Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ladyface Ales: Beer, Subjectivity and Objectivity

(Palo Comado Trail, Courtesy
Sometimes it's where you drink the beer, who you're with, and what the general mood of the day might be.

Sometimes, the beer is good, no matter WHERE you drink it, who you're with, or how you feel.

Case in point? Ladyface Alehouse. Part French Brasserie, Part Ramona Romance, the charm of the place is hard to ignore.

It's on the way home from my favorite surf spot. I don't stop in often, but when I do, it seems that the beer always tastes amazing. Is that because I've just been playing in the sea and the sand? (I used to love to play this Who song from Quadriphenia on my guitar). Is it when I'm with my friend, the elusive Eleanor?

When I was just a cub craft beer reporter, I interviewed Ladyface head brewer Dave Griffiths. I was pretty impressed. But what did I know?

As I became more seasoned, I came to realize that other people were impressed by Dave's brewing skills as well. This summer I wrote a brewer friend:

I had the best glass of beer I've ever had this weekend. Eleanor and I made it to Zuma for the first time since February and boogie-boarded for a couple of hours. Then we stopped at Ladyface on our way home and had a glass of Dave Griffith's DERAILLEUR. From their website:

DÉRAILLEUR ABV 8% IBU 28 (Seasonal Release - June 3, 2011)
“Dérailleur” is a special bière-de-garde (“beer for keeping”), brewed to celebrate the global passion for cycling. Named after a bicycle’s gear-changing mechanism, this ale is malty, smooth with tart apple and pear notes that come from aging in French Sauvignon Blanc barrels from Malibu’s Semler Vineyards. This a deep golden ale is balanced with a noticeable earthy hop character.

Here's a link to what I wrote about DERAILLEUR a year ago, without ever having tasted it. I have a feeling this year's version was more hop-forward, in the new Cali-Belgique style.
My friend's local pub is at the Russian River Brewery. Their Pliny the Elder beer tops most of the world's beer rankings. And yet, I liked Derailleur so much better that day. How to explain it?

This past weekend (September 18, 2011), I found myself at Zuma again on a beautiful day. The surf was so-so, but the skies were blue, hawks were hovering, a breeze was blowing, and at Ladyface on the way home, I was seated across from Eleanor, looking up at Ladyface peak. The sun set as we sipped our suds. Unfortunately, Dave's Cask of the Week, Last Mango in Paris, had tapped out. So we ordered the seasonal brews Red Rye and Palo Comado instead.

According to our server, Joe, Palo Comado XPA ("Extra Pale Ale") is named after a nearby trail and was made with hops grown over the hill in Malibu. Eleanor's more discerning palate first picked up a "nori" or seaweed note, which yielded, during our second pint, to a distinctly raspberry overtone. A check of the Ladyface website the next day revealed that hemp seeds were one of Dave's artisanal additions to Palo Comado, and they gave the brew a nutty character.

The Red Rye was SO good, that I brought a growler of it home. The perfect transition from summer to fall: hoppy, like an IPA of summer, yet deeply copper in color, like the autumn to come. At home, the following evening, after a frustrating day in the world of working for a living, no waves, no hawks, no beautiful Malibu, the Red Rye STILL tasted awesome. Therefore, I declare that objectively speaking, it is a world class beer. Comments and detractors welcome.

Hoppy, like an IPA, copper like autumn leaves....

Friday, April 1, 2011

Beer Advocate's Top 100 West Coast Beer List

The folks over at the Beer Advocate in Boston, MA provide an amazing service to the world: they provide comprehensive statistics and at-a-glance profiles on craft beer that are unrivaled in the beer universe. Their content is available free online, and they also publish a magazine that's a steal at $19.99 for 12 monthly issues.

Alström Brothers, Jason & Todd
Todd and Jason Alstrom
We recently became aware of the Beer Advocate's Top 100 Lists, specifically their Top Beers - West Coast division. A quick email to Todd Alstrom (who along with his brother, Jason, founded Beer Advocate back in 1996) revealed that the list is dynamic - i.e., constantly updated, but if you're accessing the list sometime around the date of this post (3/28/11), Todd says the list has been up for about a week.

