Friday, February 29, 2008

2008 Anchor Trip: No Sleep 'Til Sonoma!

It's taken two weeks, but here's the very last 2008 Anchor Trip blog entry. Ever. Promise. I got waylaid by the stinking flu, hence the pause between reportage. Anywho...

(click on pics to make 'em BIG)

The bus picked up about 50 or so nicely hungover Falcons from our hotel in San Francisco at approximately 9:30 am. The plan -- haul our over-boozed hides 60 miles up the 101 to Healdsburg and start our beer-trip off right at Bear Republic. My kind of Sunday. Small side note -- Amy and I wasted money eating at Mel's (Bullshit) 50s Diner only because we had the room service the morning before. Both were massive mistakes.

We all get on the bus and there's Fletch and his Bus Kart! And yeah, I'll track down a picture of the Kart in action. The Brew Kart is a rolling apparatus that holds three 5-gallon corny kegs, a CO2 tank and a 3-tap tower. Bus riders had their choice of George Mahoney's Irish Red Ale, Kent and Nancy Gold's Racer 5 Clone or Falcons' President Steve Cook's Hefe. No offense to the others, but I had three mugs of that yummy-ass Hefe before we even got to Bear Republic. If any of you aren't Falcons but can make the Southern California Homebrewers Festival stop by and try Cook's Hefe. Thank me later. And then we got to Bear Republic...

Amy, circa 10:30 am:

John Aitchison licking his chops:

Why is this man smiling? (your first two guesses don't count)

Geoff looks stoked

Though not nearly as stoked as Rich!
(We can't believe they let him in, either)

Of course, there were these two...
(We returned them safely to Atascadero by supper)

Bear Republic very thoughtfully had about 20 pitchers of their various brews laid out and labeled for our gaggle. I was way too, uh, happy to take notes, but luckily Bruce Brode was there, he took notes, and then emailed them to me:

Wit: Bready, yeasty, spicy aroma features coriander. Nice hazy yellow-orange color (why don't MY Wits come out this hazy? Have I lost my wits?). Crisp, fairly dry flavor starts Wit-like and finishes with a drier flavor than many classic Belgian ones, perhaps the result of different base malt choices. Clean and pleasant.

El Oso Lager: Hoppy aroma also features acetaldehyde, the familiar "green apple" essence found in some pale lagers, and perhaps a feature of the Modelo yeast strain used. The smooth but hoppy palate, with a touch of hop phenols, is pilsner-like to a degree.

Winter Spice: A nice complex spicy aroma is inviting. Medium red color. The crisp flavor features spices on the back end of the palate which linger pleasantly into the aftertaste, with a touch of dry chocolate on the edges. At 5.5% ABV, it's an easygoing winter warmer of sorts.

Pete's Brown Ale: The rich malty aroma has healthy touches of hops and esters. There is enough hop bitterness to keep the rich, lingering malty flavor from becoming cloying. This one was a real favorite among many in the Falcons strike force.

Racer X Double IPA: The eagerly anticipated big version of Racer 5 (8.3% ABV) does not disappoint. A big, blasting hop aroma has elements of pine, pineapple and geranium, and the color is a lovely classic red. There are fruity, hoppy and estery elements to the smooth, creamy flavor and texture. Addicting! This one had the effect of softening up our troops just when we needed strength for the encounters ahead, but so goes the battle.

Hop Rod Rye: Clearly a trick, intending to masquerade as a Rye Ale when in reality it is a hop-laden bomb! Clever, these brewers. The unique bready-spicy aroma of rye leads the unsuspecting drinker in, as does a deep, beautiful red color. However, the full-bodied texture barely contains the rich, intense hop flavor and presence. Kinda like a hop grenade…at 7.5% ABV.

Super Freak: A unique blend of worts from Racer 5 and Red Rocket Ale, fermented with a Belgian ale yeast. The aroma features malt and esters atop a medium amber color. This is followed by a stimulating flavor mixing malt, hops, and a yeasty spiciness. This one is rich, complex, and very nice.

Heritage: Truly an offering intended to make peace, this Strong Scotch Ale presents a complex malty aroma with substantial elements of caramel and a touch of molasses. The color is a very dark red. The house character of smoothness and richness of flavor continues here, punctuated by a dry chocolatey edge. You don't even notice the 8% ABV. Beautiful beer.

