Monthly Archives: October 2014

Bahl Hornin’ from Boont

Off to the Growler & Gill for a tasting from the Anderson Valley Brewing Company. The presenter was the Northeast Sales Manager for Anderson Valley (Ryan Niebuhr, I think, and apologies if I have the wrong name!)

First topic: Boontling. This is the local “language” of the Anderson Valley, complete with dictionary. It’s a hybrid from many ethnic groups that settled in the valley, with a very generous helping of “self-developed terms” (i.e. they made them up). So we’ll start with their motto, Bahl Hornin’ = good drinking, and you’ll see that printed on every label. Move on to Boont, which is Boonville, largest community (such as it is) in the valley, and home of the brewery. A few other terms: Heelch = a large quantity, Zeese = coffee, and Deep Enders = residents of the town of Navarro, an Enclave in the valley.

The Kimmie, The Yink & The Holy Gose

This is a pretty beer with a moderate head. It’s a German sour style, in fact more tart than sour. I get lemony citrus and a fair amount of malt with a woody character on the finish. I like this better than full sours. There’s something here like pickles, not a word I’ve ever used in connection with a beer, but there too I prefer half-sours to full sours. Still not a fave but drinkable & sessionable at 4.2% ABV. They describe the history on their website: “Originating in the town of Goslar, Germany in the early 16th century, the Gose style (pronounced “Go-zuh”) was traditionally brewed using salted water and 50% malted wheat and was spiced with coriander and hops. It was fermented with both traditional yeast and lactic bacteria, giving it a slight tartness, similar to that of a Berliner Weisse.” OK, the name comes from Boontling, like so many of their names, in this case the combo of Kimmie (a man or father), Yink (a boy or son), and if you can’t figure out The Holy Gose then you need to brush up on religion, not language.

avBoontBoont Amber Ale

Their first beer, from all the way back in 1987. It’s their flagship and most popular beer on the West Coast (with their IPA more popular in the East). It pours reddish bronze with a moderate, brief head that then rings the glass. The nose is malty with a slight caramel sweetness, then gets more intense with a hint of a mix of hops as the temperature comes up a little. At first it seems mild on the palette, then the malt comes in followed by earthy hops and a grain character, and maybe a further hint of fruit. It ends up very balanced with a gentle, still earthy finish. IBU only 16, and 5.8% ABV.

Fall Hornin’ Pumpkin Ale

It seems that everyone has to have a pumpkin ale, at least this year, and this is a pretty good example. It’s coppery with very little head, not sweet and not heavy pumpkin but strongly spiced, with pumpkin coupled with allspice, cinnamon and clove. It’s slightly creamy and a bit of caramel sneaks in. Any hops are neatly masked though it comes in at 20 IBU (and 6% ABV).

avHopOttin_02Hop Ottin’ IPA

The presenter emphasizes that there’s a LOT of West Coast, so there is no one single “West Coast IPA” but perhaps three regional styles: So Cal, No Cal, and Pac Northwest, with the last as is almost a blend of the other styles. This is hopped and dry hopped with Columbus and Cascade giving a high IBU, 80 or so, but balanced so that it doesn’t seem so high. I get pine and citrus, malty and deep. 7% ABV, the highest of the set, showing that AVBC is not focused on high alcohol. As for the name, Hop Ottin’ is Boontling for “hardworking hops.”

avBarneyFlatsBarney Flats Oatmeal Stout

Pours nearly black with a quarter-inch tan head (the bottle describes this as “garnet-tinted ebony”; I’ll buy ebony but not garnet). There’s a tobacco note on the nose along with chocolate, and as it warms there’s a touch of sourdough bread. On the palette, chocolate and strong coffee somewhat mask the malt, then some hops come in late. The finish is quite dry. 5.8% ABV. Described as a tribute to and not a clone of Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout. Barney Flats is Boontling referring to an area of redwoods that is very dark even by daylight (Hendy Woods National Forest).

