its Upright position…

To be continued…

Craft Geekery at Beer Lab HI

The big move to Oregon was a hard choice. To leave “paradise” for a place like Eugene, OR was and still is a mystery to most people I meet, and to be honest it grabs my wonderment from time to time. But I made a firm decision to live out my days immersed in a more craft beer oriented culture so that one day The Upright Drunk Craft Brewpub can exist without the prehistoric restrictions of the islands. Of course, within the months that I leave a brewery opens up in Honolulu that I had been waiting for without knowing I was in Beer Lab HI. 

The whole idea surrounding this place is the most beautiful thing about brewing beer to me, which is pushing the envelope of experimentation to create something new in a world filled to the brim with so much ordinary. It takes like minded individuals who share the same passion to make this work, and for hops sake, it works. A great brewery is a simple, no nonsense, focused on one thing and one thing only kind of place that feels close to home and the heart. Beer Lab has that. Beer Lab doesn’t try to make that happen, it’s just how it is because there is not a face without a smile in this place and not a palate that is not made better from what is gleefully presented to you. To review each beer would be fruitless considering the “one off” nature of experimentation so I will give you a basic rundown of my favorites, which considering my very Upright nature upon leaving the Beer Lab could have been all of which they had to pour that night, but I will show restraint, maybe… 

There is always a beer that comes along that is defined by its drinkability. The ease to which one can throw a few back without destroying the palate is something that is almost always welcome and sought after. I am always on the search for beers that push the boundaries of flavor, that put your taste buds on such a journey that they cannot look back. But that is not all this palate craves. Sometimes, nothing sounds better than to sit back with a beer that is welcomed by another, and another, and so on until the day is done. The Spelt Ail had me at hello and I would have been happy to have had it at goodnight. This is the definition of an “all day” beer. Made with citra hops and of course a brett strain that is a defining characteristic of the brewery its smooth and refreshing, perfect for outdoor cooking or football Sundays, as long as it takes all day to do, Spelt Ail is a nice option for accompaniment. 7.75/10 on the UrD scale.

Then we had the Majiyabai. Don’t ask me how to say it or what it means. For all I know its beer geek for “great double IPA with bitterness on the exhale with a surprisingly smooth swallow for such a high ABV”… or something. Thats 9.42% ABV that breathes like an IPA half its size which I can tell you from my extensive research is not a common occurrence. Honestly, that is the expectation I had coming into this house of hops, to experience something different, unique, maybe even a little weird. 7.75/10 on the UrD scale. Then the flip of the coin is the Foggy Ollie 2.0. An IPA that by all means is not too much in any direction, but right where you need it to be. It takes your craving for everything IPA and makes it its bitch. Are you expecting there to be a significant hop presence? There it is. How about that crisp aroma of hops and malts? Yep, present. But what of the color, that mouthfeel, the… Shut up. Its all there wrapped up as an all inclusive representation of the IPA. They sell crowlers at the brewery, so guess what beer I took home with me? Foggy Ollie 2.0 gets an 8/10 on the UrD scale.

The last one I want to tell you about is the Wicket’s Wheat Wine. Thats right, I said wheat wine, made by the Endorian Ewok Wicket. The first inhale singes the sensory nerves with its 10.5% ABV and barrel-like characteristics while imparting a sweetness you would expect from spirit soaked wood. The palate is decidedly a slow sipping experience of extreme sweetness and alcohol pungency beautifully balanced to allow all aspects to shine. The mouthfeel is noticeably heavier but not too syrupy like some barleywines or IIPA’s can be which makes for some all too easy drinking and questionable decision making. I savored every last drop of this beer and was genuinely sad when it was done. Well done my friends, well done. 8.75/10 on the UrD scale.

