Saturday, January 26, 2013

Oskar Blues' Mama's Little Yella Pils

This hobby of passion of mine is dominated by IPAs and double IPAs, Belgian-styled beers and Belgian beers.  And, lately, big rich imperial stouts. 

So, it's nice to occasionally encounter something different.  And what is more unique than craft beer from a can? 

Mama's Little Yella Pils from the Oskar Blues Brewery
5.3% ABV
35 IBUs

Not often do I drink Pilsners, but Mama's Little Yella Pils is one I truly enjoy.  

First thing's first.  Let's get this straight.  This isn't a four or five star beer.  But I doubt it aims to be, really.  Mama's Little Yella Pils isn't an overachiever. Instead, its the sort of consistent go-getter.   

And a beer I return to. 

Again, and again.  And, that means more to Oskar Blues than any stars I may bestow.  I'm certain. 

As for tonight...

...Pils settled into the glass a cloudy yellow.  Opaque, and reminded me of stained glass.

A timid head developed and rapidly dissipated.  Only slight lacing adhered to the glass. 

The aroma of Mama's Little Yella Pils was initially mellow.  Of what could be at first detected, there seemed to be hints of tropical fruits. 

As the scent developed, a cereal, wheat-harvest characteristic was presented. 

During this session, Little Yella was less sweet than I recalled it being on previous occasions   However, as always, Little Yella Pils proved smooth, refreshing, and dangerously easy to drink. 

This beer is proof of the bastardization of the term "Pilsner," as it shares commonality with American macro-brewed offerings of the "same" class in the sense that it has a liquid form, is yellowish in color, and has alcohol content. 

Otherwise, Mama's Little Yella Pils is an outlier. And, by taste alone, I would think it more of a hefeweizen.  But it's bona fides confirm Czech authenticity. 

The mouthfeel was thin.  Stimulating spices were offered throughout the profile; a profile that, in flavor, was big in corn influences, offered zesty melon along with an ever present but mild hint of honey.

This beer would perfectly pair with spicy wings. 

Little Yella Pils, in a word, was probably "refreshing."  Or, maybe just "fresh."

Okay, "delicious." 

One adjective probably doesn't do the experience justice.  Because it was most worthwhile as an enjoyable reprieve from the typical craft beer monsters.  

From a brewer that offers an abrasive monster of its own, Deviant Dales, it sure was nice to experience the other end of Oskar Blues' creative spectrum. 

Deviant may be the life of the party, but the Little Yella Pils is the laid-back casual dude that quietly makes friends with all.  

Good beer.  3.5 stars.  Not spectacular, but forever a "go-to" beer for and, as such, worth a devout recommendation


Friday, January 25, 2013

Sucks from Lagunitas

The thing about anticipation is that it often provides expectations that the desired item cannot match.
However, in the case of Sucks by Lagunitas, such fear may be eliminated.  While this was a beer that I waited anxiously to enjoy, it’s also certainly one that achieved the greatness I had hoped it would.

Total Wine, Fredericksburg, VA
Unfortunately, the elusive five-star beer persists in its evasion of this blog.   Because Sucks is not it.  

As great as it was and, trust me, Sucks was spectacular, this beer was not without fault.  Namely, that it tasted a little too familiar. 

7.85% ABV
63 IBUs

But anyway...
...Speaking of anticipation, what I had in that regard of this beer’s appearance was mistaken.
I had expected Sucks to pour with the hue of Brown Shugga.  Instead, Sucks offered much lighter color; I’d say something like wheat, only a bit darker.  Although, nearly totally transparent.  

See?  That’s my computer screen through the lens of beer. Sorta me looking at you looking at me.
Sucks produced a measurably tall head that was more thick than fluffy.  Lacing was most consistent at the top of the glass, although remained fairly stubbornly throughout the remainder of the glass.

