Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Across America 2014

•August 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment

No, nobody asked for this. But it’s been a while since I’ve done a good old breakdown of a twelver. And where better to begin than with Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp 2014?

Beer Camp 12 pack

Beer Camp 12 pack

If you spent any time on beer-related social media in late July 2014, you probably read something about the 2014 Beer Camp pack, which they are calling “Beer Camp Across America.” The 2014 version differs from their Beer Camps of the past — where four beers were selected and sold in a mixed twelve-pack. Those packs were always worth a look, but this year SN is doing something wildly different.

Rather than four solid one-offs, Sierra stocked this year’s twelver with a dozen different beers, all collaborations with twelve other craft breweries around the United States, including some of my own personal favorites. There are ten bottles and two cans in the pack, and though I generally try to share, I had to forcefully and voraciously slap the hand of anyone who tried to steal one of them. (It made me very unpopular, but I’m quite used to that.)

Anyway, due to the scarcity of the Beer Camp Across America, people were posting videos of themselves on Vine and Facebook hoarding five, sometimes ten boxes of the stuff. (What are they going to do? Age them?) I just wanted one, so I could sample each one and post it up here for posterity. Someday, decades from now, someone will wonder about the legendary Beer Camp twelve-pack of ’14 and wonder, was it worth all the hubbub? They’ll need look no further than right here. I’ll show you all twelve beers, my tasting notes, and my rating for each. Click on any image to get a (VERY) large and close-up view of it.

Take my hand and let’s begin….


#1. Yonder Bock (Cigar City; Florida) – 3.5/5

Yonder Bock, a canned collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Cigar City.

Yonder Bock, a canned collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Cigar City.

My first selection was Yonder Bock, a “Tropical Maibock” collaboration with Cigar City of Tampa, Fla. Cleverly, Sierra put two of the twelve pack into cans, deferring to their canned-beer collaborators. Cigar City isn’t available everywhere in Upstate New York, so this was one of the more intriguing beers in the pack.

The beer pours a honey-colored orange. Although it seems all my can-pours have a massive head (I guess I’m just not very good at it, what with the glugging of the beer and what not), this one settled down to where the head disappeared pretty quickly. The aromatics consist of orange peel and, if you can believe this, suntan lotion. Cocoa butter to be exact. (Perhaps the “tropical” description was tricking my brain.) 

The flavor was very mineral-heavy, with the wet rock flavor you might recognize in some malt-centric brews. A spicy rye-like component also comes to the forefront. I enjoy a good maibock, and although this isn’t necessarily up my alley, it’s very pleasant. (For what it’s worth, my sister Kate had it at a Sierra Nevada tap takeover and said it was her favorite one. And she knows her shit.) 


#2. Chico King (Three Floyds; Indiana) 3.7/5

02 Chico King 3 Floyds 2

Three Floyds is another brewery we almost never get in Upstate New York. (The dearly departed Clark’s Ale House sometimes carried Alpha King and Gumballhead, but that was before the Yakima Hop Crisis.) So I made sure I got to this one before my greedy family got home and tried to take it from me.

Chico King pours a clear carrot orange color; it has a massive, long-lasting head. (Don’t let the photo above fool you, most of these were half-pours, decanted with authority.) The hop flavor is woody, oily stuff, with an earthy, almost English malt balance. I was expecting a hop-bomb here, but it’s actually beautifully balanced. And the label says it’s 6.5%, but from the taste I would have guessed nearly double that.


#3. Maillard’s Odyssey (Bell’s; Michigan) 4.3/5

Maillard's Odyssey, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Bells Brewing.

Maillard’s Odyssey, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Bells Brewing.

Although this is considered an “American strong ale” by, there is nothing hard-to-drink about this beauty. It’s the best of the bunch so far, a fantastic dessert beer created with Bell’s, who knows a thing or two about making great dark brews. (See: Expedition Stout; Kalamazoo Stout; et al.) 

It pours a deep, dark chocolate brown — almost black. It settles with two fingers of cardboard brown head. The scent is a panoply of nutty aromas: cocoa, malted milk balls and hazelnut. The flavor is what you get on the bottom of your mom’s burnt chocolate chip cookies. (Or at least my mom’s.) There is a dry, ashy feel that would help this replace your coffee to pair with your favorite chocolate dessert.