There are of course many other brews here, many of which you may never see again, as is the nature of experimentation. But thats part of the beauty of Beer Lab that is different from everywhere else. The craft beer climate in Hawaii is changing. The expanding legion of craft drinkers are growing tired of waiting for the great beers the rest of the country gets to enjoy to make their way to the islands, so they are doing it themselves. With the growing cost to do anything in Hawaii it makes it even more amazing that something new and this damn good finally exists and for what I hope is and will be doing very well for the foreseeable future. Beer Lab HI needs to exist, for others to see, taste, to be encouraged to create, to be individuals in the industry of so much repetition. Beer Lab needs to exist, as any other great brewery must, to fill me with smiles, inspiration, hope… and of course beer.

Happy New Beer!

The clock ticks down, and we count along. As if we as a people needed another reason to drink ourselves into oblivion, we celebrate the passing of a year full of joy, regrets, milestones, and set backs. There is happiness all around because we believe, in our own heads at least, that once the clock hits midnight the slate is wiped clean, and we get to make new mistakes, or try like hell just to make it to the next countdown with some good stories to tell. This, is New Year’s Eve. 

I’ve had my share of celebratory binges at years end. I’ve had a couple other people’s shares as well. Some of my favorite experiences were only made so by the people around me, the direct moments following the last breath of the previous year, and the beers we consumed to salute it’s inevitable passing. If there is anything I’ve learned from these experiences its this… I am a big fan of a hot stove for which to put my hand, or in most cases, both hands. Here are some of my favorite blister inducers…

As we get older the need to be around the legions of the damned at New Years starts to diminish, and we start to yearn for more intimate settings amongst friends, family, a curiously friendly ficus, whatever. The party in your soul looks at this moment and decides a nap is more appropriate, so at 12 midnight you wish everyone a happy New Year and at 12:01 your head hits the pillow. But every now and again (and I mean again, remember the stove that I adore so) you get the following day off and the urge to relive your yute (say it like Joe Pesci in “My Cousin Vinny”) dominates. We decided to go where the people were. The drunk, surprisingly well dressed, broken high heeled, sparkly hat wearing people. Like adults we researched where the best celebration would be and made plans with timelines and expectations but as the night progressed at Gordon Biersch at Hawaii’s Aloha Tower on Oahu the plan evaporated. Now it is about how many Winterbock’s can be had before the fireworks signal the years first clicks, and let me tell you, I was bocked up. So after great food, a decent barrels worth of beer later, the newest of years is here and amidst the hordes I am able to celebrate with a select few, the ones who mean the most. Sporting a party hat, token annoying sound making horn, and of course another beer, I kissed my girl and blew my horn in celebration. Happy New Year…

Its been awhile since I’ve seen snow. I love snow, and I hate it. I don’t do cold. However I do drink copious amounts of beer at years end. On a trip to Tahoe the decision of what to drink was that of nostalgia. We are heading to South Lake Tahoe locked and loaded with 32oz. bottles of Tecate, and boy is everyone in for an Upright treat. After making short work of the cervezas our group made their way out to the main strip of South Lake Tahoe where the hordes of the tumbling masses packed the streets from casino to casino. I felt pretty good. Like uncharacteristically outreaching of strangers for warm embraces. Like the engine of a locomotive I surged through the crowd with my crew in tow shouting at the top of my lungs, “Happy New Year!!” Any person who responded with equal enthusiasm got a squeeze from yours truly. My cousin kept asking me, “Do you know that guy?” Nope. Keep it moving. We reached one end of the blocked off party and went back the other way in a Groundhog Day sort of repetitive way, spreading New Years cheer once again. Finally its time. But wait, everyone is partying too hard and no one is paying attention to the countdown! It is my duty to bring it home. I glance at the nearest time telling apparatus and shout the beginning of the end. 5, 4, 3, next thing I know the crowd starts surging together and people are being lifted up to a point like a mountain top. At the top of the peak the largest bottle of champagne I have ever seen emerges and at the stroke of midnight the top is popped off and a rain of bubbly comes showering down over everyone within a 20 foot radius. I then hugged more people. We made our way back to the cabin where the rest of our celebration would happen and eventually end. As the night winds down I escape the small crowd and take some time for myself on the deck where the night was quiet as the grave and the air was still and crisp. Watching the vapors of my exhales in the cold Tahoe night I glance up and see a single flake of snow fall right in front of me, followed by another, and another. I immediately rush inside and tell everyone what is going on and like me their eyes twinkled as a child’s would and stampeded towards the deck where we all stood in awe of the falling snow. We stood together smiling and wished each other another Happy New Year for good measure before heading back inside. 