For this column, we're going to pick the California beers out of the first 25, then isolate the beer brewed in Southern California -- let's say from San Luis Obispo County southward, and see what we come up with.

First, all of California:

1, 2, 6, 14, 16, and 21: Russian River Brewery, Santa Rosa, NOR CAL
4, 10, 24: The Bruery, Orange County, SO CAL
3: Kern River Brewing Company, Kernville, SO CAL
7, 13: The Lost Abbey, San Diego, SO CAL
8: Ballast Point, San Diego, SO CAL
9, 15: AleSmith Brewing, San Diego, SO CAL
11, 17: Firestone Walker, Paso Robles, SO CAL (north)
18: Stone Brewing, San Diego, SO CAL
20: Fifty/Fifty, Truckee NOR CAL
22: Alpine, San Diego SO CAL
23: Bootlegger's Brewery, Fullerton SO CAL
25: Moonlight Brewing Company, San Francisco NOR CAL

The beer on this list that we've had the pleasure to taste
Russian River: Pliny the Elder, Supplication, Temptation, Consecration, Beatification
Ballast Point: Sculpin IPA
AleSmith: Speedway Stout
Stone: Imperial Russian Stout
Bootlegger's: Knuckle Sandwich

Now, the SO CAL breakdown
13 of the Top Beers on the West Coast

  • San Diego County-7
    Lost Abbey-2, Ballast-1, AleSmith-2, Stone-1, Alpine-1
  • Orange County-4
    Bruery-3, Bootlegger's-1
  • Kern County-1
    Kern River
  • San Luis Obispo County-1

SCCB in Pelican Pub Hat
Random Observations

  1. There were only three Non-California breweries - all from Oregon - in the Top 25 on Beer Advocate's list: Deschutes (5) and Hair of the Dog (19) from Portland; and Pelican Pub & Brewery (12) from Pacific City. SCCB had the pleasure of dining and sipping beer at Pelican Pub several years ago. He's proud of his yellow Pelican Pub hat.
  2. Breweries in the Top 25 SCCB had never heard of: Kern River, FiftyFity, Alpine
  3. "Chocolate Rain"? Really?
  4. Just got this note from Russian River: they're celebrating the 7th anniversary of the opening of their brewpub. When I complimented my NOR CAL homebrewing buddy Ted Andersen on RR's stellar showing on this list - that's his neighborhood pub - he had several observations (caution: Ted can be a bit of a curmudgeon)

    A. "People have got to get over their @#$%& infatuation with Russian River . . . I can't get even find a seat there, anymore, when I visit once a week . . . and its become too much of a singles scene and I can't play dominoes with me wife no more in peace..."

    B. "The Beer Advocate List, despite all their boolean algorithms and whatnot, makes me wonder about marketing and the availabilty of the beers. For me in NorCal, AleSmith is pretty hard to find, and they occupy a few mid-range slots on the list. The Bruery is thoroughly impossible to find, and how much do they bottle?"
    Ted Andersen in the garden

    C. "Russian River is very very very smart at the Economics of scarcity (witness Elder), and who they tap on the head with their sword to be allowed a tap-handle, but their bottles are about everywhere. I guess what I'm getting at is that the algorithm is not incorporating pointy-headed-neurnons in the marketting dep't who are making sure the beer gets out there to as many stores as possible. Harrumph."

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Friday, February 25, 2011

38 Degrees of Separation from Pale to Dark and everything in-between

It's going to be a cold one this weekend, so what better establishment to review than 38 Degrees Alehouse and Grill on Main Street in Alhambra.

While Alhambra may not be the hippest part of L.A., 38 Degrees is one of the best places around to sample craft beer and enjoy some reasonably-priced and delicious food while you're at it.

Owner Clay Harding stopped by our table, asked how things were going and told us a little about his place and some exciting plans in the works.

When we called Clay a few days later to confirm a few facts that we learned, he was busy switching out some of the taps and would get back to us. Far be it from So Cal Craft Beer (SCCB) to get between a man and his taps. So, the following facts are not confirmed, but SCCB has it on good authority that they are, in fact, fairly accurate. Corrections welcome!