Racer 5 IPA: A rich mixture of hops and malt exudes aromatically, with a touch of oxidation. This is yet another deep red-colored ale. The smooth and rich flavor melds malt and hops quite well in the expression of a classic hoppy red IPA.

Big Bear Stout: A roasty coffee aroma suggests this as an eye-opener for one of those "lost Sundays." One also gets a fruity, malty aroma with some hop contribution. The flavor similarly fuses fruity, hoppy and malty-roasty elements into a convincing whole, in what has become to some a definite "American Stout" profile.

So says Bruce. I says Racer X Roolz! As does Amy:

Really though, Racer X is phenomenal and hopefully will soon be in bottles now that BR has a new production facility. Racer X was every bit as good as Hop Rod Rye, and if you know me, that's high praise. Here's me getting a to-go cube of Racer X. My lone complaint against Bear Republic are those stupid plastic beer cubes. They really stink. And leak. And let all the gas out of your beer.

Aside from the big DIPA, Racer 5, Super Freak and Heritage all stood out. Though, disagreeing with Bruce a bit here, Heritage seemed to be more of a Double Red than a Wee Heavy. But who cares, really? Certainly not Fletch and George! For those who don't know, Mr. George Mahoney loves him some Mexican Lager. I suspect his serious face is a result of him intently studying the El Oso Lager and it's Modelo yeast strain:

Despite appearances, Jimmy does take time out from killing the ladies to drink as much beer as humanly possible at these type of functions. Ask his backpack (zing!).

Then this guy showed up, and well... 1,000 words each, right?

Sadly we had to get back on the bus (more of El Hefe's Hefe!) and leave Bear Republic... to go to Russian River! Life is really good sometimes. Sadly, again, the always affable Vinnie Cilurzo couldn't join us (Sunday is medal polishing day) but he left plenty of beer and pizza laying about. Did I mention the beer? Some of us were pretty excited:

While others took a more mature, contemplative approach to drinking some of the world's absolute best beer. I believe George was drinking a Younger:

And, from Bruce, here's what we drank:
What was first served to me as a Blonde Ale was most likely Pliny the Elder Double IPA. When I did finally encounter the Blonde, I was struck by its Kolsch-like character including a dry, herbaceous yet malty aroma, straw-into-gold color, and crisp dryish flavor with nice yeast and hop and grain contributions, providing a rather rich palate but clearing nicely, leaving a refreshing and complex impression. Other encounters:

Rejection: A beer for the broken-hearted on Valentine's Day, this one should NOT be rejected! A malty aroma presents elements of caramel and chocolate, as one might expect for the lover's holiday. The color is deep brown, nearly black, that is to say inconsolable? A rich, spicy-fruity flavor lingers nicely long into the aftertaste and will help you to forget your love troubles.

Pliny the Elder: Yes, the legendary Double IPA was laying in wait for us, and did its share of damage to our troops. The big, rich hop blast of an aroma, with elements of pineapple and mint, was mightily distracting. A citrus flavor married with malt, a touch of citrus-like acidity, a hoppy break and bit of hop bitterness provided a complex and intense experience. We soaked up a lot of bombardment from this one.

Damnation: There is a rich 'Belgian Ale' aroma, including esters, phenols, and malt. The rich, gold color is impressive. A spicy flavor is presented against a richly malty background, with significant fruity notes. Yet another landmine of a beer.

Compunction: In a surprise assault, this unusual ale attempted to disrupt our palates with a complex sour/cellar aroma with citrus/grapefruit, pineapple, and a touch of vinegar. Light orange color. The flavor is distinctly sour, led by vinegar essence with contribution from lactic acid, but no Brettanomyces detected. An effective palate restorative after the good wood-fired pizza.

While it wasn't part of our "deal," RR had Pliny the Younger on tap. I had a couple. Sadly, no Blind Pig (but Amy and I did get some the day before at the Barleywine Fest). Let me just say this -- Pliny the Elder is still the best DIPA around. And the Younger ain't too bad either. But Compunction, Vinnie's sour beer on pluots, is approaching his IPAs in terms of quality. Stellar, outstanding, another gold medal, world class, etc. Man I hope he gets this one in bottles. And soon. Oh, and if you haven't heard, Pliny the Elder will be in bottles. Soon. Younger, too. Woo Hoo!