#4. There and Back (New Glarus; Wisconsin) 3.8/5

There and Back, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and New Glarus.

There and Back, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and New Glarus.

Since New Glarus is yet another brewery we cannot get anywhere close to where I live, so thus far this 12 pack has been a nice little tour of uncharted territory for me. This English-style pub ale is dark orange, with a pockmarked white head. Almost resembles an American amber. The carbonation in this one is nearly off the charts. The flavor and aroma are mild toffee sweetness, with an accent of bittering Euro hops.

Is it the most complex beer of the bunch? Not by a long shot, but it’s supremely drinkable, and is probably the best change-of-pace beer in the box. A better mid-afternoon beer you are not likely to find.


#5. Tater Ridge (Asheville Brewer’s Alliance; North Carolina) 3.7/5

Tater Ridge, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and the Asheville (N.C.) Brewer's Alliance.

Tater Ridge, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and the Asheville (N.C.) Brewer’s Alliance.

While Asheville, North Carolina, may not be the new Portland, Ore,, or even the new Chico, Calif., it is a burgeoning beer hub in which Ken Grossman decided to build Sierra’s second brewery. The Asheville Brewer’s Alliance is a collection of Asheville area breweries who have formed a coalition to promote the area’s exploding craft beer scene.

Now I can’t say that I’ve ever had a beer brewed with sweet potatoes before, and since I’m not a fan of yams, I wasn’t super excited for this one. But it should have been no surprise to me that I would be pleasantly surprised. 

It pours a deep, cloudy brown, not unlike watery coffee. (Not pejorative, just a description.) The first half of the beer is best described as “succulent”: it’s got a heavy brown sugar aroma, along with what must be the sweet potato-y spice. I have to admit that I wouldn’t have picked up on that had it not been on the label. There is an unusual cooked vegetable component to the nose. The sweetness turns to a nuttiness as it warms up, and you must let this one warm up, because the molasses really bursts out about 10 degrees higher.

The flavor keeps the sweet tradition alive, with an amplification of the sugars and nutty malts. It’s got an almost pungent quality. Again, as it warms up, the spiciness (cinnamon?) kicks in. It’s also got a wonderful aftertaste. This would go well with any kind of umami-heavy dinner, like roasted duck.


#6. CANfusion (Oskar Blues; Colorado) 3.8/5

CANfusion, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Oskar Blues.

CANfusion, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Oskar Blues.

The second canned offering of the box, this one from Oskar Blues, arguably the most well-known canned craft brewer in the United States (of America, that is). Personally, I find all of their beers to be both very good, and very overpriced

With this one, I was surprised to find a heavy dose of apple skins in the nose. The honey orange color made me think it was actually apple juice. The flavor is cider, but not the “hard cider” that is in vogue right now, but an actual apple cider that you’d get after a hayride. There is a spice that reminds me of cinnamon. And I’m not damning this one with feint praise by saying it would be great to give to a non-beer drinker.


#7. Myron’s Walk (Allagash; Maine) 4.0/5

Myron's Walk, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Allagash.

Myron’s Walk, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Allagash.

I’m a sucker for Belgian ales, and I have a soft spot in my heart for Allagash Brewing, especially their Dubbel, which I think is sublime. This little golden number has a decent amount of carbonation, but yet doesn’t become overly bubbly. The aroma is beautifully perfumey, with a flowery presence that floats above the glass. 

The yeast presence is incredibly prevalent, adding both dryness and sourness. The sourness isn’t the gueuze, vinegar kind of sourness that is all the rage right now, but a mild tartness, akin to a lemon or citron complexion. This tartness is balanced by earthy, leafy malts. I’m reminded of a witbier/pale ale hybrid, or a “Belgian Pale Ale,” if such a neologism is valid.


#8. Yvan the Great (Russian River; California) 4.0/5

Yvan the Great, a Sierra Nevada Collaboration with Russian River.

Yvan the Great, a Sierra Nevada Collaboration with Russian River.

Don’t let the quasi-Communist name fool you, Russian River Brewing Company is one of the finest American brewers out there. And though I’m sure you can find them at every 7/11 on the West Coast, it is pretty hard to come by in Western/Central New York without a go-between. And this one might be the most complex of the bunch. 

