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…

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Pliny The Younger

You know the industry has come a long way when one measly beer release is an actual event. When people make the pilgrimage from one side of the country or over oceans to partake in the privilege of waiting in line for hours, just for the chance to taste that one beer, you know that this is more than a passing fancy, this is life. There are two weeks in February that call out to every brew guzzling enthusiast that have caused vacations to be planned around the release of a very special, almost mythological, white whale beer called Pliny the Younger. 

If you claim to be any kind of craft beer connoisseur then you have no doubt heard of his father, Pliny the Elder. Probably have even been fortunate enough to have had a few filter through your liver. But the Younger, very few in the grand scope of the world can say they have braved the chilly Santa Rosa February to imbibe what most would consider beer nirvana. The notion was floated into the air and soon enough a date was set for what would soon be the most exciting brew crusade of them all (or so far)…

At first the thought of waking up at 6:00 am to get ready to go drink some beers seems a little like a problem that people go to meetings for. This is life however, and the early bird gets the Younger. I have made a few trips to the already “dear to my heart” Russian River Brewing Company but this one feels different, and for obvious reasons. With my compadre in tow we found our spot in the all day parking garage and I swear, we skipped and scurried around the corner to the anticipation that sang in our hearts and livers. Met with an intimidating line of like minded pilgrims, we stood like mighty Spartans at the Hot Gates, until of course the hip dude came by and gave us our “first wave” stamp on our hand, then we felt like hoes waiting to get into the club. Hey, if the shoe fits. A wrist band followed and then it was back to counting the frosty seconds until doors opened. Overall, an hour and a half later we were ushered into the warmth of a packed haven for the thirsty and elated. So how was it you ask? Well, let me tell you…

  

Straight away we order our first round of three and the anticipation is at a nuclear level. The energetic and accommodating staff delivered our 10 oz. pours of what has been considered by many as the best beer in America. At first glance, this 10.25% ABV offspring is quiet and calculating. The color, beer. And I’m not trying to be cute because the Younger is the color of your expectations when you crave your favorite brew. Its a perfect golden autumn that is somehow crystal clear enough to see into the future. Or maybe thats just the delirium from being up since before the Devil. The aromas were tropical and dry like The Elder but with a little more gas that glues your eyelids open and clears your sinuses. First sip is an explosion of malt sugars and a glorious hop variety that manifests itself in a laugh to oneself. After about 10 seconds of basking in the aftermath of that first sip, it disappeared almost completely from my palate. Not in a wave of despair but refreshingly. With other triple IPA’s it is common to take a couple sips and be overwhelmed by the immense hop presence, but that is not the case here. I don’t know how they managed to subdue the lupulin beast, but it allows for continued enjoyment without exhausting your palate. Those of you that have had a Heady Topper, think along those lines only with a bigger smile at the end. 

Before I knew it the entire experience was over. I am better for having gone through this. The search for a beer that defines why we do what we do can be realized when brews like this are labored over with fierce and intense care. I cannot wait to come back and go through this circus again, because its worth for this Upright Drunk is in the weight of a future that I want and will live in. I am inspired, and thats the reason for it all.

And by the way, its a 10 out of 10. Call me a liar.

The Sour Menace

I like to think that my palate is always evolving. I would hate to think there is a beer style out there that doesn’t appeal to my ever expanding open mindness. As I talked about in one of my first posts, pilsners almost immediately initiate a gag reflex but there seems to always be the exception. My Antonia from Dogfish Head was the one in that case. I did not used to care about stouts until I was introduced to good Old Rasputin and my world went dark (Get it? Dark?). So until recently I had a hard time with a certain beer style that is relatively new to the mainstream craft brew drinker in sours. 

I didn’t get it. It was a winey and tart taste profile that I thought was a horrible idea. Then you get the cool kids sipping back on their sour beers describing how complex the experience is and how cool they are because nobody else was drinking them. I wanted to be a cool kid. I tried my best, but in the end I just wasn’t cool enough. Fast forward about a year and unbeknownst to me I purchased a sour beer from Jolly Pumpkin called Madrugada Obscura (Dark Dawn Stout). Being that they were new to the islands I was not aware of their modus operandi. A predominantly sour producing brewery. Upon first sip of this bit of tart darkness my world again was thrown into turmoil. It was outstanding! Everything you’d expect from a dark beer and then the sour notes swoop in and make the whole experience feel sophisticated somehow. I felt cool finally. I realized that like other beer styles a sour can be more than a singular experience.

