Rare Beers for Days

 

 

 

I have been slammed the last couple months with work and some family trips etc etc., then when I have had free time I have been (a) drinking delicious beers and (b) writing for http://www.porchdrinking.com.  So, I have neglected CaliforniaIPAs.com.  Time for a little love.

The beer trade game has been on point recently, and I have been fortunate to have a slew of hard to find beers, many of which were fantastic.  Here is a recap of a few.

Starting locally, Cellarmaker obviously has killer beers.  They have begun bottling about once a month, but a few months back they have a double IPA that I thought was some of their best work, Get of My Lawn! DIPA.  I hope it makes a return, soon.

Altamont out of Livermore recently did a killer collab with, you guessed it, Cellarmaker.  Dank of America was short lived but while around it was a hoppy, dank bomb.

Monkish has been the “it” West Coast IPA recently with their approximately every-other weeks releases that see people line up before the sun rises.  The hype is real as all their NE style hazy IPAs have been fantastic.  My personal favorite was Spock It, a particularly juicy IPA.

Monkish’s style was arguably invented, if not perfected, by Treehouse.  The most hyped recent Treehouse beer was King Jjjjulius.  I was fortunate to get my hands on one, and it did not disappoint.  About as murky and thick of an IPA as you can find.

Tired Hands is one of the other most difficult to find East Coast IPAs, especially the recent Milkshake series.  Most are being canned now, but I was able to get a growler of the Pina Colada Milkshake.  It has been my favorite of the series.

Maine Beer Co.’s Dinner is a beer I have wanted to get my hands on for a few years.  It was worth the wait.  Super balanced, super smooth, just a delicious beer.

Finally, Trillium has also become one of the must find beers.  They are now canning (before was mostly bottles) which has made them easier to come by.  However, a couple months back I scored a bottle of Dialed In with Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer grapes.  We have all heard of beer aged in wine barrels, but infused with wine grapes?  Sounded odd, but it was fantastic.  The wine was way in the background but there, and I enjoyed it.

Because of the trading I have done, this list is way less California IPA than it should be.  I will hit on the best California IPAs soon, but if you can come across any of the brews above, do it!

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Craft Brew in Italy – Part 1

 

We recently took a 12 day trip to Italy.  Looking back, we should have done longer, but the amount we accomplished in the time we were there was staggering.  Although finding craft brew in Italy was tough, it was not impossible.

Our visit included 3 nights in Venice, 3 nights in Florence, 2 nights in Cinque Terra, and 2 nights in Rome (travel time knocked off essentially 2 days).  We also had a 7 hour layover, which allowed some time to hop into London and get a brew.

In short, Rome had the best beer scene, Florence seemed to have a growing one, Cinque Terre had one good beer bar, and Venice was…tough. I will go through each city in the order we visited.

Venice

Venice is kind of insane.  We arrived late night out first night, so in reality had 2.5 days to explore.  For me, that was enough.

Venice is strikingly beautiful.  Literally around every corner you have a completely unique, beautiful setting.  I found this to be especially true the further out you got from the main touristy areas (ie St. Mark’s square).  Maybe this was because there were way less people.

Each day we were there we walked about 16 miles.  To us, that was the way to actually see and experience Venice, as many of the more tourisy things here did not hold much appeal. Part of the reason we put in so many miles simply had to do with the fact that you are constantly lost.  I tend to have a pretty good sense of direction, and can get around most cities within a few hours (I am a bit of a planning nut and so spend many hours looking at maps of where we go), but this was far from true in Venice.  At first, I struggled with the lack of control, but by the second day, this became part of the fun.

We stayed at an incredible AirBnb.  The hosts were unlike any AirBnb host you will find.  They gave us detailed instructions before we arrived, met us at the boat station and walked us to the apartment, gave us a quick tour of the area and detailed instructions on a map of where to go and what to see.  I would highly recommend staying in any of Maurizio’s apartments.  Here was ours:  https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1005660

As mentioned above, Venice was tough for beer.  The  bar scene is fun, just not for beer, especially craft brew.  This is made more difficult by the aforementioned propensity to get lost.  Meaning, even if I could find a place that looked good for beer online, actually physically finding the place was easier said than done.  Given this, we simply walked around and if we saw a place that looked good, went for it.

