Monday, April 30, 2012

San Francisco Airport Breweries – Part 1

                Last week I flew through San Francisco and took the chance to swing into both of the brewery owned airport restaurants in the United terminal, Anchor Brewing Company and Gordon Biersch.  Each was enjoyable, I have been going to Gordon Biersch every time I passed through San Francisco for the past 6 years, but only discovered the Anchor Brewing restaurant about a year and a half ago.  Unfortunately, the time I discovered it was also the last time I flew through San Francisco until last week.  I knew though that I would have to swing by both breweries as I waited for my red-eye flight (6 hours in the airport, fun right?).  Tonight I will cover the Anchor BrewingCompany, tomorrow night will be a write-up on Gordon Biersch.

                So, between the two options I decided to stop at Anchor Brewing first to get some dinner, an unbelievably good Crab and Swiss melt on sourdough with a side of piping hot fries.  It was a great dinner, unfortunately the sandwich was a bit small for the $14.95 price.  I also ordered the first beer of the night with my dinner, the Anchor Porter (5.6% ABV).

                Anchor Porter currently has a 92 on Beeradvocate with a 99 from the Bros.  Over at ratebeer it has a 99 overall and a 100 for the style.

They say:

        Intimidating color. Unexpected taste. Welcome to American Porter.

With deep black color, a thick, creamy head, rich chocolate, toffee and coffee flavors, and full-bodied smoothness, Anchor Porter® is the epitome of a handcrafted dark beer.
A blend of specially roasted pale, caramel, chocolate, and black malts, along with our top-fermenting yeast, creates complexity without bitterness. The brew is hopped at a high rate, and naturally carbonated. The result is dark in the glass, but surprisingly light on the palate.
Anchor Porter® became the first modern American porter when it was introduced in 1972. As we celebrate its 40th anniversary, our porter continues to reward those who look beyond its intimidating appearance to discover its smooth, full-bodied drinkability. Anchor Porter® is the definitive American Porter.

First Brew: 1972
First Bottling: 1974
Alc. by Volume: 5.6%
Availability: Year-round
Malt:  Blend of 2-Row Pale, Caramel, Black & Chocolate
Hops: Northern Brewer

I Say:

            First off, if you want a good classic porter, there are few better.  The Anchor porter is a very dark, opaque mahogany with an impressive dark tan head.  The roasted malt aroma is backed up by a slight sweetness with chocolate and toffee notes.  The flavor is of rich roasted malt, chocolate and toffee with a very slight bitter coffee bight that becomes increasingly more prevalent as the beer gets warmer.  This is an awesome beer and anyone who likes porter should get a bottle, or better yet look for it on tap at your local bar.

Next up was the Anchor Summer Beer (4.5% ABV).

            On Beeradvocate the Summer Beer has a 77 with an 82 from the Bros.  Over on ratebeer it has a 33 overall with a 52 for style.

They say:

Crisp and cool as a San Francisco summer.
The crisp, clean flavors of Anchor Summer ® Beer are refreshingly light, a thirst-quenching American-style filtered wheat beer.
Released each year in advance of the summer season, Anchor Summer ® Beer is an all-malt beer, with over 50% of its malt derived from malted wheat. It is fermented with a traditional top-fermenting "ale" yeast, yielding a clean, balanced flavor that highlights the refreshingly light flavor of malted wheat. The head is unusually abundant due to the natural protein deposits of wheat, with a thick consistency similar to meringue.
First brewed in the summer of 1984, Anchor Summer ® Beer is the first American wheat beer in modern times. Anchor Summer ® Beer is intended to be a lighter beer for those who don’t want to sacrifice tradition or character.
First Brew: 1984
First Bottling: 1984
Alc. by Volume: 4.5%
Availability: April-Oct
Malt: Blend of 2-Row Pale & Malted Wheat
Hops: Goldings & Glacier

I say:

            I had high hopes for the Summer Beer because I am a big fan of wheat beers due to their refreshing nature and well rounded, smooth flavor.  It pours a light golden color with a white head, unfortunately it was served with very little head, but a few sips and some swirling produced a very nice one.  There is a very light malt aroma, more similar to an American lager than an American Wheat (although American Wheat beers have noticeably less character in the aroma than German wheat beers due to the clean fermenting American yeast strain).  The flavor is very light and grainy, no discernible hops.  I don’t often add fruit to my beer, but I was more than happy to add the lemon that the bartender paired with it for some added flavor complexity.  The wheat was a slight let down, and certainly was not the excellent representation of the style that the porter was.