So maybe it was time to open this palate up to a whole new world of jaw muscle tightening brews. A late night bar hop (no pun intended, but pun totally nailed) with the family eventually led to the last stop of the night, The Pig and the Pickle in Concord, CA. On tap, the Dark Pumpkin Sour from Almanac Beer Co. The color was a beautiful hue of autumn and a faint, almost non existent aroma of pumpkin. Each sip wrung my palate out like a wet towel and as it warmed up I was exhaling out of my eyes. It has become what I expect out of all sour beers, a benchmark. By the way, this brew comes in at 7.75/10 on the UrD scale. Almanac eventually made their way out to Hawaii and brought a portion of their solid sour lineup with them. My favorite from their inaugural tap attack at BREW’d in Kaimuki, Oahu was the Dogpatch Sour which had a glorious balance of sweet fruit and sour daggers in my jawline. This one comes in at 7.5/10 on the UrD scale. 

I never thought I would one day be on a search for amazing sour beers, but alas here I go on another journey in the Bay Area to find a bucket list sour destination, The Rare Barrel in Berkeley, CA. I am finding excitement in the possibilities that something special will pass through these lips and put me in my beer snobbing place. I find myself gearing up for some massive strain on my palate in a way that only these sour bits of magic can. I love that because of the unpredictability of these brews because of their bacterial and aging processes means that you are truly getting a singular and unique experience every time. I love the exclusivity of the beer style itself. I want to grow a beard and wear glasses that do nothing but highlight my amazing cheek bones so that I can be like the cool kids these days. I just want a beer that changes my world. Is that too much to ask?

Reflection, A Year In Craft Beer

It’s been quite the ride. Another year gone and the oceans of craft beer from the past 12 months surges it’s way into memory and some into oblivion. This blog if anything for me is all about recollection, whether it be about experiences or simply tastes that stood the test of time in the otherwise spotted rinse cycle that is my memory. In honor of those that deflected forgetfulness this year, I have decided to have the first ever “Upright Drunk Best/Worst of Awards…Show…Ceremony…Thing”… Keep in mind that anything you read in this blog is completely self serving and though I value your outlook on craft beer, life, Donald Trump… I take that last one back… my opinions are just that, mine. So if you agree or if I have inspired you to make your own list, awesome. If you gonna hate, well, as a good friend of mine once said, “Bitches gonna bitch…” Aaaaaand here are our categories for…….

Biggest Surprise Beer of the Year goes to (drum roll)… Ballast Point Brewing’s Calm Before the Storm. So what’s the surprise you might say. It’s Ballast Point, and one should almost always expect greatness. And I do, but like the Grapefruit Sculpin the year before, I was not prepared for the curve ball that had me swinging for the fences with CBtS. They are slick over there in sunny San Diago (I know it’s Diego… Anchorman joke) and they hit you with a dark beer expectation being that it is obviously related to that gem of a brew in Victory at Sea. So imagine my surprise when my flight of Ballast Point brews from the nights tap takeover yields a light hued creamy sumbitch batting cleanup. “WTF is that?” I exclaimed. That my friends was a cream ale with coffee and vanilla. That was my mind blown all over the north facing wall. That, was craft beer revelation. 

Biggest Surprise Let Down of the Year goes to… and its a tie. Now before I divulge this pair of “Why did I put this in my mouth?” total disappointments, I have to preface that there may be a very good reason for my utter displeasure that may or may not have a chance for redemption in the future, but for now they are burnt into memory as they were. First the Molotov Lite from Evil Twin Brewing. Beer in a can? Hell yes. Evil Twin Brewing? Again, yes. What heinous aromas released I was not expecting and as first impressions go, this was not good. Expectations were high due to my adoration for its big brother the Molotov Cocktail, a 13% ABV behemoth of an Imperial IPA brewed with the amazing Simcoe hop (and just), so it had a long way to fall. And fall it did. Moving on to the next bit of heartache this year. The Stochasticity Project: HiFi+LoFi Mixtape from Stone Brewing. Now before you grab your torch and pitchforks allow me to explain. Like the Molotov Lite, the aromas were immediately off-putting and the sediment in this one was very unattractive. The flavor was bitter in a non hop forward kind of way. This one, like the ML, I believe was introduced to some beer spoilers. Infections kill beers, and it goes to show that even the most coveted breweries are not exempt from the infiltration of those terrorist microbes. Maybe one day I will give them another shot, but it may take some convincing.