Fortunately, on day 1, we found Birraria La Corte in the Campo San Polo.  We had not researched this place, but I saw “Birraria” and had to go.  Apparently, this was the first local brewery in Italy!  The building also at one point housed the bulls for the bullfights in the Campo.  There is a huge patio that overlooks the Campo, and the best beer selection we found in Italy.  I had a few Brad IPAs (from Bradipongo brewery, a little north west of Venice) to go with my pizza, which were not bad.  I would absolutely return here if in Venice again (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187870-d793024-Reviews-Birraria_La_Corte-Venice_Veneto.html)

The only other bar we found that had more than the usual Forst, Peroni ot Birra Moretti was the Corner Pub.  We stumbled across the Corner Pub as part of one of our 16 mile death marches.  The Corner Pub was just as it sounds.  We actually sat outside at a little to-go counter and enjoyed a beer just before noon (do not judge, we were on vacation), overlooking some solid scenery.  I cheated, and had an Irish IPA (McGargles Knock Knock Neds IPA) which was OK.  They had a few other beers on tap, as well as wine and a full bar.  Basic food that looked good as well.  https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187870-d1953035-Reviews-Corner_Pub-Venice_Veneto.html

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Other than these two spots, nothing else really stood out for beer.  I drank a good deal of wine, and bought an IPA in the grocery store to enjoy at our apartment as the gondoliers floated by, many times singing.

One of the more enjoyable things to do in Venice definitely was to enjoy the Cicchetti. Each night we bar hopped, had a few small plates (cicchetti is essentially Venizia tapas)  and tried some interesting dishes (lots of fried seafoody dishes).  You could typically score a glass of wine for 1-3 euros (yep!) and go to a few different spots.  This made for a smaller dinner, which was fine by me.

The one touristy thing we did do that I recommend is a sunset cruise along the Grand Canal on the vaporetti (Water bus).  Cheap but beautiful, and by this time the city has quieted down so we were able to score outside seats and just enjoy the views.

I am not sure if I would have Venice high on my list of places to go back to.  I cannot imagine it in the high season, as even when we went it felt overrun by tourists.  By far, I enjoyed Venice the most after 8 PM and before 11 AM.  The middle of the day is crowded and the charm is gone.  That said, it truly is a remarkably beautiful and unique city.

Florence

We had 3 full days and nights and Florence, but I could have spent way more time here.  Florence was a city I would live in in a heartbeat.  I am a water person.  Since I was about 10, I have not lived more than 15 miles from the ocean.  Florence has no ocean, just the Arno River.  Still, I loved it.

Florence is rich with history and beautiful.  The duomo and cathedral, the Palazzo Vecchio,  Ponte Vecchio, Piazelle Michelangelo, Piazza della Signoria and it goes on.  Yet, at the same time, it is a modern city with great, diverse food, beautiful people and BEER!

We scored again with Airbnb in Florence.  We stayed in the Oltrano (the “other” side of the Arno) about a block away from the Ponte Vecchio.  Our apartment was certainly older, and up a step set up stairs 6 floors up, but my goodness, the rooftop deckS (yes, two rooftop decks) were unreal.  Literally 360 degree views of all of Florence.  All the sites visible, cool breezes, and a brew or glass of wine?  Unreal.  https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1482355

(the pics do not do the view justice)

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Our first stop when we arrived in Florence was Il Mercato Centrale.  This is somewhat akin to the Chelsea Market in NYC or the Ferry Building Building in SF.  The first floor is an assortment of butcher, cheese, olive oil, and pasta shops, with a few coffee shops and a solid amount of produce.  You can walk around and have cheese samples for free, or pay for an olive or balsamic tastings.

The second floor is full of essentially to-go restaurants that you order at the counter and find a seat.  There are a bunch of awesome options.  A place with fresh made cheese and sandwiches, butcheries, a place with all truffle dishes, a vegetarian spot, pasta and it goes on and on.  There is also a bar in the middle with a birreria, and a wine shop.  The bar had a somewhat disappointing selection of beers.  Most of the beers were Birra Moretti, and I ws hoping for more smaller craft brews.  That said, the food made up for it.