            The Anchor Brewing Company restaurant in the airport is an excellent stop for some great beer and some great food, just be warned that it is a sit down restaurant with the typical restaurant wait times.  There are many negative reviews of the restaurant from people who went there expecting pre-cooked food under a heat lamp and were angry that they did not receive their food immediately after ordering.  However, if you are willing to wait for the food (10-15 min), and want to have an excellent beer there are plenty of reasons to stop by and stay for a few.  Heading to the airport restaurant just intensified my desire to stop by the actual Anchor Brewery the next time I am in San Francisco!

            That’s all for tonight, come back tomorrow for a write-up on the airport Gordon Biersch.

Happy Drinking!!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Damnation – Russian River Brewing Company

Edit: so, I had thought I had a bottle of Damnation 23 because it has a small 23 on the front, but apparently real batch 23 bottles have a large, prominent 23.  Checking the back, this is actually batch 72, which is not a multiple of 23, this last second check called for a slight re-write…  On to the review of Damnation by Russian River…

Russian River is one of the great American breweries, and Vinnie Cilurzo is one of the all-time great American brewers, perhaps one of the greatest brewers in the world.  Cilurzo, who started brewing at his family’s winery in Temecula, CA in 1988, started his first craft brewery in 1994 (Blind Pig Brewing Company) and became the brew master at Russian River Brewing Company in 1997 back when it was owned by Korbel Champagne Cellars.  In Vinnie and his wife Natalie bout the rights to the Russian River name in 2003 and by 2004, they opened the Russian River Brewing Company brewpub at its current location in Santa Rosa, CA.  They have since expanded, opening a production brewery in 2008, and now distribute in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Pennsylvania in addition to their home state of California. 

Unfortunately, they do not deliver in the Midwest, so my trip to California last week was a rare chance to find a bottle.  I was hoping to find the legendary Pliny the Elder, which the liquor store was out of (apparently, they sell out the same day the shipment comes in).  However, I did manage to get a bottle of Damnation, which is well known beer in its own right.  There may be some confusion in that in addition to Damnation, Russian River also has Damnation 23.  The difference is that while Damnation is a Belgian Strong Ale, the Damnation 23 is a reformulated version that they do every 23 batches as a Belgian Tripel.

I am not keen on all the differences between Belgian beers, but I believe that a Tripel is differentiated from a Belgian Strong by being more full-bodied, with less hop bitterness.  However, both styles use Pilsner malt, Belgian candi sugar, and likely the same Belgian yeast strain.  The 23 however is aged in Oak Barrels, whereas the more common Damnation is not.  Damnation is also a 7.75 ABV beer while 23 is 10.75%.

                Over to the rating sites.  On Ratebeer Damnation has a 98 overall and 96 for the style.  On BeerAdvocate it has a 92.

They say:

               Inspired pretty much by Duvel and other strong golden ales of Belgium. It is medium-bodied, has a fruity/banana bouquet, and a dry, spicy finish.
Original Gravity:
Alcohol by Volume:

And the bottle says:

               Damnation – n . 1. The act of damning. 2. The state of being condemned to eternal punishment in Hell.

                In the great beer producing country of Belgium, there is a tradition among some brewers to name their brews something unusual.  Often the name is curious, sometimes diabolical, and occasionally just plain silly.  Damnation is a hand-crafted Golden Ale with an exquisite bouquet of fruit and spice with mouth filling notes of citrus, malt, cedar and earthy hops.  The smooth dry finish lingers until your next sip.

Damnation is refermented in this bottle to create its fine carbonation.  Spent yeast cells form a thin layer of sediment in the bottom of the bottle, adding more complexity and flavor.  Pour slowly, allowing the natural yeast sediment to remain in the bottle.

I say:

Damnation pours light golden with a very creamy white head that has excellent retention.  It appears to very fizzy with champagne like bubbles constantly streaming in it.  The aroma is of peaches, light malts and a light peppery spiciness.  Damnation is full bodied, sweet, citrusy, and malty with definite cedar notes throughout.  There is a very slight hoppiness, culminating in a dry, cedar finish.

This is definitely a great Golden Belgian Strong Ale that is easily as good if not better than Duvel, the beer that it was inspired by.  I wish that I had access to more beers from Russian River so that I could experience all that they have to offer.  As I mentioned earlier, Vinnie is one of my heroes and I really hope that Russian River starts to distribute in the Midwest in the near future.

That’s all for this post.  I am not sure what the next post will be, but it will be up in the next few days.  Happy Drinking!!!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Rabbit’s Foot Meadery – Part 2

This is the continuation of my post from last night on Rabbit’s Foot Meadery in Sunnyvale, CA.  Tonight’s post is going to cover the cysers and wonderful braggots that they made on site.  The line of cysers and braggots are bottled under the Red Branch Brewing label out of concern that consumers would not respond to products other than Mead from a meadery.  Additionally, the cyser is marked as a cider (easier to explain what a cider is) and the braggot is sold as a beer (again, everyone knows what a beer is, but a braggot would take some explanation).