Finally, it was 1999. They said it was going to be the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar, or because of some computer apocalypse, or something else that made an equal amount of sense. If its going to be the end then we are going to do it right. Everyone get on the BART train and make your way to San Francisco for what promises to be something epic, or the end, which ever comes first. All attempts to acquire alcohol have failed and I am getting grumpy. The city is host to every kind of person imaginable. Gutter punks all the way up to the distinguished suit wearing snob. After roaming the streets for hours, losing 90% of our group, me losing $20, we somehow all ended up at Union Square for the countdown to the end of the world. We stood shoulder to shoulder, building to building as the countdown commenced. All around us people were smoking copious amounts of weed, to my left there were some guys snorting cocaine, to my right another couple of guys were shooting up, and the drunks rounded out the rest of the crowd. These were the believers. The world was ending and they were ready for it. The clock ticked past 12 and the world continued to spin, and I was sober for the whole thing. If I wasn’t then maybe I wouldn’t remember the people hanging from the street signs, or my friend Jenny walking up to one of the riot police and ask him for directions, or been coherent enough to see those same riot police prepare their squad for genocide. Its time to go guys. We wandered the city for a a bite to eat and ended up at a 24 hour pizza place on Haight Street that in all honesty wasn’t that good but at 2am was gourmet delight. Now wondering how we were going to get back the Market Street BART station in time for the last train out of the city we started walking in a general direction. A short bus pulls up and opens its doors, and a voice comes out asking if we need a ride. Why, yes, yes we do. It was a drunk bus. A sober guy driving a bus, picking up drunk people and making sure they got to where they needed to be safely. Faith in humanity restored. We make it to the BART station and in a mad rush we get to the terminal only to find the last train pulling out. Looks like we are staying in the city for the night. So what does one do in San Francisco throughout the night until morning when the next train comes in? Walk. F@#$ing walk. For hours we wandered until one of our friends suggested we go to a hotel that he stayed at one time. We followed without hesitation because hell, what else are we going to do? We found the hotel and walked in like nothing was suspicious. At the mercy of a drunk and high tour guide we let him pick the floor and guide us to what ended up being some random door that led to a small railing overlooking the city. Buildings, bridges, the bay, a full panoramic view of what, until that moment, I never realized was such beautiful city. The sky started to lighten up and and the famous SF fog rolled in. Little by little the flickering lights started to turn on and the city was waking up for a new year. With the horizon on fire I took a mental picture and realized that all the happenings of the night before had to happen for me to experience what was without question the most impactful, not only New Years moment, but singular humbling, beautiful moment of my life. 

Celebrate New Years. You may not buy in to the whole resolution thing, or it may just be another day to you, but the world is on one clock, and its the only day that we as a planet are one. Raise a glass, light some fireworks, give a stranger a hug, kiss your special someone and welcome another 365 days of f@#%ing things up! Cheers…

Cruisin’ in Tahiti

Paradise usually has a very distinct duality about it. Where there is the extreme beauty there also is blatant ugliness. The brochure shows you the bluest blues and the dreamy shores while never mentioning the struggle of the local populous. And why would they? An economy relying solely on its tourist appeal is nothing if not self preserving. But there is something different about this place, isn’t there? Through the obvious struggle of just surviving in a lopsided economy I found a community making the most out of what they have and not letting what must be an askew outlook of the world diminish a bright spirit. This place is everything you dreamed it was, and nothing you ever expected. Welcome to Tahiti. 

