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.

BJ’s Brewhouse Blonde

Before we get to the review this week I would like to get your help with a project.  I want to make a list of Ventura County Venues (concerts, theaters, shopping) and the nearby watering holes. Go ahead and leave a post on  and let everyone know where you went and what kind of beer selection was available.

Also, be sure to check out the official location of Hop Head Said… for other nuggets of beer info updated weekly.

BJ’s Brewhouse Blonde®

Let me start straight off this review by saying that Kolsch is not even close to my beer favorite style.  I will almost always skip over these beers (generally at the top of a beer list) for the bolder tasting ones further down the list and so it was challenging for me to even pick this beer for a review.

I tried to clear my head of my previous prejudices towards this style and sat down with the beer and began my review routine:

  1. my notebook and pen to my right
  2. a clean glass, bottle of beer and opener to the left
  3. pop the top, enjoy the CO2 cloud escaping the bottle and start the pour down the side of the glass  until about half full then straight down the middle to raise the head.

It had a wonderful pour and a thick white head that did not die down releasing subtle hop aromas throughout the beer.  There is a slight hop bite making it a crisp drinkable beer and pushed the bitterness scale to the right.  Even though the IBU’s are quite low in beer the hop bitterness stands out more because there isn’t a lot of malt in this beer to balance them.

This beer is just outside of the IBU guidelines of a Kolsch.  It is much closer to its name (Brewhouse Blonde) which is 15-28.  In addition to the base grain, the grain bill included wheat malt and Vienna. Wheat malt can be added to increase head retention and add a light straw color.  Vienna malt is used to add a little extra body and add a little extra malt flavor.

If you are familiar with Kolsch or if it is one of your favorite styles this beer may be a bit disappointing.  It is much closer to the blonde ale style guidelines as its name implies rather than a Kolsch which is how BJ’s categorizes this beer.  If you are a bumiloors (Bud/Miller/Coors) drinker then this is a great “gateway beer” (a beer that seduces you to try other craft beers) for you.  Before you know it you will be skipping the top of the list just like me!

BJ’s Brewhouse Jeremiah Red

BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse

There will soon be over 100 BJ’s, all scattered across the country, with 50 locations in California. I visited the Oxnard location @ 461 Esplanade Drive/805.485.1124.

With at least 15 beers in their lineup you can bet that you will find a beer to enjoy. If you don’t want to taste ‘em all I will do my best to taste all their beers so you don’t have to.  It is a big project and it will take awhile but then again I am really thirsty and I am sure you are, too!  So let’s get started…

I only had time to stop in at the restaurant and picked up two six packs.  Usually I would sit down with my samplers and notepad but I just didn’t have the time to do so.  Also, I wanted to get this blog up and running. Unfortunately they do not mix their six packs and you cannot at your local grocery or liquor store. So if you want to sample a few different brews be prepared to sit and taste at the restaurant (which has great brewpub ambiance) or purchase a couple six packs to go.

My first review is BJ’s Jeremiah Red®

The crystal malt used in this recipe imparts a rich gold to copper-red color and caramel flavor and increases foam stability.  The Munich malt contributes an intense malt flavor and some color while the chocolate malt used in small quantities gave the beer a deep red/brown and just a hint of roasted flavor.  The Northern Brewer hops used added bitterness but not a lot of flavor and gave the beer an earthy aroma.

An introduction

Do you love beer?  I mean BEER, not the yellow-flavored-low-carb-diet-water so popular today. With that kind of attitude it is not surprising that some people have called me a beer snob.  Not to say that I haven’t ever had one of those, heck 15 years ago used to stock my fridge with the same fizzy-yellow-flavored-water.  However, if I was given the chance I would always try something new.  Back then these “new” beers taught me that beer could taste great and they had exotic names like Leinekugals, Henry Weinhard’s, and Guinness.  These beers taught me to expect more.

Back then I lived in South Dakota and I would stop at any grocery store or liquor store I could find when I traveled just to see what beer they had in stock.  If there was something there I had never seen before I would pick up a mixed sixer if possible.  It got to a point to where I had to remodel a basement closet into a walk-in beer cellar just to house the beer found on those trips.  But that wasn’t enough for me; I needed to log the beers I was drinking.  I would strip the labels off each bottle and they would then go into a beer scrapbook. Over 700 Iabels were nicely organized in several large binders.  The binders started taking up just a little too much space and it wasn’t a convenient reference system when I was on the road. So I made a spread sheet and logged them all in there.  All that work made me…THIRSTY.  As I was enjoying a cold one (poetic license here folks) I had a great idea! Why not write beer reviews.   I have tasted hundreds of different kinds of beer; I understand the basics of brewing and I can explain why the beer you are tasting tastes that way.  Maybe the most important reason, I enjoy sharing my opinions about beer.

So that is why I am writing beer review and why and I am grateful to , and  for giving me the opportunity to do so.