The third floor has a sit down restaurant, but the second floor to me was the place to be.

Outside was a large leather and trinket gift area.  Fun to walk around and buy a few gifts.

Close by is the BrewDog Firenze location.  I have had a few of their beers before, but wanted to pop in to see if they had the Born to Die IPA.  Unfortunately, they did not have it on tap, but rest assured, they had a (large) bottle.  It was an astounding $15 euros, but I had to pull the trigger.  It was worth it.  Fantastic, hop bomb with a smooth crisp finish.

Florence has two other breweries, Archea and Mostoldoce.  Give the slew of things we wanted to do and see, we only had time for one, Archea.

Archea actually did not brew the beer on site, and actually brewed it several hours away.  The tasting room was a great little pub, with several of their own beers and a few guest taps.  I actually really enjoyed their Hydra IPA.  The bartender was great, good people inside, and overall a great stop.  Highly recommend dropping in.

King Grizzly was a solid beer bar. Probably around 15 beers on tap, seemingly all or mostly from Italy.  Good scene, good beer options, the kind of place I would go to on the regular.

On our last day in Florence, we hired a private driver to take us down to Siena and then through the Chianti wine district.  No beer, but an absolutely fantastic time.  Lot of wine, great food, olive oil and sites beyond belief.  You can read more about our day on my Tripadvisor review of our driver, who was fantastic.  https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g187895-d4331380-r375836127-Alessandro_Cammilli_Private_Tours-Florence_Tuscany.html#REVIEWS

Overall, Firenze was incredible.  I could write 20 more pages about our time there.  We had a few fantastic meals (our lunch at Liberia Brac was one of the best meals I have ever had – https://www.yelp.com/biz/libreria-brac-firenze).  The David was amazing, the duomo and surrounding area was overwhelming, the Oltrarno neighborhood was lively and welcoming.  If I could only go back to one place in Italy, Firenze was it.

Stay tuned for Part 2, which will recap Cinque Terre and Rome.

 

 

Where to Drink – Anchor Brewing Tour!

I am ashamed to say I have lived in the Bay Area for ten years, and San Francisco for over six (and within a mile of the brewery for all that time), and I only recently did the Anchor Brewing tour.  A big factor was that the tour used to only be on weekdays (but was free!).  However, it used to get booked up months in advance, and it was very hard to get a last minute reservation (one time I called every day for two weeks to try and get in for my birthday, and there were no cancellations).

Recently, Anchor opened the tour up on weekends, and although they now charge $15, having it on the weekend is clutch.  We were able to book about 4 weeks in advance, and had a group of 10.

Anchor is one of the pioneering craft breweries, and only remaining breweries to make steam beer.  Anchor Steam is always a solid option, and is pretty ubiquitous in the City.

The tour starts off in the very cool bar.  The bar is a relic from years past.  Walls are lined with beer trays from other breweries, and the bar is covered in wood.

Tour starts with a (small) pour of Anchor Steam.  There were a couple extras poured so you know I grabbed one of those as well.

You are then brought into the brewery for a tour of the facility.  The copper tuns are a sight.  We got to see the hop rooms, steam rooms, bottling area, barrel room and more.  The brewery has great views of downtown as well.

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During the tour you get a pretty good sense of the history of the brewery, dating back to the late 1800s, to when Maytag purchased and saved the brewery until the present.

After the tour ends, you return to the bar area for a tasting.  On tap for us was Anchor IPA, Liberty Ale, Winter Wheat, California Lager, Barrel Ale, and the 2015 Christmas Ale.

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Liberty and California Lager are my favorite of the Anchor beers at the tasting.  Liberty is a nice, simple but balanced IPA.  California Lager is a prime summer beer.

I was not blown away by the 2015 Christmas.  2013 is my favorite recent vintage.  However, the Christmas “Tree” was pretty cool!

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I was somewhat surprised at the number of beers on tap.  The day before, I went to the Anchor tasting room at the Yard (www.the yardsf.com).  They have 16 beers on tap.  Apparently, the brewery itself only really gets the flagship or most popular beers.  I suppose it makes sense, considering that it is not open to the public, but I was a bit bummed that I had already had every beer they had at the brewery.