It helps to know a little French if you are looking to travel to this patch of land in the Pacific as the French occupation is deeply engrained in everything from the cuisine to the driving tendencies. It would also help to have some pretty deep pockets, because this place is expensive. How expensive you might ask? It was $1 USD for every 47 Pacific Francs (XPF), and a six pack of Hinano, Tahiti’s only beer that they make goes for a whopping 2,100 XPF… Still trying to figure out the math? Thats over $40 for a six pack! If you search it out you can find some other imports like the Belgian beer Leffe which if you must is not a bad alternative to sobriety, but seeing as how it is readily available in the States I steered clear for more exotic choices, such as…

Hinano Tahiti’s Ambrée. Those who are familiar with the blue labeled lager that we have in the Americas know that a Hinano is not exactly a “go to” brew. In fact, I’d rather not even drink it if I had a choice. But the Ambrée has something that the other beer just doesn’t seem to have. Complexity. It is a lovely hue of red and copper as you would expect from an amber lager and the aroma is like a sweet campfire breeze, with grilled sausages, and burgers, and beers, definitely beers… Sorry, drifted away for a second. The palate is definitely dominated by the malts which come across somewhat weighted but not too heavy. Nicely bitter like a good rye but with just enough sweetness to keep it grounded. Its laughable how much better the Ambrée is compared to the regular lager. Actually, no, its not funny at all. It shows that they can produce a really good beer but still will be known for the runoff they ship to the rest of the world, and that is kind of sad. The Ambrée is only available in Tahiti, which makes it a little more special. A generous 6.75/10 on the UrD scale, and at $40+ a pop for a sixer you better enjoy every last drop.

Now, Tahiti is not a place you come to if you are looking for a good beer. That would be, for lack of better words, idiotic. But like so many other great things in life when you’re not looking for something it inevitably falls in your lap. So is the way we stumbled across another brewery, or at least I think they brewed there (the vats could have been for show for all I know). Down by the water across from the town square in Papeete tucked away was a bright light in the dark, Les 3 Brasseurs (The Three Brewers). Being that there was limited time before having to race to the airport, the urgency to try as many beers as possible was at the forefront of my priorities. Luckily in Tahiti there is no law against stacking your drinks so I ordered everything they had at once for maximum immersion. 

Starting with the Ambrée, an amber ale that hits all the marks for the style and paired delightfully with the blocks of deep fried cheese. Not a significant hop presence but the malts give the palate a feeling of campfire wood with a backdoor of sweetness that holds it all together. This one is comes in at 6.5/10 of the UrD scale. Next up, 3B’s has a thing for blondes, and I do too apparently because this one gave me the fizzy feelings. Little drapery on the walls of the glass, very little aromas, and the carpet matched the curtains… I mean the color was extremely blonde. As first impressions go, things were not looking good for this bimbo, but after our first sip things changed and I saw our entire future together. Bursting with fruity notes and a smooth finish, I cannot remember a blonde I enjoyed more. 7.25/10 UrD. Touché 3B’s, touché. Next up to the plate was the Blanche (White). Misty and mysterious, a yeasty breath confounds my senses to have to taste in order to understand. Blind I would tell you this was a Hefeweizen if not for the menu insisting otherwise. But nonetheless the wit notes are there in a supporting cast of citrusy fruit and a sweet exhale. The Blanche gets a confused 6.75/10 on the UrD scale. Finally before a plane whips us back across the Pacific, La Biere De Saison. Do I really need to translate that? It’s a saison. And after all the saisons I have palatized in my time, this one plays like a base beer that is ready for, nay, pleading for manipulation. It’s a cookie cutter saison, which is to say it’s done very well, with only needing a little imagination or experimentation to make it stand out. To be fair, in Tahiti, hard for a beer to stand out, it is not. The saison comes in at 7/10 UrD. 