The cysers that were available were the Apple and Honey Cider, and the Lemonade.

Apple and Honey Cider – 6.9% ABV

Apple and Honey Cider is a braggot marketed under a more modern name.  This particular blend is 50-50 Apple juice and honey.

They say:
“We take great care in producing our hard cider from the finest ingredients available and we are sure that you will enjoy our version of this timeless classic.  During the middle ages this would have been called a ‘cyser’ and not a cider.  Produced from 50% apple juice and 50% honey it is perhaps the mother of modern hard cider.  Just slightly sweet, with a full body and terrific crisp apple aroma. “

I say:
The Apple and Honey Cider is light gold in color with a fine, wispy white head.  Rather than being served still (uncarbonated), it is very nicely carbonated.  There was a sweet apple aroma with a slight floral honey finish.  The cyser has a sweet cider taste with a crisp, clean finish.  This is a much better “cider” alternative than the mass market ciders that are on the market.

Hard Lemonade

The Lemonade was interesting, but unfortunately they would not share specifics about the combination of lemon juice (?), apple juice, and honey.  The lemonade was only on tap so I was unable to get a good commercial description of it.

                The Lemonade was yellow, with a fine white head.  It had a very citrusy (lemon) and honey-sweet aroma.  The flavor was extremely lemony, like one of those Lemonhead candies, but not as chemically.

And now, onto the braggots, of which there were four: Biere de Miel, Honey Red, Diabhal, and Honey Stout.

                Biere de Miel – 4.2% ABV

                They say:
                “This is the first of our interpretations of a medieval ‘Braggot’ in our style of a golden ale.  Our ‘Biere De Miel’ or honey beer, is an ale fermented with honey.  We use only the finest malted barley, freshest hops and select yeast to create a wonderful and light bodied ale.  Lightly hopped to allow the orange blossom aromas from the honey to come through, it is an easy drinking ale, which we are sure you will enjoy.”

                I say:
                The Biere de Miel pours gold in color, with a thin, bubbly white head.  It has a very light and dry aroma, similar to a dry mead; with very little orange blossom honey and little to no hops coming through (I would guess a low alpha German hop, maybe hallertau?).  The flavor is very light, maybe pilsner malts, to back up but not over power the honey, and little to no yeast esters (American yeast strain?).  It was very light bodied and finished crisp, if I didn’t know better, I would have sworn it was a lager.

Honey Red – 5.0% ABV

                They say:
                “This ale is a tip o’ the hat to the men and women that have served or are serving in the armed forces.  The ‘Bomber Girl’ or Pinup evokes the spirit of the military and harkens back to a time when things were a little bit different.  Just as in those days, we have selected a piece of art similar to that which adorned the nose of many a fine aircraft.  Another of our honey ales or braggots, this Irish Red Style Ale is a big malty mouthful.  Lightly hopped and bottle conditioned we hope you enjoy her as much as we do”

                I say:
                This poured a wonderful light copper in color with a white head (very little retention).  It was caramel malt forward backed up by a sweet, floral and citrusy honey aroma.  The flavor definitely had notes of caramel malt as well as very slight honey notes and the low hopping of traditional red ales.  This was an excellent braggot.

Diabhal – 8.2% ABV

                They say:
                “Fermented with traditional Belgian barley, yeast and candi sugar we have taken the liberty of adding a generous amount of the finest honey to create the only ale of its kind.  Lightly carbonated when bottled or with a thick head and fantastic ‘Belgian lace’ when poured from the tap.  At 8.2% ABV it is similar to a tripel, but paler, drier and lighter bodied due to the honey.  The style is often named after the devil and of course we have taken the opportunity to do the same – our version ‘Diabhal’ or Devil in Irish.”

                I say:
                The Diabhal was amber in color with a nice foamy head that had great retention once it was agitated.  The aroma definitely carried some alcohol heat and a slight spiciness.  The addition of more highly fermentable sugars allows the alcohol percentage to increase without additional body from the malt; some adjuncts (non-barley sugars) also lead to a fermented beverage becoming dryer (the corn and rice in American Light Lagers).  The Diabhal is noticeably dry, which is unsurprising given the additional honey, above and beyond the candi sugar.  The flavor is lightly spiced and slightly sweet from the funky Belgian yeast and high fermentation temperatures that the yeast prefers.
                The Diabhal was an interesting Tripel-style braggot that was very enjoyable.

Honey Stout – 7.2% ABV

                The Honey Stout is their newest beer, so new in fact that it does not yet have an accepted label or description.  They did however have a picture of the current mock-up label.

                I say:
                The Honey stout is very dark brown, almost opaque with a creamy tan head that had very good retention.  The aroma is roasted with noticeable honey sweetness. The flavor is sweet and malty with a dry finish.  This was a very good Irish stout, with just the slightest honey.