Ended the day buying a few things in the gift shop, which was small but sufficient.  It was a great tour, and even more fun with friends.  My wife thoroughly enjoyed herself, and she is not a big beer drinker.  However, non-beer drinkers will enjoy the history, and I think that makes people more willing to try beers they otherwise would not consider.

Overall, a must do when in SF in my humble, beer-loving opinion.  The reservation process is easy but I would plan on booking several weeks in advance for a weekend tour.

Cheers to beers!

http://www.anchorbrewing.com

Sierra Nevada – Round 2

I recently was in Chico celebrating the brother-in-law’s birthday (who claims to be “Oregon IPA” but is yet to make that happen), and so naturally, we went to Sierra Nevada on night one.  This trip allowed me to try 3 IPAs that I have not yet had a chance to review, so here goes.

Hop Hunter IPA

I was most excited to try the Hop Hunter, as the much-hyped new and innovative method of vaporizing wet hops to allow for a year-round wet hop experience was intriguing.  In addition, the recent spat between Lagunitas and Sierra over the bottle added to the fun.

ABV – 6.2%

IBUs – 60

The aroma gets you right off the bat on this one.  It is probably the most redeeming and exciting part of this beer.  Big, dank grapefruit nose.  Some floral and citrus notes.

Nice golden-amber color, light carbonation, and minimal head.

hunter

Not overly hoppy, with a nice, oily mouthfeel.  Finish was OK, not as smooth as Torpedo.  Overall, I was expecting (or hoping) to be blown away but was not.  It was good, but after having some wet hop beers last season (including Sierra’s Wet Hop), it did not seem to meet up.  It is a great concept to be able to have a wet hop beer in late-January, but I was not blown away.

I by no means did not dislike this one, I just think my expectations were a little overboard.

88/100

Golden IPA

Golden IPA was basically the opposite situation than the Hop Hunter.  I had low expectations for this one, but ended up being pleasantly surprised.

ABV – 5.9%

IBUs – 55

The Golden IPA certain holds up to its name, golden.

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Nose is a light citrus, nothing overwhelming.

Flavor was crisp and refreshing.  Although I sucked down a few on a January night, I could see myself sitting in the sun having several of these.  Light bodied, citrusy notes.  Minimal pine.  Smooth with a hint of a lingering aftertaste.

There is nothing particularly memorable about this beer, but it is very well balanced and drinkable.  I think by the end of the night I actually had more of these than the Hop Hunter.

86/100

Bindfold Black IPA

Last beer I had was the Blindfold Black.  I will admit, I had this right at the end of the night after having several of the above-reviewed beers.  As my picture depicts, things were starting to get fuzzy at this point…

ABV – 7.7%

IBUs – 70

Dark blackish-brown pour with decent, frothy head.  Strong lacing.

black

Nose fills of roasted malt and quite smoky.  Initial taste is roasty with some chocalately coffee hints.  As it goes down, you start to get the piney hops.  Almost velvety.

Overall, it had a lot going on and it was enjoyable, although I could not see myself drinking more than one or two in a sitting.

85/100

All in all, another great trip to the brewery.  Dinner was also fantastic, spent with good friends and some solid fish and chips.  One of my favorite breweries to go to as there are always plenty of interesting beers and solid food and service.

You can learn more about Sierra Nevada’s IPAs on their website.

Introduction

After spending way too many hours drinking, comparing, falling-asleep-with-one-in-my-hand-after-a-long-week, and, of course, enjoying IPAs, I decided it was time to share my experiences with the world.  I am fortunate to live in what has seemingly become the land of the IPA, California.  From the many delicious and hoppy offerings from San Diego, to the smooth and harder to find Central Coast versions, to the varying and plentiful Northern California gems, IPAs are everywhere.

This blog is just one’s man quest to try all of these IPAs and give his amateur and likely mostly disagreeable thoughts (I say this because I seem to be one of the few people I know that does not think Pliny the Elder is the best beer ever made – cue 75% of potential readers walking away).

Cheers, and enjoy!