Sam Adams: Norse Legend

type: Sahti
origin: Boston, MA
price: $7.99 / 22oz
ABV: 7%
NSP: 5.7

I haven’t really adventured much into the Sam Adams microbrews, so I thought I’d take a shot at their Sahti to compare with the… well shit… to compare with the New Belgium Lips of Faith Sahti that I had and thought I reviewed almost a year ago. That must have been some good shit since the post isn’t there even though I swear I wrote it. Maybe the juniper made me hallucinate that post.

Anyway, according to the wikipedia this Finnish Sahti style beer is characterized by replacing some or all of the hops with juniper berries. This particular beer has a decent juniper flavor, but nothing close to a gin. If I recall correctly, the New Belgium version only had the faintest hints of juniper, and was a bit flat out of the bottle. Interestingly this beer has the same affliction, with almost zero head and only a small school of bubbles swimming around in the glass. Strange, bubbles don’t usually swim… Seriously though, this beer is flat as a newborn baby minus the baby fat so there must be something weird in the juniper which prevents the fermentation?

Gearing up the science neurons and vast skills of Google-fu I first dug up that juniper is great at preventing erosion on steep hillsides, a red herring. After this digression, I refocused to uncover two beers by Rogue also made with juniper: John John Ale (with juniper) and Juniper Pale Ale. The John John is reported to come out a bit flat while the Juniper Pale Ale apparently gives us some ‘moderate head’. Damn, I could use some of that right now… My best guess is that something in juniper suppresses the yeast’s anaerobic processes to prevent carbonation since this seems to be a common theme among the more junipery juniper (JJ) beers, while the less JJ beers (i.e. Rogue’s Juniper Pale Ale with some hops) seem to bring back some bubbles, but only ‘moderate’. 

Another possibility is that the guys making Juniper beers are trying to keep too close to the original recipe and using some sort of shitty Finnish yeast which can’t even blow some damn bubbles. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met some serious Finnish gentlemen who can blow their fair share of bubbles (or at least they could keep the seawater out in heights of surf which pounded saltwater into the depths of my sinuses). I also haven’t ever messed around with a Finnish yeast, but I would guess that to make it happiest, you’d have to keep it at the frigid temperatures native to the motherland. In addition, I wouldn’t be surprised if the 2007 acquisition of Finnish Yeast Ltd (the only Finnish yeast company) by Canadian Lallemand Inc somehow killed every available strain of sahti yeasts, or at least made them inaccessible to the rest of us.

So maybe the juniper makes it flat. Maybe the yeast we’re using instead of authentic Finnish (bubble blowing?) yeast is all half-assed and flacid. Maybe the only way to keep it real and settle this score for real is to journey to Finland and try out some local sahtis as the locals do them? 

We have no Finnish correspondent, so one of us is going to have to man up and haul out to the northerlands for a sample of their brews. I’ll certainly keep my eyes peeled the next time I’m up that way.

Russian River Perdition

type: wild-yeast ale, or “Biere de Sonoma”
origin: Santa Rosa, CA
price: $3.75/.5l at RR
ABV: 6.1%
NSP: 8.1

I recently had a chance to get up to Santa Rosa for a quick trip to Russian River.  It’s safe to assume that visiting here means you’re going to have some delicious brew, but I wasn’t prepared for this.  Not a chance.

Perdition is Russian River’s wild-yeast ale from Sonoma county, and it blew my freakin’ socks off.  This beer is a work of modern art: rough around the edges but captivating and forward.  Le biere en garde is a canon-shot across your palate – a challenge to your beer-drinking sensibilities, if you will.  It’s hard to describe, but it’s like that moment you realize people aren’t perfect, but can often have profoundly redeeming qualities.  That’s this beer.  Ridiculous, I tells yah.

But I don’t think they should bottle this. Ever, ever, ever.  For Jebus’ sake just let this stand as a true testament to the finest of Sonoma county brewers, and let it be available only at the brewery.

