Friday, March 29, 2013

California Drinking

Last week, California Dreamin' became California Drinkin'. 

TheCraftBeerGuru touched down in Los Angeles last Sunday and departed late on the following Thursday.  Many delicious beers were consumed in the interim.  Which was the very best?  

Only continued reading will tell :)  

First stop was Naja's Place in Redondo Beach. 

The beer here is better than the service.  Given the quality of the selection though, that is a sacrifice favorable for the beer lover. 

Pliny the Elder was on tap and, of course, chosen.  

Yet, Pliny may have been overshadowed by the brew that preceded it, Rugbrod from The Bruery, an absolutely excellently crafted rye beer. 

Naja's Place is notable for two reasons: 1. Location 2. Selection (of beer, that is).  

Naja's is favorably grimey and a dive bar through and through, but nestled perfectly on the Redondo Beach pier, with a welcoming marina view.  Parking is simple and cheap, and the neighborhood offers immense delights.  Although, for the beer enthusiast, one would be challenged to find a locale in the area better than Naja's. 

Revelry days later would include a trip to the Belmont Brewing Company for dinner with friends.  There, the house Black IPA, included as a Happy Hour special, challenged for the title of the best beer of the week.

Belmont Brewing's Black IPA is unlike any other black India Pale Ale.  Its "blackness" is more resultant of rich maltiness than rye or any other "special" ingredient.  It's hoppy, but refined.  Not as smoky as Wookey Jack, but nearly as delicious. 

The most enjoyable pub experience in California was at the one offering the smallest selection of beers: Joe Jost's in Long Beach.  Visiting Jost's for a late lunch (which, by the way, consists of a sausage sandwiched between two pieces of rye, a pickled egg, and a goblet of Red Hook's ESB; and is, as a whole, amazing) is a developing (and, hopefully, ongoing) tradition. 

Relative to the many (hundreds??) of dive bars previously visited, Joe Jost's is certainly near best in class.  Even upon departing at noon, the parking lot can be seen quickly filling.  Inside, at the same time, the bar is jammed by patrons; mostly retirees, some professionals, and all drinking from goblets no matter their work status. 

The last beer enjoyed in California was at Karl Strauss' in the LAX airport.  The Tower Ten IPA was enjoyable, but not especially notable. It served its purpose, and many hours of sleep were enjoyed on the plane after drinking plenty.  

Conversation with the Asian female barkeep at Karl Strauss' was entertaining, and worth the visit, but the television (unable to change channels due to a lost remote) was not.  But, if flying United out of LAX, Karl Strauss' is adequate for whetting the whistle of terminal 7 beer enthusiasts. 

To this east coaster's delight, a local pub not far from the Seal Beach hotel at which TheCraftBeerGuru was staying offered this:

...And Enjoy By was as satisfying as anticipated.  This is a beer worthy of its hype. 

Enjoy By needs very few words in its review because it delivers exactly as expected: big, fresh hops.  Delectable balancing malts.  Just exquisite.  And a very happy surprise to be discovered in a sleepy beach town. 

Yet, as far as the sampling of beer goes, the highlight of the trip occurred at Beachwood BBQ, at Beachwood's original location, also in Seal Beach.  

First, it must be said that Beachwood's location in Long Beach is both bigger and better than than the original in Seal Beach.  The Long Beach location is better in the sense that all house beers are offered (and brewed) there, while only one or two were on tap in Seal Beach.  The excellent Hop Jitsu was sadly absent in Seal Beach. 

Also unfortunate: During this trip to Beachwood, the taps were still mostly dedicated to Ballast Point because of an event from the night before.  Despite how remarkably well Ballast Point  hit the mark with Sculpin, the rest of the their collection tends to divert disappointingly from that perfection. 

Nevertheless, the single most delicious beer enjoyed by TheCraftBeerGuru during his latest California experience was consumed at Beachwood BBQ. 

And, it was? 


Hop 15 by Port Brewing.  An outstanding double IPA that delivers everything expected of the category. Big, thick, and bold, with some fruit characteristics, but happily not overly sweet.  The hops bite, but are not so spicy as to overwhelm.  Hop 15 is an outstanding beer and receives TheCraftBeerGuru's highest recommendation. 


Like, the Seal Beach afternoon, unfortunately...

...all good things must come to an end.  

Until next time, California; thanks for the memories. 

Cheers!  From 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Alchemy Hour Double IPA by Great Lakes

"Too Sweet"...

...Is no longer just a cheesy cliche from '90's era professional wrestling. 

Alchemy Hour Double IPA
9.4% ABV
80 IBUs

Great Lakes' Alchemy Hour is such a challenge to review.  While it is downright delicious, it clearly misses the mark of what is expected of the Double IPA class. 

Alchemy Hour presents itself bright orange in color and appears mostly clear.  A bubbly and long-lasting head is produced. 