Initially, I observed no rising bubbles, but as the beer settled, more were produced. Really, this beer looked like a slightly prettier Coors, but it more than slightly tasted better.
And, oh that aroma.  Suck’s scent was heaven-sent (alliteration!).  A powerful “dankness.”  While piney, the smell was mostly of delightful earthly grasses.
Taste, in a nutshell, was reminiscent of Brown Shugga (for which Sucks is described as a "substitute"), only with tremendously increased pine influences in place of much decreased sugar sweetness.
In  fact, Sucks delivered very little to no syrup stickiness in the mouthfeel.  
While not sugary, there was a hint of subtle honey up front.   Difficult to detect, but there, and it added to Sucks’ complexity.  Throughout, but most noticeably on the backend, were tingling spices.  And the middle delivered a bite of tarty grapefruit.  
Sucks was distinctly Lagunitas.  Which, given my admiration for the brewery was mostly a good thing.  Mostly.
But what’s it mean to be distinctly Lagunitas?  Well, foremost, it’s in that overwhelmingly, yet fascinatingly enjoyable pine cone profile.  Lagunitas has a handle on this specific trait in ways other west coast brewers do not.  
Done wrong, this aspect could be cloying.  Done well, as it was with Sucks, this pine cone smash can be thoroughly appealing. 
But, unfortunately, this very quality, while delectable on its own, may be Sucks’ single fault.  It simply shares too much in common with other Lagunitas beers, most specifically, their base IPA.
I almost feel like I can’t dampen my opinion of Sucks for a characteristic that I enjoy.  But, alas, I must.  Duty calls. 
So… rating this beer requires balancing.  Sucks was no doubt excellent.  Probably four stars.  Maybe edging a bit above that, even.  I truly loved its taste.  
However, while unique relative to the greater craft beer universe, Sucks may not have been distinct enough from its Lagunitas’ brethren, which, with disappointment, knocks off a half star.
Fuzzy math: 3.75 (of 5 stars), but also with a recommendation bordering on being a violent demand that you try this.  From your friend,

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Beachwood BBQ, Long Beach

It's remarkable that at a gastropub offering Russian River, Ballast Point, AleSmith and other delectable beverage varieties, the most tasty of brews at Beachwood BBQ may have been the house beers.

Image courtesy

Beachwood BBQ only disappointed in that I left my beloved knit cap there after an entertaining night, and now find myself some 3,000 miles separated from that hat.  And, worse, from the inviting atmosphere at Beachwood. 

During a recent work trip to California, I visited the Long Beach location of Beachwood BBQ twice.  The first occasion was not intentional. In fact, I was ignorant of Beachwood until, really, entering its cozy, but modern establishment.  

My original destination that first night was the mostly disappointing Congregation Ale House next door.  The second visit was upon the recommendation of co-workers, both of whom not only knew more about beer than I, but certainly knew more about the local beer scene.  

And they raved about this place.  And also about Beachwood BBQ's original location in Seal Beach. 

As a native East Coaster, it would be simple to indicate that the highlight of the Beachwood BBQ experience was the opportunity to enjoy the near-Holy Grail status beer provided by Russian River.  But, truthfully, the beer was second to the service, which was tremendous.  

It was clear that all members of the staff retained an intimate knowledge of beer.  They were happy to share of that wisdom.  And of beer, with samples handed out liberally.   

So happily welcoming. A laid-back southern California vibe, enveloped in hip, simple, mostly metallic decor. 

But about that beer selection?  Yeah, it was excellent.  The number of taps was not overwhelming, but expertly chosen.  Should you not believe me, see for yourself.  A web cam highlights Beachwood's present selection. 

Again, the impression most deeply ingrained was, surprisingly not of the delightful libations, but of the congenial service. 

During both visits, staff entertained my beer-focused discussion with genuine enthusiasm.  Clearly, Beachwood BBQ was a place where my passion for craft beer was shared. 

As amazing as the beer was, and it was, the memories now are warming because of the inviting atmosphere and the easy welcome received at Beachwood BBQ. From hostess to barkeep to server, all of Beachwood's crew made certain that my reflections will always be positive. 

Alas, the beer was excellent, especially the house-crafted brews, for which I offer sincere kudos to the Beachwood BBQ brewer.  All versions of their I.P.A.s (of which there were at least two), the house Saison, and the milk stout were particularly delectable.  And, from my understanding, award-winning. 