Drinking beers like this that make trying failed, shitty homebrew and the for-sale crap in the stores all worth it.  It makes you realize why (a) Russian River is the best brewery in the state (and perhaps country), and (b) why you should be visiting any local breweries doing similar things.  Because the point is to experience local delicacies, if they exist!

OK, maybe I’m using a bit much of the ole hyperbole, but at least take this message home: Jebus this is good. Really really good.

Green Flash Hop Head Red

type: red IPA
origin: San Diego, CA
price: $7.50/4-pack/12oz
ABV: 7.0%
NSP: 13.3

I don’t have a clue what a “red IPA” is, but what I assume it to be — given Green Flash’s hoputation — is a deep red ale (think full body and heavy bitterness) taken to a new level with a fucktuple of hops, including a dry hop for aromas.

Aaaaand I was right.

There’s a big hop blast (heavy on the bitter of course) mixed with a deep caramel/brown-sugar finish, and some classic aromas which, when taken collectively, will knock the dust off that palate, to be sure.

It’s safe to say this is my favorite beer from San Diego’s Green Flash.  I’ve enjoyed watching them evolve and try new styles (e.g. Rayon Vert), but this is spot on in the Hell Yeah! department.  It’s unique, well done, delicious, and strong: the makings of a great beer.

Boulder Sweaty Betty Blonde Ale

Type: Hefeweizen
Origin: Boulder, CO
Price: $9/6-pack (craft beer club)
ABV: 5.2% 
NSP: 12.31

Wrapping up the craft beer club…it’s been a long time coming.  Closing it out with a hometowner.  The name of this one reminds me of a term some British friends used once, in regards to a certain affliction that men must endure during humid summer months- ‘Betty Swollocks’ (in case it’s not obvious, switch the ‘sw’ and the ‘b’ sounds).  The website says this is an unfiltered hef, but if that’s unfiltered I’m wondering how the hell else they got it so clear.

Hefs are tough.  Well, tough isn’t the right word…more like unfair.  Because my baseline hef is the incredible Thunderweizen.  But hey, as they say, if you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.  Or at least hire someone to jump out and hammer them in the knee with a tire iron.  It smells nice and wheaty, sweetish and a bit funky.  Definitely more summery than the previous effort.  It also smells lightly vanilla-y, which is a nice touch.  There’s only a very light touch of the banana/spice aromas, which are always pleasant when generously applied and missed when they’re not.

Remember how the Dry Dock Hefeweizen was like a watered-down Thunderweizen (yeah, probably not)?  This is like a watered-down Dry Dock.  The wheaty funk is light, the spiciness is light, the fruitiness is light, everything is just really light.  But it’s still tasty, super easy-to-drink, and very refreshing.  It’s pretty much the Coors Light version of a hef.  Which means you could polish off a baker’s half dozen and still feel spry enough to do some ill-advised parkour.  After you peed for about six minutes, of course.

Rahr & Sons Ugly Pug Black Lager

Type: Schwarzbier/black lager
Origin: Forth Worth, TX
Price: ?
ABV: 4.5%
NSP: ?

Had a nice houseguest bring me a selection of beers from Rahr and Sons in Fort Worth, so here’s the first review of three.  The last schwarzbier I had was Chatoe Rogue’s Dirtoir.  I can’t honestly say that I remember a lot about that one other than what’s in the review.  But this one’s only 4.5%, while Dirtoir was 6%.  This better be tasty, dammit.  The label’s kind of funny, with a picture of, you guessed it, a butt-ugly pug.  With an eye patch.  And to the right of the pug, it says in big bold lettering, BEER.  Thanks for reminding me, I’d forgotten what I was drinking.

It looks like what I expected, sort of like a fizzy porter.  It smells pretty tasty- nice coffee bitterness- actually almost exactly like iced coffee (to begin with), now that I think about it.  I say almost because there’s something a little starchy about it, kind of like dried pasta or uncooked beans.  As it warmed a bit, the iced coffee smell transitioned into, yup, refried beans.  I don’t know if that made me more or less excited to drink it.  I love refried beans, but I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of refrito-flavored beer.