The aroma has a surprising element of tobacco and peat smoke right off the top. As you take second and third and fourth sniffs, you will get sour lemon, mint, key lime, and a yeast presence I can only describe as mango yogurt. Maybe a creamsicle? Also has a horseblanket funk that reminds me of a Saison/farmhouse ale.

The first sip is mint leaf, followed by that basement funk; the yeast just doesn’t stop. There is also a creamsicle flavor that is really refreshing. The sweet/funk balance is strong. The buttery slickness makes this one go down way easier than it probably should.


#9. Torpedo Pilsner (Firestone Walker; California) 3.3/5

Torpedo Pilsner, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Firestone Walker.

Torpedo Pilsner, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Firestone Walker.

Paso Robles, California’s Firestone Walker doesn’t just have the best logo in all of American brewing, but they make some outstanding beers. Torpedo Pilsner, while decent, is not one of their best, and so far it’s the weakest of the bunch. Since you can’t usually do too much with a pilsner, I’m not all that surprised.

The color is a flat, straw-yellow color, akin to any kind of macro stuff you might see at a townie bar — but I won’t hold that against it. It actually gives the beer a light, refreshing look. But when you take a whiff, that macro lager aroma kicks in, albeit a good version of that macro style. Seems to have some rice.

There is some bittering hops, but although the backbone is clearly all-malt, there is some butterscotch sweetness which, while not “off” per se, is out of place. It’s by far the grainiest pilsner I’ve had in a long time. It’s not a bad beer by any stretch, it’s just not up to the standard of these two great breweries.


#10. Electric Ray (Ballast Point; California) 3.6/5

Electric Ray, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Ballast Point.

Electric Ray, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Ballast Point.

Part three of my California triptych, San Diego’s Ballast Point is relatively new to Upstate New York, and while I think Sculpin is the real deal, I’ve been somewhat underwhelmed with the other offerings we get here. Again, even a mediocre craft beer is still good, so it’s not a slam, but everything is graded on a curve these days.

Electric Ray is an India Pale Lager (IPL), an emerging style which I think is kind of pointless: if you want a hoppy beer, go with the complexities and malt-forward backbone of an ale, rather than the crisp, shiny malts of a lager. The balance is crucial. Still, Sierra and Ballast Point know much more than I do.

The aroma of this yellow-orange beer is strangely sulfuric; not quite a rotten egg but in that neighborhood. More along the lines of broccoli. There is a curious mix of black licorice and rye malts. The hops are very piney. When it’s cold it just smells a little off; when it warms up the sugars come out and bury the sulfurics. 

The taste is surprisingly yeast-heavy and bready. The malts are sugary and almost herbal, incredibly close to a barleywine. I do have to say that it’s maybe the most complex lager I can remember having, if not necessarily the best. The hops here are strictly an accent, so don’t expect any kind of hop-head’s delight here. It’s just a nice, solid, middle of the road beer.


#11. Alt Route (Victory; Pennsylvania) 3.8/5

Alt Route, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Victory Brewing.

Alt Route, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Victory Brewing.

Just because Victory is old hat around these parts — Hop Devil predates even my own beer obsession in Upstate N.Y. — it doesn’t mean they aren’t still at the top of their game. And I’m a sucker for a good altbier so I was happy to saddle up here.

The beer pours a murky copper-orange complexion. It sweats on the outside of the glass but that might actually be my fault. The aroma is sugary malts, and it’s beautiful. There is a alkaline, metallic component at first, and it is actually not at all off-putting. In fact the AA battery quality enhances it.

The flavor is mild and grassy hops, followed by complex malts. The malts are sweet sugars and nutty grains, which balance each other very nicely. The aftertaste is a dry nutty quality; it’s almost like mocha or coffee. Very curious but also extraordinarily pleasant. A great, mild, middle-of-the-road beer that I’d be happy to buy a sixer of any day.


#12. Double Latte (Ninkasi; Oregon) 3.8/5

Double Latte, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Ninkasi.

Double Latte, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Ninkasi.