So raise a glass! Bahl Hornin’

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Ivory Pranks Russian Jazz

North Coast Brewing Company

They start simply and move on to the complex.

ncScrimshawBottleShotScrimshaw Pilsner

The nose is a little more earthy than the average pilsner. Very clean & crisp. I even got a momentary impression from mouthfeel that I was drinking a soda. Not highly flavorful but a very nice session beer, a quaffing beer.

ncPranQsterPranQster Belgian Style Golden Ale

Rich malt with caramel notes and earthy hops, maybe floral, and a sweetness to it. Nice yeasty finish. Very nice mouthfeel with a certain foaminess that works very well, especially with food. At home I had this with General Tso’s Chicken, so a sweet and spicy sauce that was neatly tamed and accented by the ale.

ncOldRasputinLabelCropOld Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout

Grigory Efimovich Rasputin, peasant, healer, possible lover of the Tsarina of Russia . . . and one tough hombre. Poisoned by a prince and a grand duke, he didn’t die. Shot three times in liver, kidney, and brain, he didn’t die. Finally they threw him through a hole in the ice to drown. After all of that, don’t expect this stout to be faint-hearted! It pours with a thick, light brown head, moderately persistent. It delivers chocolate and coffee on nose & palette. This is like iced coffee with no milk, but also with a dry stout character of roasted barley. It has the bitterness of coffee rather than the bitterness of hops, but the latter is what gives it that dry element. There’s a very round and rich mouthfeel, leading to a long roasty finish with just a hint of tobacco. Vashe zrodovye, “to your health,” and may you be as hardy as Rasputin!

ncTheloniousBrother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale

As you can see, this is *very* dark for something called “Belgian Style,” this is the uncommon Belgian “Dark Strong Ale.” The nose delivers Belgian yeasty goodness but with a hint of sourness. It’s complex on the palette, with a sort of meatiness overlying the malt, some hints of chocolate, but like molè and not sweet. The sourness lurks around like an echo of a Berliner Weiss, but then there are hints of wood smoke and perhaps leather. That hint of chocolate lingers on the finish, alternating with malt. This is a Belgian style with an edge, appropriate for an ale named after Thelonious Monk and “supporting jazz education” as it says on the label. I had the privilege of hearing Monk play at Carnegie Hall, and the man’s music was complex and meaty with an edge. It’s a good match of man, music, and ale.

Clearly there are some very creative folks brewing in Fort Bragg, on California’s Mendocino Coast. I look forward to trying more of their products!

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Rolling in Clover(leaf)

I was thinking that in the world of craft beer, 20 years makes someone an old timer. Here’s a bar whose history goes back to the end of Prohibition.


Each year, the Brewers Association conducts their Great American Beer Bars competition. 19,000 crafties submitted 3,400 nominations this year. These were narrowed to 10 finalists in each region, and further voting narrowed this to the top five in each region, and the top five nationwide. When I realized that one of that national top five was 40 minutes away, I had to get there, so off I went to the Cloverleaf Tavern in Caldwell, NJ.

I found a noisy, happy place with a bar area plus substantial (and quieter) seating areas, and a pretty extensive menu. There are 24 taps (plus a cask, I think) with another 80 selections in bottles. A beer list that size is a bit intimidating, but as they say, “We should all have such problems!” Making life easier is a paper menu listing the current selections and a preview of beers that will soon rotate into the lineup. Let’s talk about the beer and then about the tavern.

In honor of Oktoberfest I looked for a Marzen as a starter, and there were three. My choice:

Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest

This pours a darkened yellow bronze with little head, at least in a shaker pint. On the palette it delivers a nice yeasty malt. It’s crisply refreshing with a light lager finish. This is a classic.

I followed this up with a “New Jersey Craft Flight” of four:

Carton Hop Pun

This is an American Pale Ale from Carton Brewing. A small head rings the top of the glass above simple amber, and there’s a nice citrus hop nose. On the palette there’s a silky mouthfeel, quite hoppy but only moderately bitter. Pine and citrus come on the finish. Hop haters might say “cat pee” in the nose but I love it. This was the strongest hop finish of the flight. 5.3% ABV, 33 IBU

Flying Fish OktoberFish

Back to the Marzen style, pouring dark amber with a small head. There’s not much on the nose but there’s a hint like apricot. It’s fairly smooth and malty with a bit of toast and maybe of vanilla. I get touches of fruit and dry dust, then a strong finish with light hops throughout. 6% ABV

Carton 077-07006

Why the name? I don’t know yet. This pours with a very persistent head over yellow amber. It’s a real glass coater with a strong hoppy nose of pine & floral. On the palette it’s silky smooth, perhaps a Carton trademark, and effervescent. A good malt balance follows into the finish with firm mellow hops still in balance. That balance is why Hop Pun seemed hoppier on the finish. Nice stuff. This made me wish I had a growler. 7.8% ABV, 80 IBU.

