Archive for October, 2010

Anacapa Brewing Company

This week I had the opportunity to do my first official review of Anacapa Brewing Company’s beer. First of all it would be hard for the ambience to be any better. Anacapa Brewing Co. is located in a long and narrow 115 year old building in downtown Ventura.  Right behind the bar, almost in reach, is enough brewing equipment to make any beer geek go “Ah, I’m home”.  Mash tuns, and boil kettles and fermentors, oh my! The visit started off with a warm welcome and prompt beer service.  It is so nice to walk into a place, sit down and have your beer in minutes.

There were three Anacapa beers (Seward Blonde Ale, Santa Rosa Red Ale, Benny Hanna Espresso Stout) on tap when I visited. I started with the Benny Hanna Espresso Stout brewed with locally roasted Beacon Coffee (5777 Olivas Park Drive, Suite R, Ventura).  The beer poured so opaque black that when I held it up to the light and I didn’t even get a garnet glow through it.  Now that is a dark beer. It had a thick, compact, tan head but was poured to the top of the pint glass so it didn’t last too long.  The aroma was a mouth watering roasty bitter chocolate. My initial taste was filled with the smoky flavor of dark roasted malts that gave way to a tart flavor in the back of my palate which really helped to balance the smoky flavors. It took me awhile to place that tart flavor then I realized my favorite coffees often have the same flavor.  Mmmm, combining two of my favorite liquids and it works for me!

The second taste found a bitter chocolate flavor that stuck around for the remainder of the pint and helped to balance this beer’s sweetness. The balancing bitterness in this beer comes from two sources: the hops and the dark roasted malts. The dark roasted malts work together with the hops and add a pleasant complexity to the bitterness.  So instead of being just plain bitter (like an English pale ale) the unfermentable sugars left behind in the dark roasted malts help to round off any bitter edges. For me this beer had a near perfect mix of smoke, bitter chocolate and a refreshing tartness.

Note:  Often the smoky and bitter chocolate flavors found in a beer only come from the dark roasted grains used in the recipe.  Malt is always kilned to stop germination and to ensure that it is dry enough so it doesn’t mold while it is packed and stored.  Malts are also kilned to produce different flavor and color profiles.  The longer the malt is kilned the darker and more intense the flavors become. Flavor profiles can range from toasted grain to bitter chocolate to burnt coffee.


Island Brewing: Starry Night

This week I (well my taste buds, anyway) took a little road trip to Carpinteria to sample some beers from the Island Brewing Company.  They produce six regular beers and from time to time a seasonal or limited release.  Watch their blog to discover when they release a new specialty beer or visit their website to find their “brew near you”.

Today, I will be reviewing Starry Night Stout which is a limited release from 2009.  I found this beer at The Wineyard in Thousand Oaks where they carry Island Brewing Co.’s regular lineup as well as bottled special releases.  In beer terms, limited or special release means that it is not one of the regular beers brewed and that it may not be brewed again for quite some.  Sadly, sometimes limited release means that the beer will never be brewed again.  Limited release brews are generally beers that can be kept around or aged for an extended period of time so if you find a limited release beer that you like it is always good to stock up.

Starry Night Stout was a pleasure from start to warm and fuzzy finish.  This is the kind of beer I loved on a cold South Dakota winter day and one that I now enjoy on an “chilly” (the folks back home are laughing over this) overcast day in California. In my opinion, Starry Night Stout is everything a big stout should be.  It is full bodied and roasty but without that unpleasant burnt malt bitterness found in some stouts.  It is smooooooth and worth the nearly $8 I paid for the 22oz bottle. I was more than happy to refill my glass and finish that 22 in one sitting.  Wanna try something different? Drink this beer for desert or use it in these brownies.  You haven’t lived until you’ve had beer for desert!

Too, often I come across people who equate dark beers with bitter beer. That misconception comes from drinking Guinness from dirty tap lines or from a tap jockey who doesn’t know how or have the equipment to pour the perfect pint.  Guinness is probably the best known stout and/or dark beer and if it isn’t served correctly it can be a very bitter beer.  It is an unfortunate misconception because many Budmiloors drinkers are missing out on some very tasty dark beers like Starry Night Stout.   You don’t have to worry about serving Starry Night correctly though because anyway you pour it into your glass you will enjoy it.

Enjoy your sensory vacation.

TIP: Bring your chilled beer out of the refrigerator and let it warm up for about 15 minutes before you serve it.  This releases the CO2 from solution which in turn releases the subtle or not-so-subtle aromas.  Also warming your beer prevents the beer from numbing your tongue and hiding the subtle or not-so-subtle flavors.  Now you know why Budmiloors wants you to drink beer ice cold 😉

Firestone Walker’s Union Jack

I am going to veer away from local breweries and brewpubs this week to review one of my favorite California Beers, Firestone Walker’s Union Jack.  I decided to review this beer because it is available at most grocery stores and on tap at many watering holes so you should be able to find it easily in Ventura County.

Before my move to California just over year ago I had very little experience with any beer from the Firestone Walker Brewing Company.  Other than a few samples at GABF (Great American Beer Festival) 4 or 5 years ago my only knowledge of Firestone Walker was from listening to an interview with Matt Brynildson (head brewer) on The Brewing Network’sThe Jamil Show”.   I won’t use up space here to talk about the grain bill or hops used in these beers because you can search their site to listen to a podcast where Matt talks about his beers. It is a little on the beer geek side and certainly uses big boy language but you will truly understand Firestone’s beers when you are finished listening. After listening to those podcasts I knew that I wanted and needed to try those beers again as soon as I could.

(flashback to July 2009)  Watching those moving guys really made me thirsty so I walked down to the corner market and picked myself up a sixer of Double Barrel Ale (will be reviewed soon) and Union Jack. Twelve beers? Yes, but I was really thirsty!  I started with DBA and then followed up with Union Jack. It was on that day that I discovered my new “go-to beer”.  A “go-to beer” is one that is easily found, one that will always be refreshing, one that I can count on if I am out of homebrew. The sixer of Union Jack was gone in two days.  Turns out unpacking boxes makes you even more thirsty!(/flashback)

Now back to the review, with a name like Union Jack you may think that it is an English IPA like Fullers or Samuel Smiths.  Don’t be fooled by the name, Union Jack is much more aggressive than its English cousins and it packs a good ABV punch so enjoy in moderation. Union Jack hangs just over the edge with hops (look at the style guideline) but it also has just enough malt backbone keep it from being a one dimensional beer. The other thing you will want to enjoy with this beer is the aroma.  It is dry hopped (hops put in the finished beer for aroma) with several grapefruit, citrus, and piney aroma hop varieties that blend together to make a great West Coast IPA.  If you don’t enjoy beers like Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale or Redhook’s Long Hammer then you may want to pass on Union Jack.  However, the next time you get a chance (you are around someone pouring one or you can ask for a sample) take the time to stick your nose up close and give it a good whiff. Close your eyes and enjoy the ride. You won’t regret it.