Barrel Aged Reflections and Honorable Mentions

It almost seemed this year that you couldn’t throw a bottle cap without hitting a barrel aged something or other coming out of every brewery. I’m not complaining of course. The nuances that the barrel adds to our brews either make or break an experience. Here are some of my favorites from this past year, barrel aged and otherwise. Goose Island hits us again with yet another amazing variety of Bourbon County Brand Stouts that define the genre. Honestly, I do not know of anyone who does it better and more consistently than the Goose. Clown Shoes rocked some palates this year with a couple barrel aged sumbitches that caused for a standing ovation. The Crasher in the Rye will leave you exhaling some serious fumes. Stay away from open flame. Rexx, the imperial red ale that was aged in bourbon barrels is a game changer and unique to experience. You can’t talk about barrel aged beers this year and not mention some of the palate manipulators at Deschutes. Anytime I pick up one of their wax dipped wonders I turn in to a little kid waiting for Christmas. They gave me The Abyss, Black Butte anniversary (any year), The Stoic, Not The Stoic for hops sake. Jubel, The Dissident, Mirror Mirror, the list can make a grown man, well to be honest, very drunk, but hopefully upright. A steady diet of Pliny the Elder was my pleasure along with a lucky happening upon the very special Heady Topper. Amazing IPA’s that will always be at the top of the heap. If you can find yourself one of those then jump on it along with a Silva Stout from Green Flash and Southern Charred from Arrogant Bastard Brewing (apparently not Stone Brewing anymore). Barrel aging is showing no sign of going away and should probably be its own category. 

Best Brewery

Everyone has their favorite brewery that is ingrained in the souls and livers of all that partake in the craft beers. This is not a sentimental pick for Best Brewery of the Year. This is based on the experiences that this brewery has provided consistently this year and every year for that matter. Without further adieu, The Upright Drunk’s pick for Brewery of the Year is Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits. More than one tap takeover in these islands gave us an intimate look at the BP lineup. They amped up their production of the Grapefruit Sculpin and shocked the world with the expectations shattering Calm Before the Storm. They jumped on the session IPA bandwagon with their interpretation called Even Keel which packs a hop punch on par with the bigger ABV boys. They pioneered their Homework Series which highlights the home brewing achievements of the deserving. Then I’ll be damned if they didn’t hit me with some sour brews that knocked my socks off, if I were wearing socks at the time. They brought back Victory at Sea with a vengeance and for the first time in Hawaii we actually got to celebrate Victory at Sea Day where the peanut butter, toasted coconut, and peppermint variations made their way here for our enjoyment. Along with the classics that they pump out every year I can’t think of another brewery that is as consistent and fulfilling as this San Diego house of hops. What else would you expect from a billion dollar brewery?

Most Anticipated Beer of 2016

What do we have to look forward to this year? Craft breweries have pushed the boundaries of barrel aging and have squeezed every last bit of lupulin out of the hop, so what can possibly get this heart muscle thumping? Dogfish Head has promised to up the production of my favorite brew, 120 Minute IPA, and with Arrogant Bastard going out on its own we can definitely expect some punishing brews from them. I am very much looking forward to getting my mitts on a Hopocolypse Black Label from Drakes Brewing but there is one above all that has me on the edge of my seat. I will be in Santa Rosa, CA this February for the white whale brew known as Pliny the Younger. It takes but a mild suggestion from a friend, barely a whisper and plans have been set in motion to brave the air in flight to the welcoming doors of Russian River Brewing. I have no words for the anticipation. This is what “The Search” is all about.