Kane Deep Rooted
This is an American IPA, pouring amber with a light tan head. There’s a soft peachy nose. It’s malty with almost a lager touch. Hops come in slowly then assert themselves. It’s a nice profile like a car that smoothly accelerates. There’s a pleasant hoppy light finish, in fact this is the lightest ale in the set. [An interesting note from Kane, this is “brewed with 100% New Jersey grown, fresh picked hops.” You might not have known that hops are grown in Jersey, but four different kinds go into this brew.] 7.1% ABV

At about this point the manager came around pouring tastes of a Barley Wine from The Bruery. This arrived with a rich bourbon nose, hazy brown in the glass with no head. This is like good candy, caramel candy. There’s even a sense of crunchiness as the caramel continues into a whiskey finish. This is dessert.

I said, “the manager” but this is Ryan Dorchak, the General Manager and Operating Partner, a Certified Cicerone® happy to share his knowledge and passion. As an example, we talked briefly about The Bruery and its warehouse with all the varieties of wine casks and bourbon casks which impart rich nuances, especially during the Solera process of blending old barrels with new barrels of the same beer.

Asked about the tavern and its history, he provided the following:

Cloverleaf_1934_15pctWhen prohibition ended in 1933 my grandfather opened the Cloverleaf Tavern. At the time, it was all local beer. When my father took over the bar in the early 70’s he always tried to focus on supporting the local businesses. When NJ breweries began opening he was the first to welcome them on draft with open arms. Despite having half of the draft lines that we have today, guests could always count on Cloverleaf having 2-3 lines dedicated to a local craft brewer.

Cloverleaf_2013-color-15pctToday, while we do not boast the largest selection at any moment, we certainly have the largest annual selection in NJ. We’re rotating 10-15 new beers onto our list each week with 1-3 menu revisions daily. Every time a guest comes in he or she will see fresh selections to choose from. In 2013, we had over 600 different beers pass through the bar. We also pride ourselves on providing guests with an education in craft beer.

To judge by the crowd at the bar–and the voting–Cloverleaf is succeeding in spreading the craft gospel and sharing that wealth of choice. I’ll be back . . . I just wish they were a tad closer than 40 minutes.

Photos courtesy of Cloverleaf Tavern

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Valar Morghulis

ValarMorghulisPours red-gold with a generous head mixing large and small foam bubbles. On the nose it leads with a bit of sour apple moving quickly to dark bread and Belgian yeasty goodness. There’s an earthiness to it and some hop spikes popping through. Mouth-filling and fizzy but deeper and–again–earthier than, say, a hefeweizen. Strong fruitiness to it, like plums, dates, and apple, then a chocolate note comes in and the malt backbone makes itself felt. There’s a certain sweetness, and notes of clove and other spices. The finish continues these notes like a musical theme, and there’s a dark undertone well-suited to the name.

For those who don’t know, the translation from High Valyrian: “All Men Must Die.” I’d rather put that off for a long time, and meanwhile pair this with some rich cheeses. This is the fourth in the series of Ommegang’s collaborations with HBO for “Game of Thrones.” I did not have the first of these, the pale ale Iron Throne. I had and enjoyed the Take the Black Stout. I had and *really* enjoyed Fire and Blood, called a “specialty grain” beer where the bill includes wheat, rye, and spelt. Now we move on to a Dubbel Ale, and my love for Belgian styles makes this my favorite of the series. This is a beer to go with a hearty meal, or it can be a hearty meal in its own right. 8% ABV

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Two Roads and the Bahn Less Traveled

Your faithful correspondent has been very slow to report on a tasting of Two Roads Brewing Company, from Stratford CT.

2-NoLimitsCan2No Limits Hefeweizen

Pours a beautiful cream gold from the can, the nose gives classic yeast and malt with a hint of clove, and these carry through on the palette. Some bubblegum comes in on the finish, which remains dry rather than sweet. Others at a recent tasting got the bubblegum right away. 5% ABV. This stands up nobly against the German originals. This was the first beer from Two Roads that I tried, and for that matter my first canned craft beer. I learned right there that excellent beer may come from a can. Did I like it? Did I put it in the header image of my blog?’