Eugene, Oregon’s Ninkasi Brewing collaborated with Sierra for this, my twelfth and final of the Beer Camp Across America series. I was told to save this one for last since it was the most satisfying one. And although not my favorite, it’s a hella nice brew.

To be frank, there is nothing here that I haven’t had before, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t terrific in this here context. The color is a deep, dark brown, as expected. The layer of head is a mocha brown. The aroma is sweet chocolate, breakfast blend coffee and dusty mocha. Is it complex? Is it unique? No. But is it incredibly pleasant and aromatic? Heck yes.

The flavor? Second first, same as the first. Nutty, iced mocha coffee. A hint of dark, burnt chocolate. The aftertaste is burnt coffee and hazelnut. In fact, the aftertaste exceeds and eclipses the regular flavor. Combine this with a slick, motor oil feel and you have yourself a lovely, smooth-drinkin’ delight. It’s a little out of season in the dog days of summer, but I’ll take it. If you have to age one, age this one.


So there you have it. If you missed out on the Beer Camp Across America, you can pretty much rest assured that I’ve just essentially replicated the exact experience for you. Plus you can read this and safely drive immediately afterward; you’re welcome. 

Be my virtual drinking buddy on Untappd, or send me a message via RateBeer. Or just leave a comment.

Acme Bar & Pizza

•February 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Monroe Avenue in downtown Rochester, NY, is neither the picture of urban decay, nor urban renewal. If you’re a beer geek, you might be tempted to simply walk right by the Acme Bar & Pizza sign. The exterior decor looks more like a carpeting or paint supplies store than a bar, let alone one you’d want to spend an afternoon in.

And yet this past weekend, it became an entirely acceptable place to watch a few college basketball games and have some excellent beer.

Acme Bar & Pizza

The inside of the bar on an early Saturday afternoon looks vaguely townie-ish. To the left of the entrance, the bar, behind which you’ll find enough flat screens to find at least one sporting contest you can put money on. Straight ahead, toward the back, a pool table. And high-top tables and booths throughout.

There is plenty of neon and beer swag covering the walls. The vibe is slightly dark, not unlike the kind of place a 1980s TV cop might go on his way to finding a snitch to lead him to an elusive kingpin. The bar this day was nearly full, until two spots opened up where my little brother and I could saddle up.

The draw of Acme is their two-for-one special on select bottles, from open until 7pm (in the right-hand side cooler at least). And the two-fers are not just on Batty Blues, PBRs and Miller High Life. For example, Li’l Mikey and I split two bottles of Dogfish Head Chicory Stout. There plenty of acceptable two-for-one offerings, such as Ellicottville’s E’Vil, Dale’s Pale, Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, and that’s just one of the coolers.

At the next cooler (the one on the left), the two-for-one deal doesn’t apply, but it offers several more high-falutin’ offers, such as the disappointing Evil Twin Hipster Ale, and the dank Westbrook IPA. Oh, and I forgot to mention that Acme also has outstanding taps: we got pints of Bells HopSlam and Ballast Point Sculpin, both for just $5.50 a piece.

The bar picked up quickly, and somehow the overworked barkeep kept up with everything and was able to take both food and drink orders with very little help. I didn’t get her name but she’s an underpaid dynamo. We each got two mammoth slices of pepperoni pizza, which was way too much food (not that I’m complaining).

Some friendly gents at the bar made some brief conversation, and there was a positive vibe despite the more raucous late-afternoon crowd. Although I don’t live in the area anymore, I will make this a pit-stop any time I’m downtown and thirsty.

Party Source 2.0

•March 6, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Some people in the 315 — including yours truly — have sort of trashed the Party Source (2646 Erie Blvd E, Syracuse, NY 13224) in the past. And sometimes rightfully so. I started going there on the regular about six years ago, when my beer-ticker disease took hold, and it wasn’t without its problems.

First of all, it had a ton of empty space: the beer was on one wall, and in a couple of coolers on an adjacent wall. There was an enormous amount of empty space with nothing but haphazardly-stacked cases of Natural light, empty pallets, and floor. It seemed like an ungodly waste of space when you consider beer stores like Oliver’s in Albany and Glenville Beverage in Glenville (Schenectady), which had ample floor space and wasted none of it.