Best Beer of the Year

And finally, the Best Beer of the Year. This was a hard one. It was like trying to choose what my favorite breath of air was this year, quite literally there were a number of beers that made me feel alive. The one this last year though, that is still a reoccurring bit of lust in the liver, was the versatile, ever expanding, end all be all beer of 2015, Hopocolypse from Drakes Brewing Company out of San Leandro, CA. I raved about my visit to Drakes this year in February and have been fondly reciting it’s glories all year. They served a barrel fermented version at the brewery that was just another version of awesome. Their Black Label version is on the high anticipation list for this coming year and I will not rest until it is had. 

Thank you all for coming along with me on this journey through the brew landscape of 2015. I have nothing but high hopes for this year to come so get out there and support your local breweries because that is where you are going to inspire the ones who will one day brew the best beer you’ve ever had. Cheers brewthren.

Glassholes

If you are like me, and I assume you are because craft beer drinkers are often peas in a pod, then your journey for craft beer does not just stop with finding an awesome brew to consume or cellar. It also means that you are a collector of trinkets and beer receptacles such as unique bottle openers and glassware from your conquered breweries. These are awesome and most of the time cheap keepsakes to provide you with memories of that time you went to Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa and got your goblet, or the mason jar from Lagunitas in Petaluma. One can never have too many of these little windows into your past, and beer drinkers love a good story about good beer. For instance…

A trip to see the family turns into a mission to find and infiltrate one of the best little brew pubs in the country, Russian River Brewing Company, home of Pliny the Elder. Hour and a half drive, pffft, I would’ve ran there if I had to. Load up the car with a couple of other craft beer enthusiasts and hit the road with a Disney-like elation. We arrive at the birthplace of beer Nirvana and order the entire menu in one flight (that’s allowed!). This is a selection that bounces on every inch of your palate leaving you content to retire your mouth for the evening, but not before we wolf down some Pliny Bites and one of the best calzones I’ve ever had. Overall the experience was as complete as you could ever hope for in a pilgrimage such as this, but the icing on the cake is when my cousin surprises us with our very own RR goblets to take home. It’s a simple thing, but to this glasshole it was a perfect gesture, and a great memory.

If you’re ever in the Portland, Oregon area, which lets face it, if you’re a true craft geek it is a must in your very near lifetime, then a bucket list establishment is the Deschutes brew pub in the Brewers District (yep, there’s a Brewers District). As soon as you walk in the glass doors your senses are a flutter with merchandise as high as the ceiling goes. So, let’s order a beer from their, no other way to say it, beautiful bar set up as we wait for a table and choose our souvenir. Due to baggage constraints I was forced to forgo the token glassware and opt for the space saving bottle opener. Before any judging takes place let me just say that I was bringing back almost $300 worth of beer which included eight of my favorite beer, 120 Minute IPA. I’ll get the glass next time. The rest of the pub was as beautiful as the bar and the atmosphere was warm like a holiday fire. The food was just as special as the amazing beers (first time having Not the Stoic…on tap…in my mouth…happy place…) with them highlighting local farmers and ingredients. This experience all comes rushing back in with every glance at my Deschutes bottle opener, and there is no price for that kind of smile. Still wish I would’ve gotten a glass…

Perhaps my most entertaining memory of glass acquisition was the time I got my Oktoberfest stein from Gordon Biersch in Honolulu. After enjoying their FestBier with our lunch I decided to fill my growler with it. I asked our waiter if they were selling the steins that they had and he said that they were. He paused, looked at me for a second and said, “Honestly, if you were to put that one (the one I had been drinking out of) in your growler bag I would pretend not to notice…” I asked him if he was sure and he replied, “The way I see it, you’re buying a growler so you deserve a free glass. We break so many of those everyday its better that you have it than we break it later.” Looking him in the eye I grasped my stein, finished the beer, waited for him to walk away and slipped it into my growler bag. I was morally conflicted for a second, but decided to resolute that at a later time. Come to think of it, all these years later, I never gave it a second thought. Its classic Oktoberfest styling makes for good, fun drinking. And with a good story of how I came about it its a complete craft experience. 
 