I wish I could tell you that Tahiti was paradise. I wish I could tell you that its people are thriving. My real world view does not allow for that however. But if you allow yourself to look passed the struggle for a second you can see and even feel the true beauty of this place. There is a spirit in the air that helps to melt away the cockeyed tourist mentality and see the heart of what the place really is. Through the eyes of its sunsets or through the curtain of a waterfall, you find a little bit of yourself in the lonely beauty of just being alive. Maybe it IS paradise…

The Constants

Things don’t always go according to plan. If you’re foolish enough to think you have any control over life and the turbulent world around you then you might be infected with ignorance, or an acute case of hope. But what makes this life manageable are the things that never go away, the joyous slices of everyday that are yours, and only yours, the constants.

 The ever reliable, small doses of world shielding bits of crack that get us through, and to the next day. I saw a future that I wanted. There was a future that made sense in a whimsical Hollywood kind of way, and blinded by hope I made the dive head first into the puddle I thought was the ocean. Crawling out broken and bleeding, I think you would agree, its time for a beer. My constant. My inspiration. My captain, my captain. My constant. In good times and bad, I can take a minute to myself and get lost in the nuances of a simple beverage made of water, grains, hops, and yeast. Of passion, love, time, and inspiration. Self pity running rampant and a particularly nasty case of self loathing aside, I reach for something local. Like really local. Like five minutes down the street, might as well be my backyard, local. A Ninkasi Brewing Beer Run distracts from today’s solitude, and I thank them for it. Like Dogfish Head, Ninkasi has what seems to be a proprietary taste profile when it comes to their hoppy offerings. Beer Run is a big bitter beast of a beer that boasts the rights to brag. At 80 IBU’s it is right in their wheelhouse and 7.3% ABV is nothing to shake your liver at. 7.75/10 on the UrD. 

On the way back from a day running monotonous and time consuming errands, the plan was to head home and eat dinner, maybe do a little laundry. A wrong turn seems more like providence and I happen upon a brewery tucked away like a sniper ready to take his kill shot. Oakshire Brewing stands in plain sight of the world, making great beer, and doesn’t beg for attention. Any somewhat sloping outlook on life is almost always made better by a trip to a brewery, so with little to no hesitation I find myself parked and ordering The Perfect Storm Double IPA at the bar. With mountainous aromas of pine and bananas the rest of the world melts away and I’m lost in the glow of the snifter. Every bit of this sipper is a distraction of joy as the band plays and the crowd drinks, all is right in the world while I am deep in the hop coma. Oakshire delivers a lovely smile and this one is an 8.5/10 on the UrD scale. 

No matter the obstacle, I always try to stick to the plan, but the plan is an illusion. The only way around life’s uncertainties is to grab the infrequent opportunities for happy little hoppy moments and hold them close. One day the scales will shift back again and the good times will outnumber the bad, and maybe the gray that is the outline of the world will be silver again, but in the now, and in the further down the road, I’ll have a beer with you, and everything will be alright. Now is that ignorance, or hope? I can’t even tell anymore…

The Rare Barrel, A Rare Experience 

Where the f@&$ is this place?! The search was intensified by my impending urinations. Finally, we found a building with windows that allowed you to peer into what could only be described as a brewery. The door, locked. Panic rushes over me and my bladder tightens as we realize, it’s the back door! With what was probably viewed as an erratic scurry I made my way around the block leaving my fellowship behind in order to burst through the doors of what was honestly one of the most anticipated brewery destinations to date. After what was probably in the top 10 of all time trips to the bathroom, I was able to bask in the wonderful openness of the very special, The Rare Barrel brewery.  

Not much to it honestly. A bar shaped structure at the heart of the tap room serves as the stage that adoring fans rush to in order to hear their favorite bands play. The seating is made up of simple stools and epic tables at chest height reaching as far as the liver can drink, and even farther. Like most of these warehouse brewery/taprooms the scenery is not just about your beers in front of you or the beautiful company you’re with, but the behind the scenes experience of actually witnessing your beer become what it was meant to be. By far the most awe inspiring aspect of this breweries aesthetic was the walls of barrels that housed their sour magic. I swear it was stories high and canyons deep, barrels upon barrels of the rarest of the rare. So how about that flight?