The foamy head initially impacts Alchemy Hour's aroma which, at first, seems citrus in nature.  As the head dissipates, Alchemy Hour's true aroma is revealed, and it is pungent with grasses and pines. 

The aroma is excellent, highly influential during the drinking experience and, ultimately, the best of Alchemy Hour's components.  

Tipping the glass, immediately Alchemy Hour proves itself remarkably smooth and well balanced.  The tingles expected of a beer rich in IBUs only slightly, but pleasantly sting the very tip of the tongue and are quickly washed away by a general sweetness. 

And, while the sweetness balances the initial spiciness, this candy-like characteristic quickly becomes all too overwhelming, presenting Alchemy Hour's dominating flaw.   

That said, Great Lakes has crafted an exceptionally beautiful beer in appearance. 

Symmetrical lacing leaves Alchemy Hour's signature in layers upon the glass.

For an IPA, let alone a Double, Alchemy Hour is hardly bitter.  This beer is more sweet than spicy and the sugar-strong taste gives a sort of false anticipation of a syrupy mouthfeel.  Yet, no real stickiness remains with the teeth or palate.

If a beer were to exhibit emotions, Alchemy Hour's flavor profile would thank its aroma brethren.  The robust smell, very piney, is influential throughout the drinking experience, and levels out the taste that is exceptionally sweet and reminds, in characteristic, of mandarin oranges. 

Suprisingly, and to some disappointment, the heavy alcohol by volume is very well masked.  Perhaps too much, as Alchemy Hour would appeal even more if it offered some alcohol warmth

As to not sell Alchemy Hour short, the flavor profile does exhibit some bread-like maltiness.  But, again, through and through, the word of the day with this beer is "sweet."  

And while Alchemy Hour is, in fact, "Too Sweet," it is only relative to other IPA and Double IPAs.  It doesn't taste bad.  Quite to the contrary; Alchemy Hour is undoubtedly tasty. 

It's just also excessive.  And not in the ways in which a Double IPA should be indulgent.  

If only Alchemy Hour's hop profile would bite a bit more.  If only it were a tad more spicy and many magnitudes less sweet...

...As it stands Alchemy Hour is a contradiction in a bottle.  Delectable, yet not deserving, really, of praise.  

Its contradiction presents itself thusly: 2.5 stars (of five), yet a recommendation.  Because Alchemy Hour is an enjoyable beer generally, but disappointing as an IPA (and more so as a Double). 


Friday, March 15, 2013

Dogfish Head Aprihop

Dogfish Head may be a higher class, east coast version of the west's Rogue Ales; an innovative brewery creating exotic productions.  But with this Apricot IPA, Aprihop, has Dogfish Head gone too far? 

7.0% ABV
50 IBUs

Aprihop is bronze in color, seeming from appearance more an Amber than any sort of Pale Ale. A small head builds and then incrementally falls until it becomes about a millimeter settlement of foam.

There is ripe fruit in Aprihop's scent, particularly that of an orange.  Although the aroma is more orange koolaid than natural orange concentrate.

That same orange characteristic will present itself in Aprihop's diverse flavor profile.  More on that in a bit. 

Thin, but appealing lacing.

Aprihop's strongest note strikes in the middle of the palate.  Unfortunately, it fades quickly, leaving little impact on the back of the mouth nor the top of the throat. 

That note is, first, of an even bitterness throughout.  Throughout, that is, until the very end where disappointingly little lingers.  The mouthfeel is surprisingly thin.  

Aprihop, though, is much more than just bitter.  It's superbly balanced, in fact.  Almost "complex"; yet, not quite. 

Perhaps not complex, what does perplex is the apricot's hiding spot.  Aprihop's body is initially sour citrus.  That eventually becomes tangy orange.  Nothing, though, is uniquely identifiable as apricot.

As time passes and Aprihop settles, it becomes increasingly tasty.  The sourness fades, and the bitter bite digs in.  Aprihop matures into a spicy citrus bomb, and this is when it is best.
Apricot's influence, although not distinctly identifiable, is important in the service it provides in excellently balancing the other features of this beer.  Aprihop would be well balanced on the strength of its delicious malt to hop ratio alone.  The extra fruit flavor, though, finely pulls all parts together to form a delicious conclusion. 

Testament to that balance, Apricot gives subtle hint to some breadiness; and this is despite an otherwise spicy hop complexion.  

So, has Dogfish Head exceeded the threshold at which enjoyably exotic becomes cloyingly weird? 

Certainly not.  

Aprihop is a fruit beer in name only.  

In taste, it is a delightful, although atypical, India Pale Ale. Far from extreme.

Dogfish Head has admirably created a wonderfully balanced beer.  In all ways: Redder than a pale ale, but not dark; hoppy but not tremendously bitter; strong fruits but not juicy.  

Aprihop tiptoes the point of edginess without plunging over.

This is a three star beer (of five)'s recommendation comes with caveats, however.  This isn't 90 Minute.  On, the other hand, Aprihop isn't a fruity lambic.  If you are looking to satisfy a hankering for either, stay away. 