I have an arsenal of beer glasses that I cycle through on my daily pursuit of the ultimate craft beer experience, and no journey can be had without proper glassware and fond memories. Think back to when you got your favorite beer glass. If it was a good story them I’d love to hear it. After all, us glassholes have to stick together…

E.J. Phair Brewing Company

I moved away from the California Bay Area some 15 years ago and the craft beer scene was non-existent. I worked in Concord. Never far from awesome Mexican food and a decent skate spot, but palatable beer couldn’t be found at any bar, pub, or grocery store. Skip ahead all these years and the craft beer scene explodes! The Bay is now filled with craft beer establishment-a-plenty. Breweries are within a growlers toss from each other and are churning out some outstanding brews. But like those dive bars that hipsters claim to love, some establishments strike a chord and hold a special place in people’s hearts (or hahts if you’re from Boston). To be honest, there are many in my heart, but I want to talk about E.J. Phair Brewing in Concord. 

To start, let me just say that you only get one first impression and they do first impressions very well. The warm atmosphere of their Concord restaurant is that of a classic brew pub with a touch of pre prohibition flare coming from the sturdy woodsy decor throughout and gold bar fixtures. Its familiar in a homey way, like its a place you have been before even if its your first time, and what’s better than having a beer at home with your familia?

Now for the beers, starting with their flagship IPA, the Face Puncher. The aromas from the malts emanating from this brew are laced with a lovely sweetness that can only be achieved through all grain brewing and they are accompanied by a subtle smack in the palate from the hops. There is awesome balance between the two and it makes this IPA dangerously drinkable at 6.6% ABV, especially when enjoying some of their deep fried bar food which at times can border on unique. And lets face it, unique and deep fried are rarely paired together. This is as solid as any go-to brew, good even for breakfast. Not that I’ve ever had a Face Puncher for breakfast… I’ve had a Face Puncher for breakfast, no judging. There is a sentimental and familiar quality to this beer that contributes to my affections for it and with that I give it a 7.75/10 on the UrD scale. That’s Oregon territory.

The rest of the lineup consists of classic interpretations of the basics like the Plankwalker Pale Ale. Again the balance of malts and hops is what makes this beer so enjoyable. Its like, seeing the whole band is always better than just seeing the lead singer’s solo show. A good beer isn’t just one star, its ALL the components coming together to create the hits. That appears to be the theme with E.J.’s brew style, and I dig it. While the Plankwalker is a tame beast at 5.5% ABV, it will sneak up on you as three or four tend to go down smooth and without incident. 7.25/10 UrD.

Their other bottled beer is the Shorty’s Revenge which is an English strong ale (which is another way to say session barley wine). While this one is good, probably slightly better than middle of the road, it doesn’t have the balance of their Face Puncher and Plankwalker. and truthfully, thats what you look for in a strong ale. You’re not having a Shorty if you want a hop smack or a refreshing yeasty Belgian exhale. You’re having one because you want a little imbalance, both palatizing (I made that word up) and intoxicating (did not make that one up). I get the powerful malty nature of this brew throughout and the hops play a solid cowbell (though I could always have more cowbell). At 7.75% ABV it will take its vengeance out on you and your little dog too. Shorty comes in at 7/10 on the UrD. 

They always have something new whenever I visit the Concord public house and I am always excited to see what they’ve cooked up. Their last couple double IPA’s have been pretty decent, and their double dry hopped Forklift Roadtrip IPA was off the hook or rocker or chain or whatever the kids are saying these days, it was off that. The point is, the excitement of trying new beers as well as the tried and true favorites at your local brewery should be what this whole craft beer revolution is all about, and I have that at E.J. Fair Brewing Company. Support your local brewery dammit. 

Why Lagunitas in Hawaii sums up the scene…

Hawaii always seems like the last one to the party. Bands rarely come here that are worth seeing and the radio airplay is pretty mainstream oriented. Hell, I still see a fair share of mullets and porn staches out here. The beer scene is another example of the island playing catch up with the rest of the world and the arrival of Lagunitas Brewing Company epitomizes what we have to go through. 

Let’s forget the fact that they only sent us two of their beers being their flagship IPA and the phenomenal Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’. When I told my family in California that Lagunitas was finally coming they looked at me in puzzlement. “You don’t have Lagunitas out there?!” they would quip. Their disbelief is understandable when you take into account that you can’t go anywhere without seeing at least the IPA on tap when going out in California. 