It is with the utmost sincerity that I admit Beachwood BBQ's Hop Jitsu IPA impressed as much as the Russian River brew I had during the same visit.  That's distinguished company for a local beer. 

Clearly, Beachwood BBQ receives my highest recommendation.  It's a few taps short of five stars.  But offers it 4.5 (out of a possible 5) stars


Friday, January 11, 2013

Toxic Sludge by Blue Point

This weekend, I will be traveling west.  Tonight's review, though is of something from closer to home.  We remain near the Atlantic, and discuss Blue Point Brewery's Toxic Sludge. 

Image courtesy of

Toxic Sludge is an adequate tasting beer, with an excellent aroma, and perhaps a cooler can.  And, of course, an awesome name.  

To the details. 

This particular serving of Toxic Sludge (how fun is that to type?) was poured vigorously and produced a monumental and persistent head. 

Toxic Sludge by the Blue Point Brewing Company
7.0% ABV
40 IBUs

That head, as pictured, was mostly white in color.  To be exact, the thick head was reminiscent in tint to french vanilla ice cream.  

The liquid portion of Toxic Sludge was ruby and mostly opaque.  Any light that managed to pass through was shaded in the darkest of red. 

The aroma was thoroughly pleasing.  As a native of North Dakota, I was reminded of leisurely jaunts through wavering fields of grain. Balancing out the scent was the faintest hint of orange.  Certainly satisfied the nose. 

Upon tasting, I was initially struck by how refined a beer this was.  This would soon prove to be a bit of a fault. In the sense that it was too refined to offer a violence of flavor, as may have been anticipated.  And desired. 

But, in any case, that first taste was notable for its very mild carbonation and interestingly delicate, yet sugary mouthfeel. 

Upon completion of that initial sip, I noticed a pleasant spiciness tickling the back of my mouth and the upper region of my throat.  There was boozy warming as the liquid passed deeper. 

And, all along, Toxic Sludge's impressive soapy suds remained laced around the inside of the glass. 

The taste was admirable and, on the whole, happily different from most IPAs, but lacked something.  Let's dig in. 

I at first noticed a strong presence of black licorice, and strong char.  Toxic Sludge did not offer the piney, floral hoppiness of its west coast brethren.  While certainly bitter, this was something different.  My palate was met with cereal grains tasting like fresh bread while providing, peculiarly, a hint of sourness. 

Toxic Sludge was hoppy but not in the same abrasive style of, say, Hop Stoopid, Deviant Dale's, or Furious by Surly.  Toxic Sludge was something totally different. 

Like the uniquely designed can in which it was delivered, Toxic Sludge was its own beast. 

Unfortunately, Toxic Sludge, while unique, suffered by lacking the qualities the beers named above offer. This beer was short of achieving balance. Something was missing.  

That is to say that throughout the drinking experience, I was expecting a bold, hoppy kick.  A sandpaper blast. And it was never received.  To some masochistic disappointment. 

In retrospect, the high point of Toxic Sludge was its aroma, which was excellent.  Although competition was offered by its price: a very respectable $2.87 per pint-sized can at the local Total Wine.  Between this and a cup of coffee for the same price, I'd choose the Toxic Sludge every time.  

So, this was a good beer.  No doubt. 

It's seasonal.  While I will surely be able to harness my anticipation of its next arrival, I will definitely buy another the next time it is in stock.  

I admire Toxic Sludge's uniqueness, from name to can design and then, less so, to flavor.  A great aroma, followed by a simply satisfactory beer.  Exact qualities of a three star beer.  Which is what it earns: 3 stars (out of 5) and a lukewarm recommendation.  If you encounter a can, grab it.  Enjoy.  But this is not a small batch offering worth searching for. 


Friday, January 4, 2013

Boulevard's Rye-On-Rye

Today’s review is of one bottle, consumed in two parts, published in one post, but in two sections.   

Got it? 

Think of this post as half-review and half-taste experiment.   

Understanding why may explain much about Rye-On-Rye by the Boulevard Brewing Company.

Rye-On-Rye by the Boulevard Brewing Company
Batch 2013-1
12% ABV
47 IBUs

But, first, some context: 

Rye-On-Rye was introduced to me via moderate fanfare amongst the beer community I trust most.   