Our source, who has known Clay since they were in Little League together, says that Clay's father was one of the owners of the late, lamented Crown City Brewery in Pasadena. Which means that he comes from craft beer pioneer royalty, as far as SCCB is concerned. Those of you who have been following SCCB's Ventura Craft Beer Examiner column, know that another Crown City alumnus, Troy Boyle, opened his own place in Pasadena in October 2009.
Craftsman Fireworks and Eagle Rock Unity at 38°

What makes 38 Degrees stand out is a) a large number of taps - at least 38 by our count; and b) the emphasis on American and especially California craft beers. SCCB and his party enjoyed Craftsman Fireworks, a saison ale aged in oak; Eagle Rock Unity, an Imperial California Common Ale; Stone Double Dry Hopped Lukcy Basartd [sic] American Strong Ale; and a new brewery for us, Coronado's Hoppy Days Belgian IPA.

One nice twist on the beer menu: 38 Degrees offers three different imaginatively combined flights of four beers each. The 38 Degrees website lists: American Hoppy Ales (Mad River Jamaica Sunset IPA, Moylan's Harvest IPA, TAPS IPA, and Coronado Idiot); Strong Ales (North Coast Pranqster, Eagle Rock Unity, Craftsman Fireworks, and the aforementioned Stone Lukcy Basartd); and Eagle Rock vs. Strand (pitting ERB's Unity against 24th St. Pale and ERB Populist IPA against Atticus IPA).

Please don't hesitate to share this with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. You can find SCCB on Twitter @socalcraftbeer and we've just launched a Facebook Page, So Cal Craft Beer, another place to "Like" us.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Previewing Super Bowl Beer Selections

It goes without saying that I will not be drinking the products of major corporate Super Bowl beer sponsors this coming weekend. Why? No matter how funny and cool their commercials - and I'll be marveling and laughing just like everyone else - they just don't taste good.

So what WILL I be drinking?

I did a lot of research this past weekend.

Courtesy North Coast Brewing Company
On Friday I had a bottle of Scrimshaw pilsner from North Coast Brewing Company. This is my current favorite pilsner. For people who might be interested in drinking non-corporate beer, but hesitate to stray too far into unfamiliar territory, this might be just the right choice. Bud, Miller, and Coors are lagers related to the pilsner styles developed in the Western Bohemian city of Plzen (in the Czech Republic) - in fact, the original "budweis" style comes from a Southern Bohemian city called Ceske Budejovice. 

But, whereas the American version leaves a strong aftertaste of pencil shavings, Scrimshaw's taste leaves a lingering impression of golden fields of grain waving in a fresh breeze. My thanks to Jeff Musial of Wine Warehouse for bringing this worthy beer to our attention. You can find it now at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods.

Eagle Rock Beer Landmarks: l. to r. Jeremy Raub of Eagle Rock Brewery; the
Oinkster, which always has at least 5 craft beers on tap, and others in bottles;
the Coffee Table's Eagle Rock Lounge has 12 craft beers on tap.

On Saturday I tasted Revolution XPA (extra pale ale) from Eagle Rock Brewery, Belgica IPA* from Great Divide Brewing, and Dunkel from TAPS Brewery in Brea, all at the Oinkster in Eagle Rock. Later, I and my posse ran across the street, dodging traffic, into the Coffee Table Bistro's Eagle Rock Lounge, where I went back to North Coast and enjoyed a pint of Old Rasputin* Imperial Stout: rich and complex with notes of coffee and chocolate, the perfect dessert beer. For Super Bowl watchers who aren't afraid to experiment, I'd have to go with the Belgica IPA. It somehow managed to be both yeast-forward, in the style of great Belgian beer, and hop-forward, in the style of great American craft beer.

Ojai Beverage Company features a full line-up of Island Brews.

On Sunday I visited Island Brewery in Carpinteria and drank Paradise Pale and Black Mamba*, their black IPA. Look for a separate report on this visit.

If I had to recommend just TWO beers for your Super Bowl enjoyment, I'd go with Scrimshaw and Paradise Pale.