I understand that distribution is a tough hurdle for the mass of craft breweries out there on the land of main, but find a way! Stone finally made their way across the pond but had to form a whole new distribution company with Maui Brewing to do so. Now thanks to the efforts of their collaboration there are an amazing variety of beers that are now available… on Maui that is. Yeah, not all of Hawaii yet. Always the last to the party. 

Hawaii seems like an after thought for craft breweries. They take care of their bread and butter states before branching out to the obscure. It’s the price we pay for living in paradise I guess but it I’m tired of it. We make do with the beer that we are lucky enough to get, and thank you Lagunitas for finally coming out. We have our gems that the main land can’t get as well such as anything from Big Island Brewhaus or the new kid on the block, Lanikai Brewing so we are not without quality brewing, but Hawaii just recently passed the law that allows bars, restaurants, and gastropubs to fill growlers which is years behind the majority of the country. Last one to the party…again. 

It’s all things we have to deal with if you want to live in the middle of the ocean on an island. If you want amazing beer faster than they can get it out here, you might have to just brew it yourself. And I support that with all my heart. I am almost through with the rant this has become, but first let me illustrate some perspective. I, myself, have imported more Dogfish Head beer into Hawaii than Dogfish Head has. Chew on that…

Heady Topper by The Alchemist

Let me just start out by stating that in the craft beer spectrum of legendary, white whale, “Will I ever see it in my lifetime” brews, one that flies damn near the top of that list is Heady Topper from The Alchemist out of Vermont. This leprechaun of a beer is one of dreams that you talk about often with your friends. What if we can get some of that? Yeah, and what if I can get that pot of gold that comes with it? I live 6,000 miles give or take from the source, and the source don’t let it too far from its sight. Until…

A birthday is to be celebrated. What do you get the guy who doesn’t ask for anything, but has these conversations about the dream beer? You get on social media and find someone willing to ship a dream directly to your fridge, so that’s what happened. With great beer, comes great responsibility to share… and I got me some… as if it was my birthday. 

Beer in a can is as pure as it gets. The silver glow of the can is excitable and the literature, unlike the sometimes belittling rants on some Stone bottles, is informative at best. Meant to be enjoyed fresh, and if at all possible, straight from the can. Time to release the excess gasses and drink as instructed, and with a certain level of disbelief. 

The aromas are surprisingly subdued compared to other double IPA’s in the sense that the hop presence is more about balance than an end all, be all defining characteristic. The mouth feel is the same. Not overpowering, not over-anything really, just balanced. I couldn’t help myself and decided to pour the second half of the beer to reveal a surprisingly misty brew. They say to leave a little in the bottom of the can as the hop resins have settled there. I didn’t pour it into the glass but I’ll be damned if I let hop resins lay, so I slurped the rest back. I know, I know… blasphemer. As you drill deeper into the complexity of this hazy delight you start to understand what they are trying to do over there at The Alchemist. They created a beer that you want and all day, every second of the day, and never tire of. They created through their “alchemy” beer Nirvana, true balance. While Pliny the Elder is a style done perfectly, I feel that Heady Topper is “beer” done perfectly. And I do not say that with any exaggeration. 

So is it my favorite beer? No. That honor still belongs to the 120 Minute IPA from Delaware’s Dogfish Head, but a case can be made for this one to be top 5 of all time. Like 120 I will continue to yearn for and think fondly of, and now will have to add Vermont to my bucket list of places to go. 10/10 on the UrD scale. That’s right, 10…

Evolution

I like to think back on my speckled past of brew consumption and at times it makes me shudder. I laugh and shake my head at the poison that I used to pour down my throat, and more hilarious was my mindless support and dedication to something that even at the time we knew was truly, disturbingly bad. But I have evolved. I am of a higher mind and appreciation for not only the craft beer scene, but for how I want to feel, before, during, and after. I know now that I care where in the past I did not. Here is a little insight into my evolution…

It started with tapping the shoulder of a willing quick stop patron to purchase the most beer for the cheapest amount of cash. The usual suspects were present in this dark period of my life. Mickey’s, Coors Light, Olde English, Steel Reserve (or as it was known amongst us then, 211), and what disgusting reminiscing would be complete without Natural Ice, aka Natty Ice. Then of course tapping shoulder gave way to fake ID’s and ghetto liquor stores that would actually watch out for cops as we, er, people would exit the store. This is when my evolution, though in its infantile state, began to take shape. 