Worker’s Comp Saison

2-Roads_Saison_Final2This sessionable saison arrives with a nice slightly sour yeasty nose with lots of fruit and spice. It’s a good sipper with a slight zing, not as sour as some saisons and I prefer it this way. We heard that this is brewed from seven different grains described as like “what’s laying around farmhouse.” This starts off with the classics: barley, wheat, oats, and rye, but spelt was also mentioned. I can’t say that I’ve spent time in European farmhouses, but I don’t think too many of them have spelt! The result of all this is like a hearty stew of malts and a lot of mouth-filling complexity for 4.8% ABV. All this wraps up on the finish with hints of tropical fruit and perhaps even pepper.

2-RoadJamLabel2Road Jam Raspberry Wheat

Continuing the theme of relatively low alcohol (5.2% ABV), this wheat beer is made with red and black raspberry purée and has lemongrass added. Very pretty in the glass (put it in a flute), it gives firm raspberry like a lambic with citrus coming behind. I’ve been very sluggish reviewing this, so this summer seasonal may be nowhere to be found, but if you like fruit beer perhaps you can grab a straggler.

Road 2 Ruin Double IPA

2-Road2RuinOK, enough of the low alcohol stuff. This pours a pretty apricot with a mild head. On the nose it leads with strong musty fruit and pine. The hops dominate the palette but on a structure of malt. I wouldn’t call this balanced, but I don’t think that’s the point. The hop mix continues on the finish. 8% ABV.

Rye 95

2-Final Rye Label - CroppedWrapping up with a Rye Tripel, this starts as a nice Belgian style then picks up a little twist from the rye. It’s complex fruity malty yeasty, with some fruit and spice coming in with the hops. 9.5% ABV. This isn’t a favorite of mine, but it’s not the slightest bit bad. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by other tripels or maybe rye isn’t my favorite here. On further thought, maybe the Rye 95 suffered after the heavy hitting hops of Road 2 Ruin.

This reminds me how important sequencing is during a tasting or even during an evening at home. Light to heavy, low ABV to high, low bitterness to high . . . and sometimes these are going to conflict. Rye 95 was higher alcohol heavier mouth feel, but Road 2 Ruin was higher in IBU. I think my preference is to wrap up with the hoppiest beer. After all, Ballast Point Palette Wrecker and Stone Ruination IPA are not designed as a gentle segue to anything else.

Anyway, sometime soon I’ll have to head over into Connecticut and find a road that leads to Two Roads.

Images courtesy of Two Roads Brewing Company


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Club Strikes Home

ClubShip1I started receiving another variant of the Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club, specifically U. S. Microbrewed. If you have ever wondered what a shipment looks like, here is this one on arrival.






ClubShip2Each shipment includes two varieties each from two breweries, in this case Crown Valley Brewing and Tommyknocker Brewery, three bottles of each variety. A newsletter describes the history and other notes about the breweries, as well as tasting notes about the beers themselves.






Crown Valley Gunslinger Double IPA

ClubGunslingerPours with a lively pale sand head, with a complex hoppy nose that is by turns citrusy, floral, and piney. The taste is not that hoppy, instead filling the mouth with a smooth honey/crystal malt sweetness, then the hops come back in, floral now. This is their hoppiest beer, but it is more balanced than many DIPA. The hops get stronger as the glass warms a little. The finish is surprisingly mild, though still delivering the blended hops.

Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown

This poured with no head at all, brown (naturally) but with red through the heart of the glass. The nose is earthy and not obviously hoppy. On the palette it delivers a nice dark malt with just a hint of butterscotch. There’s not much going on in the finish, just some persistent pleasant dark malt.

Crown Valley Imperial Pumpkin Smash

ClubPumpkinSmashHere’s a stout that would startle a Guinness fan, pouring with very little head and what there is dissipates quickly. The nose starts like a can of pumpkin, then the spices come in like nutmeg and allspice. There’s a hint of hops, possibly citrusy. The first sip is a revelation, rich and deep, giving heavy pumpkin pie with flashes of bubble gum and malt, and topped with medium hops. The spices flash back and forth like an echo into the finish. The nose gets more molasses as it warms even a little, and more hop bitterness comes through. You have to be in the mood both for stout and for pumpkin, and it delivers both of those.

Tommyknocker Jack Whacker Wheat

You get a moderate head for a wheat beer, pouring hazy gold with a nose of yeast and cracker with a hint of candy. The first impression is orange, almost like an orange bread, then fairly strong malt in a pleasantly fizzy body. Some hop dryness comes in on the end.

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