 The final sample of the tasting was interesting raspberry chocolate mead called Chocolate Raspberry Love, and it weighed in at a staggering 18% ABV.  Our server referred to it as being an attempt at something reminiscent of a Port Wine.

They say:
“A celebration of love, this delicious wine is a marriage of two stars.  Chocolate Raspberry Love is the grooviest wine around and it makes exceptional way to mix up a wonderful mead.”

I say:
This was extremely heavy and viscous mead that was dark mahogany in color.  The aroma was of chocolate raspberry candies and the flavor mirrored it with very sweet raspberry notes blending into a chocolate finish.  It was an interesting mead, and definitely one that was crafted for sipping in small quantities or savoring like a Port.  Unfortunately, it was too sweet for me.

Well, that’s all for tonight.  Stay tuned for the next update, a write-up on Damnation 23 from Russian River Brewing Company.

Happy Drinking!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Rabbit’s Foot Meadery - Part 1

                I had the distinct pleasure of heading to Rabbit’s Foot Meadery in the Sunnyvale, CA earlier this week to sample the local meads, cysers and braggots that they produce in house.  The Rabbit’s Foot Meadery was founded in 1995 and has been producing award winning mead ever since.  Unfortunately the founders were not in house when I showed up for my mead tasting, so I was unable to speak with them directly.  Fortunately though I was able to sample a selection of their excellent product.

                For those of you unaware, here is a short breakdown of what a mead, cyser, and braggot are:

                A mead is a fermented beverage made by using honey for at least 66% of the fermentable sugars.  A typical recipe calls for a simple blend of water and 10-15 lbs of honey for a 5 gallon batch, with the addition of a yeast strain to ferment the sugars, the most common in my experience is a champagne yeast.

                A cyser is a similar to a mead with apple juice or apple cider being substituted either wholly or in part for some fo the water used in typical mead production.

                A braggot is the use of honey in a beer recipe, where honey represents  30-66% of the sugars with the remaining fermentable sugars coming from barley or other typical beer sugars.

                The Rabbit’s Foot Meadery is one short block off the Winchester – Mountain View light rail, and nestled between 237 and 101 just off Tasman, at 1246 Birchwood Drive.  It is very hard to pick out from the street and I had to keep referencing my phone and the posted addresses to be able to find it.

                Unfortunately the meadery was very crowded and I did not want to ask for permission from everyone there before taking a picture, so I only have pictures from the entrance  and of a few of the individual samples.  The entrance proudly displays the awards which their meads, cysers, and braggots have won over the years.

                Unfortunately they were out of both War Hammer and Melia, but I was able to sample their brand new braggot, a Honey Stout.  So, without further ado, let’s move on to the meads, cysers, and braggots that they had available for sampling.

                The tasting, which was surprisingly inexpensive started with the two house meads, the sweet mead and the raspberry mead.

                 Sweet Mead - 12% ABV

                Unlike many sweet meads that are back sweetened (additional honey is added in after fermentation to sweeten them), Rabbit’s Foot first cold crashes their mead (quickly lowering the temperature of the mead to stop fermentation and make the yeast drop to the bottom) and then they filter it through a .5 micron filter in an attempt to stop fermentation while the mead it still sweet without the need back sweeten.  For the sweet mead they use a jasmine honey.

                They say:

                “Relatively high in residual sugar with hints of vanilla and spice.  Fragran nose of ripe blackberry and spices.  Smooth warming finish, an exception after-dinner wine.  Excellent with poached fruit, or enjoyed after a fine meal as a dessert on its own.“

                I say:

                The sweet mead is light gold in color with a very thin white head; yes it’s carbonated because the owners decided after a couple years that they preferred their sparkling mead.  The aroma is sweet with blackberry and floral notes.  The mead is light to medium bodied with a sweet vanilla and floral flavor.  It is very refreshing and with a smooth finish.

Raspberry Mead – 12%

                The raspberry mead is made with wild flower honey and aged on Raspberries for two months after it has undergone primary fermentation.  I attempted to get more information, like primary fermentation temperature and time and the yeast they use, but those are closely guarded secrets

                They say:

                “Fragrant nose of ripe raspberry with a smooth warming finish, an exceptional after-dinner wine.  Excellent with poached fruit, or enjoy after a fine meal as a dessert on its own.”

                I say:

                The raspberry mead is dark pink in color with a very thin white head.  It has sweet raspberry aromas with a flavor that follows through with more of the same.  It is slightly tart, slightly sweet and definitely an excellent example of a melomel (fruit mead).

Tonight’s post is getting rather long so I am going to follow up tomorrow with write-ups on the cyser and braggot.  So, stay tuned tomorrow night for the rest of the write-up on Rabbit’s Foot Meadery!

That’s all for tonight!  Happy Drinking!