My old roommate, dear friend and brewing partner from back in the early 90s -- Nathan Feileacan -- showed up with his wife Michelle (also a dirty hippie dear friend) and son Myer. The kid's about the cutest thing in the world. Last time the Falcons won the California Homebrew Club of the Year, we did a similar (fine, identical) bus trip. Nathan rode with us the entire time on that one:

And like that we were off again. Back on the bus. More Hefe. Everything started becoming a blur. Amy was pretty drunk. Actually, the entire crew was fairly gone by this point. But we were headed to Lagunitas, which... if you've had a few too many by 1:00 pm is a pretty righteous place to go. And get more wrecked:

I'm sure you've all heard of Lagunitas infamous Undercover Investigation Shutdown Ale. But what might have first landed the brewery on the ABC's to bust list? This beer is now sold as "Censored," but that's the original label:

A bit blurry but fuck it:

More hijinks:

Speaking of Bruce, here's what he says we drank at Lagunitas:

Pilsner: A grainy-malty aroma also shows some hops. The palate is malty with some mild hop astringency, for overall smooth balance and a decent finish despite a bit of "yeast wash."

Maximus IPA: There is a nice piney hop aroma – very fresh! Rich copper color. Hop fruitiness and astringency dominate the flavor, with some malt support.

Hop Stoopid: A nice, rich and complex hop aroma, with elements of pineapple and mint, begin the process of convincing one that this beer will live up to its name. A solid copper color leads to a flavor featuring an IPA-style fusion of hops, malt and yeast esters, with good intensity. This one did some damage to the hopheads among our forces.

The Hairy Eyeball: Lots of caramel malt in the aroma. The color is a rich amber. A nice intense caramel malt flavor follows, with a balancing hop bitterness. This was another attempt to confuse us, as it comes across as a strapping ESB. Besides, what's a Hairy Eyeball, anyway?

Imperial Stout: The aroma is a nice balance of roasty, fruity, and malty essences. Yes, the color is black. The flavor has a slightly smoky approach with some creaminess in the middle and a fruity-hoppy periphery. Another pounding from the big guns.

We also had some Lumpy Gravy (it was OK, but not as good as the last two Zappa releases) and their new Pale Ale, which is in fact last year's Kill Ugly Radio, only dialed down from 7% to 6.4%. Super frigging yum. For real. Like, my new go to 6-pack.

At some point I wandered off (like Anchor, Lagunitas gave us the full run of the brewery) and checked out their new 80 barrel brew setup. Actually, it has a 120 barrel lauter tun, and they're keeping the old 30 barrel system so they can do real big batches. I also caught one of their brewers whipping up a batch of Maximus on the old system:

Then I found their new brewery switchboard, which is probably the coolest thing, well, ever. Be sure to click to make it BIG:

Well friends, that concludes not only this entry, but all of the 2008 Falcons Anchor Trip. Until we win it again... Oh, and below is Amy with three growlers of Pliny the Younger, two Pliny the Elders, a box of Racer X and a six-pack of Union Jack. Ta!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Photo(s) of the Day: The Arrogant Sombrero

Yeah, all three pics have to do with beer. A lot.

North Coast Old Rasputin X

From their website:

Brewed in honor of the tenth anniversary of the introduction of Old Rasputin, this special limited bottling was released in January of 2007. Bottled in 500 ml. bottles with a cork and wire finish, Old Rasputin X was blended from beer aged for nine months in Bourbon barrels up to 12 years old.

Style: Barrel Aged
Color: Black
ABV: 11.6%
Bitterness: 75 IBUs

Bottle from a friend at a stout tasting.

Nose: Booze, vanilla, oak, dark bread, blackberries, toffee, caramel

Appearance: Medium brown, aged streaks of yellow near the meniscus, khaki/coffee w/cream head

Taste: Honey, oak, roast coffee, dark chocolate, booze, bread crust, wheatberries, apricot, wood, vanilla, plum + grape skin, toffee, caramel, hints of sherry.

Mouthfeel: Medium-thick, coating, long, lingering aftertaste and ever so slightly oxidized.

Thoughts: Superb dance between the caramel/toffee, the bitterness and the booze/oak. Spot on. Complex, sophisticated, yet quaffable. And above all -- delicious. Super delicious.

I'm curious as to where the extra booze came from? Old Rasputin is 8.9%. Did aging in the barrels evaporate some water? Did they change the Rasputin recipe? Or... did they blend in some Old Stock (me thinky!!!)

I usually find the concept of barrel aging to be more gimmicky than anything else. And the act of doing so rarely does more than oak up a perfectly nice beer. Or make it reek of vanilla. Not here. Old Rasputin X is not only one of the top 2 barrel aged beers I've ever had, but (probably) in my top 5 all time. Top 10 for certain.