But, for a change of pace, Aprihop is a heck of a beer worthy of giving a "go."


Friday, March 8, 2013

Schlafly's American India Pale Ale

Schlafly's American India Pale Ale, 2013 vintage, tastes remarkably similar to this year's Hopslam from Bell's.

Certainly not a bad thing.

American IPA crafted by the Saint Louis Brewery (Schlafly)
7.2% ABV
65 IBUs

The American IPA is darker in color than anticipated. Burnt orange by estimation but slightly more brown than the hue of University of Texas fame.

This beer produces a small head that is not persistent. By first sip, foam is almost fully removed with only trace lacing remaining on the glass.

The aroma is subtle by IPA standards offering musky but light pines. Nothing is repugnant of the American IPA's scent, but it is disappointingly mild.

The flavor is generally tasty but a bit too strongly dominated by its overall bitterness.

But, let us consider; this is a beer that reminds of Hopslam. So, clearly, Schlafly's American IPA succeeds.

The flavor profile begins with big spicy hops right at the tip of the tongue. Bold bitter notes push the tingling to the back of the mouth. A tartness strikes the sides of the palate provoking some puckering.

Despite the strength of the hops, the American IPA's mouthfeel is excellent in its consistency. While not thick, this beer flows by no means thinly, serving a texture perfect for its class.

IPA flavors are often described as one, or more, of: floral, citrusy, grassy, or piney. In this case, while the aroma delivered hints of pine, this Schlafly flavor profile is generally citrus in nature. There is (minor) grapefruit and (more) lime going on here. Both combine to produce a sparse tang-like character.

But the American IPA's dominating attribute is its piercing spiciness.

A feature absent from this beer, but exceptional in Hopslam, is any gentle sweetness. Hopslam has that hint of honey that pulls the flavor profile together, whereas this beer lacks any similar sort of subtle surprise.

Overall, this is an enjoyably flavorful beer that simply demonstrates a lack of balance.

Despite minor flaws, Schlafly's American India Pale Ale is still an excellent option from an outstanding style of ale. It's certainly worthy of three of five stars, and a strong recommendation from


Saturday, March 2, 2013

New Belgium Rampant

A new beer approaches.

Rampant's official release date is March 4th, and here on March 2nd, it is being tasted, examined, and written about.  

Mosaic hops seem foreign. But Calypso and Centennial do not. And anticipation of this beer quickly becomes anxiousness.

So, let's dig in, and crack open a Rampant IPA.

Rampant Imperial India Pale Ale
8.5% ABV
85 IBUs

Rampant's tint is surprisingly pale.  The beer produces a thick, remarkably stable head.

Its color is slightly darker than wheat and mostly transparent.  Rampant blurs images from the opposite side of the glass, but only slightly. 

After a minute or two of patience, the head decreases to about half its height, but leaves plentiful lacing.  

Expecting a shade darker, the hue was of some surprise...

...Rampant's scent is not.  Some adjectives are common to IPAs: floral, piney, and even "dank."  Another one that is common, and certainly applies to Rampant, is citrusy. 

The aroma offers lemon and orange zest, and is about medium in strength

Rampant's mouthfeel is immediately noticeable for its thinness.  Carbonation is mild to the point of near non-existence and is especially benign for the style. 

The flavor profile is dominated by a lemon/lime quality.  It's very tart. Imagine the taste of a freshly squeezed lemon minus most of what induces puckering.  Such is presented to the palate by Rampant. 

A sour note does strike the back of the throat.   


New Belgium claims 85 IBUs.  While science makes for a hard opponent to argue, the bitterness seems to be missing here.  

Everything about this beer is subtle.  If Rampant does, in fact, consist of 85 IBUs, than Surly by Furious is off the charts.  

Given 8.5% ABV, Rampant is amazingly easy to drink.  It's wonderfully smooth. The modesty of this beer makes New Belgium's claims difficult to believe.  

85 IBUs? 8.5% ABV?  Really? 

Perhaps there may be some danger in that. The ease in which this beer goes down can only lead to the unassuming consumption of many, and to personal adventures thereafter.  Likely regrettable.  Actually, there is no doubt. 

New Belgium describes Rampant as an Imperial India Pale Ale.  "Imperial" may be a bit much.  This is average to decent as a regular IPA and totally underwhelming otherwise.  

There are so many great beers in the class.  Where to start?  Sculpin.  The aforementioned Surly.  Bell's Two Hearted.  Not to mention the standouts of the class offered by Drake's and Russian River.  

So, how does Rampant rank? 

Not very well.  It's easy to drink.  And, really, that's its fault.  Rampant leaves so very much to be desired.  "Imperial" invokes boldness.  Yet, Rampant is so very dull. 

Rampant is best described as "timid."  And nothing "Imperial" should be described as such. 

1.5 out of five stars.  And, given the plentiful IPA and richer Imperial IPA options, Rampant can not receive's recommendation.