It really does taste like refried beans- refried black beans in particular.  I mean, if you could ferment frijoles negros, this is what I’d expect it to taste like.  I know that probably seems overly specific, but to me it’s a strong enough feature that it leaves no doubt.  The coffee’s there too, along with a light bitterness (coffee bitterness as opposed to hop bitterness).  But the starchiness takes it away from the porter-type flavors and towards bean territory.  Definitely one of the weirdest things I’ve tasted beer-wise.  But it doesn’t make it off-putting since I dig refried beans.  The body’s light, the flavor’s robust, and in the end I didn’t mind it in the slightest.  I think I’ll save the other two I have for other Non-Snobbers to try, because I’m curious if they’ll have the same opinion.  

Pretty things: Meadowlark IPA

Type: IPAOrigin: Cambridge, MA
Price: $7.99/22oz
ABV: 7% 
NSP: 5.7

Pretty things is probably one of the best things about Cambridge beer. A husband and wife pair run the whole operation, they have an awesome line of flavors, it’s mostly found in Cambridge, and they don’t actually own a brewery. All their beer is brewed, bottled and kegged at other local breweries, then distributed locally, and it all kicks ass.

This one is a nice crisp, clear IPA, with a mild hop nose and a stiff bittering which hangs around after each sip. There isn’t the meaty malt typical of many east coast ipas, but there’s plenty of body to temper the bitter. There’s maybe even a hint of lager skunkiness… or maybe that’s my neighbor joint wafting across their yard.

It certainly could hold it’s own, but this evening being the hot summer variety, I pulled out some cold summer special pizza leftovers from Regina pizza in the north end, which complemented it reasonably. Definitely not a bad way to finish off a weekend of concerts and sailing.

Primator Double Bock

Type: double bock
Origin: Nachod, Czech Republic
Price: $2.69 per 500 mL
NSP: 19.5

This is quite a meaty bastard. I already knew that double bocks are not diet beers, but this one packs in 1900 kJ per 0.5 L (which is 450 calories). We all know Sambo will be staying away from this one. Diet aside, this is really not that great. It is really just too sweet without any interesting flavors. The alcohol is definitely there, lending a slight burn on the way down and the only other thing going on is a caramel maltiness throughout. If you are really a fan of double bocks, give it a try since the NSPs are through the roof, but otherwise pass on this one unless you are in the Czech Republic.

Telegraph Brewing White Ale

Type: White Ale
Origin: Santa Barbara, CA
Price: $7.99/750 mL
ABV: 4.5% (really?)
NSP: 4.22 (unscaled)

I originally had a bottle of Telegraph’s Robust Ale in line for a review. But I let it sit in the queue for a bit too long, and as far as I could tell it had spoiled once I finally got around to it. At least I hope it spoiled, because it was foul. So I felt like I had to make it up to Telegraph (not that they care), and I picked this one up. It’s brewed with orange peel, coriander, and chamomile. The bottle says this should be eaten with fresh farmer’s market cuisine. Sorry, lads, but I’m going to hammer some pollo asado instead.

The pour told me this is pretty highly carbonated, as it yielded a pretty thick head even with some gentle treatment. And it had a weird bubble vortex thing coming off the bottom of the glass for a good ten minutes after I poured it. The nose is nicely Belgiany, actually a lot like Horny Devil, but with a notable orange note (which makes sense) and a bit more pilsnery skunk.

The flavor’s very nice, light and refreshing, and it’s got a really light body that’s buoyed by a nice tartness. The coriander and orange peel are there, the latter more than the former, though both are lighter than I’d expected. I’m not aware of any chamomile, but I don’t wander around grazing on chamomile flowers and I don’t really like tea so I don’t know what it’s supposed to taste like. There isn’t anything floral that I can pick up, though. It’s well-balanced and easy to drink, while at the same time having good flavor. All in all, it’s a nice expression of a white ale. I’m not sure they achieved the level of complexity they were aiming for, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.

