Friday, March 1, 2013

Beer review - November! (slightly late...)

The latest rogue's gallery... plus one you've seen before...
Welcome back! Or rather, welcome me back, since you haven't gone anywhere, but I've been absent from the BCBB. I started working on this review just before the holidays hit, and never quite finished it, or several others. I'm going to try to knock them all down in short order. I apologize if this means that the reviews are somewhat abbreviated.

Sierra Nevada Kellerweis

Sierra Nevada, founded in 1979, was one of the first microbreweries, and they were pioneers in "West Coast" style beers (very hoppy, particularly in their use of Cascade hops). For a while, their line of bottled offerings was pretty small - their flagship pale ale, porter, stout, and Celebration holiday IPA. But in more recent years, they became leaders in things like growing their own ingredients and sustainable power, and they've expanded their lines of beers as well.

The Kellerweis is one of their more recent beers. It's a hefeweizen, meaning a wheat beer with the yeast residue left in. And it's open-fermented, meaning that rather than being fermented in a closed tank, its fermenter is open to the air - not in the funky way that, say, Belgian saisons are, allowing wild yeasts and whatever else is born on the wind to fall in and influence the fermentation - but it does make it more of a living, breathing thing than a closed-up science experiment.

I'm not a great fan of wheat beers, but of the ones I've had, this is a pretty good specimen - spicy and fruity, with a nice body. If you like a good wheat beer - or if you're looking for a gateway beer that's not too heavy and doesn't look to dark - I'd recommend it.

4.8% ABV, 15 IBU.

Brasserie Trois Dames Sauvageonne

Oops! Turns out I've already reviewed it! :-) Moving on...

Bear Republic Racer X Double IPA

Bear Republic's Racer V IPA is a classic California (they're in Healdsburg, just north of Santa Rosa in the Sonoma Valley, a place full of great beer, even though it's wine country) IPA - full bodied (7.0% ABV) and hoppy (75 IBUs, with the Big C's - Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, and Columbus. Every October, though, they do a special release that's a real treat for the hop-heads, their Racer X Double IPA (available only in 20 oz "bombers").

"Double" is a bit of a misnomer, since you'd literally expect it to be 14% ABV and 150 IBUs. The former would make it damned near impossible to get through a glass and still be able to stand up off your barstool; the latter would overload the palate. "Double IPAs" are stronger (7-9% ABV, vs. 5-7%), and usually max out on the IBUs (100+), with a strong malt "backbone" to counter the bitterness of the hops. Whether they emphasize the bitter or floral characteristics of the hops varies.

Racer X (8.3% ABV, 100+ IBU) is pretty middle of the road on the bitterness v. aroma, with a slight emphasis on the bitter. If you're looking for that double IPA experience, and don't have anywhere to be for a couple of hours, and it's October, go get some.

Gordon Biersch Weizen Eisbock

I'm no great fan of Gordon Biersch or their beers. They're pretty venerable (1988), but for the longest time their line was pretty small and consisted mostly of lagers (with the exceptions of their hefeweizen and Sommerbrau K├Âlsch), and not particularly memorable ones, although I have to give them credit for their amber Marzen--a lager that's not yellow, wow!--which I like. But then, their brewpub chain became a fixture of upscale yuppie strip malls--35 locations, in AZ, CA (the one in SF recently closed), CO, DC, FL, GA, HI, IN, KS, LA, MD, MO, NV, NY (yes, Dr. P, Syracuse and Buffalo!), OH, SC, TX, VA, and WA--and that doesn't sit well with me, since I'm a fan of local food and local beer.

On a recent trip to the grocery store, however, I spotted something that intrigued me: two big swing-top bombers labelled "Braumeister Select," Weizen Eisbock and Zwickel Bock. I'm a sucker for "experimental" and "limited-release" beers, so I picked them up. I was particularly intrigued by the eisbock, since I'd never seen an eisbier before. These are beers that are fortified by bringing them down to a temperature where the water freezes, but the alcohol does not, and removing said water ice. So, what you have is basically a concentrated hefeweizen.

(This is actually, technically, a method of distilling, albeit not to a very strong ABV; I don't know of any other beers--or, perhaps, "beers"--that do this, which is reinforced by the fact that GB says it's "the first of its kind in the US." As a historical note, this is also how "apple jack," a brandy made from hard apple cider, was made in early America. Unfortunately, unlike distilling in a column still where the methanol comes out before the ethanol and the higher order alcohols come out later, can both be discarded, ice distilling concentrates methanol and higher alcohols in situ, and could lead to methanol poisoning, commonly called "apple palsy.") 

The results were... interesting. Gordon Biersch's hefeweizen isn't the funky cloudy banana/clove hefe that, say, the Kellerweis is. It's much cleaner (what's sometimes called an "American" hefeweizen), so concentrating it didn't make the esthers or phenols (what create the banana-y and clove-y flavors) overpowering. It was rich, a little sweet, slightly syrup, and 10% ABV packed quite a punch, like a doppelbock. At 30 IBUs it wasn't bitter at all; rather, I think any bitterness went into not making it too sweat, like banana bread made with too much sugar. I don't think I'd buy it again, but it was a novel experience. (FWIW, I still haven't drunk the Zwickel Bock.

Almanac Honey Saison

I've talked about both Almanac and saisons elsewhere. At the risk of giving them short shrift, this is an excellent example, with a rich honey sweetness that perfectly balances the slightly sour funk of the saison.

Ninkasi Total Domination IPA

Ninkasi is a fairly new (2006) brewery in Eugene OR that's already made a pretty good name for themselves on the West Coast. Their first and flagship beer is their Total Domination IPA (6.7% ABV, 65 IBUs). It's an examplary West Coast IPA, balanced, but on the bitter side. Not quite as aggressive as, say, Racer 5, but a good IPA to add to your staple rotation.


  1. Lovely blog! Glad to see a review of Ninkasi. I fell in love with it right away, and then one day I found myself merely liking it a lot. It's still a treat to have every few months or so.

  2. Thanks. I met the brewers at the Anderson Valley Beer Festival a couple of years back, and they were very nice. And, they make a lot of good beers. They had Tricerihops at the camp. And, of course, they're gamers, as witnessed by their "Critical Hit" barleywine :-)