Monday, February 25, 2008

2008 Anchor Trip: Anchor Party!

(click images to make 'em BIG)

When we last left off, I was telling you about the Barleywine Festival at the Toronado. After that, Amy and I hitched a ride with a nice Brit named Phil over to the Anchor Brewery. In case you've been wondering, the deal is that every year the employees at Anchor pick one club to be the California Homebrew Club of the Year. They use a top secret formula that balances achievement in competition with the homebrewing and beer education/outreach. Or something. Anyhow, 2007 is the 6th year we've won.

What happens when you win? You get a big, fat party thrown in your honor. How big? About 150 Falcons made the trek from our home in Los Angeles. Plus we brought along at least 50 friends from other clubs in the state (and a random Brit off the street). The party works like this -- Anchor gives us free run of the brewery (though sadly this year the hop room was locked...) and as much Anchor Beer as we can drink. Plus, they cook us tri-tip and chicken for lunch. And our band plays (yes, our club has a band). Beers we drank:
  • Steam
  • Liberty
  • Bock
  • Porter
  • Summer Wheat
  • Old Foghorn

That's right, not only Old Foghorn on tap, but as much as you could drink. The whole thing was a total blast. The beer rocked, the band rocked, the food was outstanding and eternal cheers to the Anchor employees for volunteering to play host to a bunch of beer snobs slobs and their beautiful wives. Und now, pictures!!!

Derreck and President Cook

Earnesto, Jimmy and Amy

Babu and Beardo

That's Dave. Hope his finger is OK

Jeremy Raub looking dapper. And happy

Craftsman brewer extraordinaire, Merlin Cup winner and all around good guy Todd Peterson

Anchor Employees

Fletch and Amy

OK -- about half way through the party, Anchor dude Bob Brewer (yes, his real name) stops the festivities to present us with the California Homebrew Club of the Year Trophy. Accepting the honor is none other than our dear President, Steve Cook.

Madonna and Child Steve and the Trophy

But what's this? The copper mug atop the trophy comes off? But why?

And why is Mr. Brewer filling up the 2-pint mug with Anchor Steam? Is Steve going to pass it around so that we can all share in the victory/celebration?

Steve sure does look happy, doesn't he?

We sure as hell ain't no wine club.

One last pose for the cameras and then...

Chug! Chug! Chug! Yup, tradition holds that the winning club's president has to slam the entire 2 pints in one gulp. Steve spents months in training.

The amazing part? Steve didn't spill a drop. All that training paid off.

OK, so let's have a peak at the brewery. Obviously (see below) Anchor is one the most beautiful breweries around. Yup, real copper, scavenged from some brewery in Germany. On the left is the boiling kettle and to the right is the mash tun.

Here's a cool shot of inside the lauter tun (the grain is pumped from the mash tun to be lautered in a separate vessel). See the pipe coming down fro the top which empties into that asket looking thing? That's the pipe for the HLT. The water falls into that basket and then flows out to the sparge arms. Pretty fricking cool. The bottom is all stainless.

Here's that lauter tun. Just a thing of beauty. You can see Anchor's lab in the background.

Sigh... This is Anchor's grant. Useless, yeah, sure, but look how beautiful it is. Though I should point out that Patrick Rue's Bruery has a grant.

Some more beer porn for you

I can read your mind, "What in the hell is that?" That my friends, is one of Anchor's six open fermenters. They have four in this big ole clean room, and two others in back. Each cool ship (in the first room) holds 120 barrels.

The Trub Also Rises

Sailing the Seas of Yeast

Here's on of the two fermenters in the back. These two are deeper and squareer than the four up front. The yeast also seemed stained darker, so I think Porter is being fermented in this picture. Do different shaped fermentors work better for various beers? Probably. [Edit: Drew is claiming that all four up front ferment steam and the two in back are for everything else. So, there you go.]

Now that's a plate chiller

This switchboard, which lets the brewers route beer all over the brewery, used to really impress me. And then we went to Lagunitas. You'll have to come back in a few days to see that. Still, very cool.

And finally, former Three Floyds and Firestone Walker brewery Jim Cibak was there. Jim's moving back to Indiana where he and some pals are opening up Crown Brewing. Expect lots of DIPAs, Barleywines and Imperial Stouts. Hey, my kind of guy.