I feel kind of bad about this one. Because, like I said, I like the flavor, and it’s a pretty good version of a white ale. But as I drink it, I find myself wishing it was Horny Devil- it’s got a lot of the same flavors, but HD just has everything amplified, including the ABV. I know that’s completely unfair to Telegraph, especially given that this isn’t supposed to be a strong ale, but that’s where I am with it.

Epic Brewing Hopulent IPA

Type: IPA
Origin: Salt Lake City, UT
Price: $5.99/22 oz
ABV: 8.7%
NSP: 9.44 (unscaled)

Grabbed this one while I was in Colorado a while back and decided this was the night to crack into it. It’s part of Epic’s Elevation Series. Each release of each of the four Elevation beers is completely unique- which is why the website provides a summary of 36 (as of today) individual Hopulent releases. That’s pretty impressive attention to detail. I suppose if you were really on the ball you could have a hell of a vertical tasting on your hands.

The Hopulent in question here is part of release #24. My first impression is that I have another not-my-favorite malty IPA on my hands, but I will dutifully try not to presume too much. This one smells very caramelly, similar to the SweetWater 420, though with a lot more citrus. And the malt part of the flavor is mostly caramel as well, but the hops just stampede right over top of it. The malt leaves just enough sweetness and body to provide a counterpoint the powerful hopulence (I think I like that term, and I hope Epic doesn’t take umbrage if I use it in the future), and in the end- it’s pretty damn good. It’s not West Coast, it’s not East Coast, it sort of treads a line right down the middle (a flyover IPA?). Between this and the Squatters’ Hop Rising, Utah’s got some interesting IPA action happening. Whoda thunk it?

Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale

Type: Double IPA
Origin: Petaluma, CA
Price: $10.59/6-pack
ABV: 7.85%
NSP: 15.79 (unscaled)

What’s the first thing you think of when you see “Holiday Ale” on a beer bottle? Winter warmer or brown ale, right? Me too. Not Lagunitas. Lagunitas usually makes Brown Shugga, an almost-barleywine strong ale, as one of their winter seasonals. But this year they were forced to skip it because a tun that was on a cargo ship on the way to their new brewhouse got shredded during a hurricane. Hence the opening of the new brewhouse was delayed, and yada yada yada, no Brown Shugga. Instead, they made this one-off mea culpa beer. And, in true West Coast style, why make a boring old winter warmer when you can make a thumper of an IPA?

When I stick my nose in the glass (and for this one, I buried it almost to the point of snorting the beer because it smells so good), I get a nice rich caramel, almost butterscotchy scent (seems to be a common thread over the past couple of weeks) combined with a good citrusy West Coast hop punch. In this case, the caramel unexpectedly prevails. But the script be flipped with the flavor- the caramel richness steps back a bit and the DIPAness comes through, though it’s not Green Flash DIPAness. It’s in no way palate-wrecking- it’s actually really approachable.

I’m just going to say it straight out- I love this fucking beer. I don’t quite know exactly why though. There’s a lot of complex things going on with it. Maybe it’s that they’ve given it this delicious caramelly richness but left most of the sugary sweetness behind, and in doing so, they’ve managed to not only balance the hefty hop load out really well but also keep it decently light in body. It’s unique in my experience (how often is something rich but also light?), and I’m having a bit of trouble figuring it out. This goes to show how good the folks at Lagunitas are- they can toss this together short-notice and make an IPA that’s better than the stuff 95% of the other breweries in the world can manage full-time. And so, Lagunitas, I agree- you suck. But that’s only if this is a true one-off and we never see it again.

As a postscript, know what I don’t quite understand? The Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ has 64 IBUs, and has only “a hint of citrusy bitterness” [Sambo, Non. Beer Rev., 2011]. But here’s the Sucks sitting at 65 IBUs, and it’s quite hoppy (though less than I would’ve thought for a DIPA). It’s sort of the same thing as Big Eye and Sculpin- Big Eye is at 85 IBUs, Sculpin at 70, and yet somehow Sculpin seems more bitter. Whatever, I’m sure Samer will swagger in here and give a seminar on alphas and betas and having a micropenis.