Allowing their praise alone to guide, I approached Rye-On-Rye absent of my own due diligence.  That is to say that I knew nothing about this beer other than I really enjoy Boulevard’s Tank 7, and rye beers are among my favorites. 

And, as stated, those I trust enjoyed this year’s Rye-On-Rye. 

So, I anticipated Rye-On-Rye to be something in taste similar to two beers I deeply admire (both highlighted by rye), Founder’s Red’s Rye P.A., and Firestone Walker’s Wookie Jack.   

You now know my basic expectation at the time of first encountering Rye-On-Rye.  Now, let’s talk about the beer. 

Rye-On-Rye poured a very dark copper.  I don’t think identifying it as brown would be overstatement. 

A big, thick head quickly developed, and just as quickly settled to become a thin, icing-like layer. 

Tackling this beer (and I do think “tackling,” is appropriate), I was immediately introduced to a 12.0% alcohol beer, by volume, and one that does not - at least not initially - mask nearly any of it.   

The blast from the alcohol should have been no surprise, despite how surprised I was.  The scent was enormous with daunting bourbon overtones.  I should have been prepared. 

My palate was warmed by the alcohol, but not nearly as much as my throat.  And, I can’t lie; the experience, initially, was not exactly pleasant.   

Please recall that I was anticipating the refined balance of Wookey Jack, but was instead met by a vicious challenge to my very manhood. 

For a moment, I may have even gone so far as to describe Rye-On-Rye as cloying.   

But here’s the thing, as I continued to savor Rye-On-Rye, the more it mellowed.  As it did, qualities that its fans adore were beginning to emerge.   

The thought developed that this may be a beer worth cellaring. Time seemed to be Rye-On-Rye’s friend. 

However, being that this particular bomber was already uncorked, such an option seemed restricted.   

Instead, I have saved what remained of that bottle and intend to try again now.  Hopefully the duration of days finished the job that minutes had started.   

So, please continue to read as we journey together toward section two, the taste-experiment.   

Day two. Actually some days removed from the tasting described above.   

Rye-On-Rye produces nearly no head, but maintains some soda-like bubbling. 

I am struck by the remarkable hue of this beer.  Perhaps “copper” or even brown failed to adequately describe Rye-On-Rye’s appearance.   

The term for the exact color escapes me.  However, when one conjures Halloween, I imagine that thought is shaded in the same tint as displayed by this beer.

The hint of bourbon is still active in the aroma, but not nearly as overwhelming as it had been during initial sampling. Sniffing hard, the scent rushes through the nostrils and delivers quickly the same gentle burning in the back of the throat that I recall from Rye-On-Rye’s taste. 

I cautiously sip.   

This beer has certainly mellowed.  While the flavor of the bourbon has evened, its warming effect remains.   

What I do not get from this beer, despite Boulevard’s chosen nomenclature, is much notice of rye.   

I have not had many barleywines; however, Rye-On-Rye reminds me of some barleywines I have tried. 

I am beginning to extract more from this beer.  A caramel sweetness for one. Definitely some pecan residue.  Even a very slight hint of vanilla.  And maybe a grape wine-like thing going on. 

The mouthfeel is quite even, contains little carbonation, and leaves mild sugar stickiness on the teeth. 

All of which are leading me to believe that I truly like the Rye in this Boulevard beer but may be less keen about it being “On Rye.”  This is to say that I would love to try this beer sans barrel-aging. 

Yet, I appreciate the bourbon aspect, although it may be excessive in this particular case. 

However, the complexity of Rye-On-Rye is growing on me, as it did during the first tasting. 

It may be my masculinity attempting to rebuff Rye-On-Rye’s attack, but I find myself truly appreciating this beer. 

I have consistently stated on this blog, rewards complex beers over the boring, so long as the complexity is also enjoyable.  Rye-On-Rye is a beer that the consumer learns to love.  I sure have.   

And so far as being distinct, this beer is very little like anything I have had before. 

Rye-On-Rye deserves, and receives, no less than 3.5 of five possible stars.  I also recommend it, with the note to approach more prepared than I.