Secondly, the service often left something to be desired. The man who has run the place since I was in college in the mid-1990s (I don’t know his name) is still there, and he is well-known for being a first-class curmudgeon. (Just google “party source syracuse” and read some reviews, and you will invariably find a reference to the gentleman’s gruff demeanor. The man has a tendency to appear annoyed, whether he actually is or not, and he seemed to always sigh heavily when I would bring up a mix of individual bottles; they must be a pain in the ass to enter individually, but it’s the reason I went there instead of Brilbecks, which had a superior selection but no individual-bottle option.

At the time, I said “Syracuse deserves better than Party Source,” and at the time I meant it. But rather than simply dismissing the place, it was more of a wish that the place was something better, since it had all the potential in the world to be.

Flash to 2012, and the place has undergone a renaissance of sorts. The floor-space has been halved, with a wall separating the new, more efficiently-laid-out store from an Indian market next door. Instead of a cavernous, sometimes grim warehouse, you now have something that looks more like a well-organized beer boutique.

Gone are the husky fratboys who used to haul kegs of PBR out to the parking lot, and instead are people behind the counter who clearly know their beer, and more importantly know how to make their place look appealing.

I hadn’t been in a couple of months, and so tonight I decided to stop in to see what was new. The place looks good. Well-lit and bright, with stacks of beers organized like I hadn’t seen in a while. The same curmudgeon from the old days was there, and he was in great spirits, as well as helpful and accommodating.

The most stunning development was a very prominent sign over the European section championing the arrival of Trappist beers. It turns out that Party Source now has selections from six of the seven Trappist breweries (Achel, Chimay, Rochefort, Orval, Westmalle and La Trappe), and he states — drumroll — that he is attempting to get the seventh, the nearly impossible-to-find Westvleteren 12 shortly, if he can get the distributor to get on board. (T.J. Sheehan, if you’re reading this: GET ON BOARD.)

He also said that he is looking to ultimately become the best beer store for Belgian beers in New York State. It’s off to a modest start (Sam the Beer Man in Binghamton is currrently in the lead as far as I’ve seen), but it has the potential to carve its own niche in Onondaga County.

Bottom line: if you have been avoiding Party Source because of a previous bad experience, give it another shot.

R.I.P.: Magic Hat Roxy Rolles

•July 25, 2010 • 1 Comment

More proof that the folks atMagic Hat are losing their minds. They are “retiring” their best beer — by far — the hoppy amber Roxy Rolles, in favor of a new marzen/Oktoberfest called Hex.

I’m not saying that Hex won’t be a world class beer, but Magic Hat is making a bold statement here, eschewing their more complex and satisfying beers (Roxy, Jinx, even St. Gootz) for lighter fare they know will sell better, such as Wacko and the recently reinstated Blind Faith.

The line has been drawn in the sand, and Magic Hat has decided that they are going to concentrate on increasing their sales of mainstream beers, rather than throwing a bone to us geeks. (I mean, a 12er of Roxy, Fat Angel, St. Gootz and Jinx might have been a nice little fall/winter twelve-pack.)

I have defended Magic Hat to those who are devoutly anti-, but they are making it harder and harder to do so. I might buy a six-pack of Hex, but I can no longer trust their judgment.

The End of History: One Idiot’s Opinion

•July 24, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Apparently Scotland’s BrewDog has only been brewing since April 2007, but their unique beers and daft deft marketing has led to a meteoric rise in their profile. They’ve created beers with “attitude,” with names like Hardcore, Chaos Theory and Punk.

In the past week, they have gotten some mainstream attention for their newest concoction, The End of History, a 55% abv beer that is served in a 12 ounce bottle which sticks out of the mouth of a small, deceased (of natural causes, they insist) rodent.

Oh, and each bottle costs more than $700.

There seem to be two camps: 1) those that love the no-holds barred approach of BrewDog, and welcome their innovation and staid refusal to kowtow to the status quo. And 2) those who are unimpressed by the “xtreeeeme!” nature of their beers, and their apparent need for an “abv arms race.”

On one hand, this brewery has done in just three short years what many established breweries haven’t been able to do in a decade or more: that is innovate, invent new product, and distribute widely. (I still can’t get Bell’s Two Hearted Ale or New Belgium’s Fat Tire in Syracuse, but I can get most of the BrewDog beers.)