I have told the story of the first craft beer I ever tried which was Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale, their cascade hopped go to brew. I was not ready for it of course but it got me headed in the right direction which eventually led me to Pyramid’s Apricot Ale. The subtle fruity tones were a pleasant surprise but not overpowering. It was a whim. Lets try something different. It changed my perception that beer had to taste like what I imagine the bottom of a bums foot would if you were to lick it. Do you have the visual? Good, moving on. This phase did not last of course, as too much of a good thing eventually turns bad. It was at this point that I fell into my drinking game phase, where the all consuming need to be victorious ruled my world. Unfortunately that also meant a leap backwards in my evolution to the drinking game staples of Coors Light and for God’s sake I think there was some Keystone and Milwaukee’s Best (The Beast) in the mix (dry heaved just now). This went on for years. Eventually, something clicked and I wanted more than just a cheap buzz from copious amounts of the macro crap brew. 

I wanted a Fat Tire. I wanted the nostalgic Apricot Ale. I was evolving again and as I talked about before in my post “The German Influence” this evolution ignited “The Search”. I have not looked back since that first taste of the Paulaner Oktoberfest Marzen, and eventually I evolved as man has from the hunched ape-like being to this Upright Drunk. 

None of us start out as the people we eventually become. Not all of us are lucky enough to actually be what our child imaginations wished for way back in out pedal car days, but kudos to those who are using their adult imaginations to pursue their adult size dreams like brewing craft beer. The industry will not evolve without these envelope pushers and we cannot evolve without them. Isn’t it great to be Upright? 

The Bottle Share

Since the craft beer revolution, celebrations a plenty have sprung up everywhere for those that prefer craft to crap. Festivals in your city lined with tent after tent of bubbly boozy brews. All for the coming together and sharing of beer. There is a bit of hilarity about that I think. Awesomeness laced with the hilarious notion that it is acceptable. But if the large crowd of craft beer geeks swaying about the day is a little much for your liking then maybe something more intimate, like perhaps what we like to call a “Bottle Share” (aka a tasting).
Now, you don’t bring a Boston Lager or a Pete’s Wicked to a tasting. I have been present at some epic bottle shares in my time and let me tell you, looking back at some of the amazing brews that have passed through these lips during our gatherings I am still amazed and impassioned by the innovation of the industry. These were beers that I will remember and long for, being the inspiration for the search, and talk about until the kegs run dry. Beers like…
Jolly Pumpkin’s Madrugada Obscura was a palate expander that blew the masses away with its complex sour notes in a stout body. That is the first and only sour beer I have ever loved. 8/10 on the UrD scale. That same tasting is also when I had my first Enjoy By from Stone along with my inaugural Lukcy Basartd. I’ve raved about the Enjoy By series before but the LB was a mean SOB. One of the best Stone brews they make and one of the most awesome surprises. 8.5/10 UrD. Firestone/Walker was a frequent palate pleaser at the table along with the amazing variety from Dogfish Head like the Chicory Stout and the perfectly exquisite 120 Minute IPA. 
This is the best way to try new beers. You get to see the faces of your friends as they sniff, sip, and smile their way through their portion of the spotlighted brew (side note: bring enough for everyone to have a sample, preferably about 4 oz. per person) and talk about how it instils those specific feelings that only a good beer can (Ha! “beer can”). The great news is that the craft beer industry is not made up of the flat footed bunch, happy with the status quo. The drink-turned-art-form (beer) is constantly being manipulated into something different and beautiful which is great for conversation when you’ve had a few(teen).
So grab a few of your friends that prefer craft to crap, because these are the intimate that bring the unattainable beers to the lips of good friends, the creation of good times and the lasting memories. As long as the craft beer industry keeps pumping out hop bombs and boozy barleywine bombers then there will be a forum for us rabid beer geeks to guzzle down the lot of them. Your crew whether it be many or few, will always be willing to share a brew, and I gotta admit, if it is me or you, we could all use one or two. Cheers…