The majesty of this flight is truly something to behold. Each sample pour would serve as a full pour anywhere else. Now multiply that by six and massage your jawline for a serious workout. Starting with Apropos of Nothing, this tart bit of heaven we were told was soon to be extinct. With sour beers, every batch is unique, so recreating the same infections that manipulate these brews into their sweet spot is damn near impossible. So we enjoyed this one. The color I would call a deep maroon with just enough sweetness to distract from the exquisite pain. Full bodied and crisp to the last, the fact that it’s time was coming to an end made this one a little more special I think. 8.5/10 on the UrD scale. 

Then there was No Salt. Light colored and frighteningly as aromatic as your favorite tequila with a citrus twist. As this one is aged in tequila barrels it takes on the best characteristics of them and marries with the Brett and lacto beautifully. The drawback is that if you’ve had an experience or two that have been less than favorable in the past with tequila (and let’s face it, who hasn’t?) then you might get that familiar turn and twist in your stomach. The flavors are intense and will fool your palate. Like good tequila no salt is needed to enjoy No Salt. It’s citrusy, tequila-y, sour taste profile is probably the funnest out of their lineup. It just reminds you of good times with family, and tequila. 8/10 on the UrD scale. 

On to Dubious Nights. This one is a dark sour aged in tequila barrels, but unlike No Salt the characteristics from the barrels are not as impactful and I feel like the malts play a more prominent role in the palate. Honestly that is the expectation with a dark sour, like Jolly Pumpkin’s Madrugada Obscura the sour notes are more of a refinement of the taste profile rather than a dominating force. Probably the most drinkable out of the flight as far as sheer volume. 7.5/10 on the UrD scale. 

Now with this next one, Forces Unseen (Batch 5), they blended three different golden sour beers in oak barrels. I felt like this one might have been an ambitious experiment that yielded a refreshing beverage, but could only be manipulated so far. Or maybe since we are four sour beers in, my palate is destroyed. Regardless, my acclimated taste center is enjoying the zesty crispness just fine. The effort, present. The wow factor, deluded. And now I find myself more than ready for the next one. 7/10 UrD.

Other than Apropos of Nothing, this next one has a great name that fits the visual aesthetic of the beer perfectly. The beautiful, Lemon Lily. At first glance, I am pretty sure my eyes twitched as if I was already tasting the beer with sight. Its a lovely shade of sour red and pink, like it was picked from the garden and squeezed into your glass. But enough about the visual, the other sense, the one we do this for, its time to put it in my mouth and see what exhales. And there is where I finally pucker and curse. I can’t explain how this one is the most sour yet is not distracting from the supporting cast of ginger, hibiscus, and lemon peel. I can’t explain that without any justifiable expectations coming in this beer managed to shatter my expectations. And I don’t know how to say that I drank more than my share of the taster, and that I’m not sorry. I wish I knew what to say, but I can’t figure out how say that this one was my favorite, and if I had it to do over again I would’ve took it for a walk. High praise, 9/10 on the UrD scale.

Finally, the Sourtooth Tiger (Blend 3). Another golden sour, only this one was shot through a “ginger torpedo”. I don’t know what that means but it sounds painful. Ginger being a typically powerful flavor did the impossible and subdued the sour. It didn’t diminish the sourness of the tiger completely but more like cloaked it in a layer of complexity. Sounds fancy, does it not? The ginger is there, the sour is there, the smile and strain of the jaw, there. Now get me a glass of water and a nap. 8/10 on the UrD.

The mad scientists at The Rare Barrel in Berkeley are doing it right. Yes, they do nothing but sour beers, but their manipulation and coercion of flavors are doing something far more important than a singular beer style. They are creating experiences. They are creating art. Each batch is unique and with it gives you a different perception on what is possible when beer geeks show their heart. Thats what I took away from my trip to this barrel house, I felt a bit of that heart…