In fact, whereas just a few short years ago, there were only a handful of beers that broke the 20% barrier for alcohol percentage (by volume), BrewDog has already created three — Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32%), Sink the Bismark (41%), and now, The End of History (a whopping 55%, or better, 110-proof).

The question remains, do we need beers like this? I mean they are a neat parlor trick and a gimmick that will get your name in the newspaper. But does it advance beer, and the brewing community? Is this an example of innovation and departing the surly bonds of earth? Or is it going to cause a glut of “extreeeeeeme!” brewers only out to make a quick buck with a clever name and an off-the-charts alcohol percentage? When they say that it’s “the end of history,” do they mean undoing all the yeoman’s work that brewers have put in thus far?

That’s part of what worries me.

Since I am poor, I have not tried any of these BrewDog offerings, but my guess would be that they are much less like beer and a lot more like liquor. They might be fantastic, but I’m guessing that I would have to drink them out of a highball glass instead of a nonic pint glass. And this is another problem I have with it their high-octane offerings.

I have absolutely no interest in liquor.

To me — as I’m sure it is with many of you — beer is half visceral pleasure, half intellectual exercise. I drink beer “in context,” knowing the brewery it came from, identifying style, identifying flavor and aromatic notes. If I was just looking for a quick buzz, I wouldn’t be a craft beer drinker. I would drink Captain and Coke, or Vodka and Red Bull. As one who is enamored not with spirits, but with beer, I’m not piqued intellectually into trying these beers. But that’s just me.

There is another alarming aspect to this, and that is the demeanor of the BrewDog folks. Their marketing director, James Watt, left a somewhat blistering screed on the BeerAdvocate forums, addressed to “the haters,” and “numbered for [readers’] convenience.”

Watt also curiously takes a shot at Americans as a whole, saying “[m]aybe sarcasm and irony does not translate that well on the other side of the Atlantic.” [Sidebar: Europeans better get their heads out of their asses if they think that Americans somehow fail to grasp the concept of irony. It’s just a horseshit, cop-out argument, really.]

This approach seems to be anathema to the otherwise tight-knit brewing community. It also seems to be an ill-advised and poorly-timed chastisement of the very people that BrewDog should be courting: beer geeks. Watt’s manifesto against those who “hate on” the brewery might end up doing more damage than good for growing a loyal fan base.

It would be smart for Watt to keep in mind that unlike the apparently homogeneous Euro breweries that Watt laments, the U.S. has plenty of alternatives. And underestimate the savvy of the craft beer drinker at your own peril, because he will leave your beer on the shelf to buy a (perhaps lesser) beer from a brewery he supports.

This could end up being a very interesting litmus test as to whether this kind of in-yo’-face marketing will fly with the craft brewing world, or whether it will actually turn the tide against BrewDog. (A poll that conducted stated that only 27% of respondents saw BrewDog more positively after this new campaign.) If it works, will BrewDog’s model bring craft brewing a higher profile? Or will it spawn a litany of copycat breweries with a gimmick and a weak product, a la the craft brewing boom/bust of the 1990s.

Keep your eyes peeled, it’s about to get interesting.

My Top 2%

•July 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I am on the verge of rating my 800th beer on (I used to be a guy, but not anymore.) It takes a special kind of OCD-addled psychotic to actually write down reviews for 800 beers, but that is my modus operandi.

At any rate, in the course of the four-plus years I’ve been doing these ratings, I decided to post my most highly decorated beers according to the calculations that RateBeer uses to …. well, rate beer. I’m surprised at a couple of them (notably the Stone 08.08.08 Vertical Epic ale, which I don’t remember gushing over so lovingly), but I would say that a couple of them were just perfect for their time and place. For me, it shows the subjective nature of the beer-drinking experience; a great beer might not be so great if in imperfect conditions. That’s why it’s good to keep drinking and keep revisiting when possible.

Anyway, here are my top 15. They are all American, representing California, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New York, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan and Maryland. I’m not saying they are necessarily THE best beers in the world, but I would stake my beer-drinking reputation on any one of ’em. Cheers!

15. Stone 08.08.08 Vertical Epic Ale
14. Stoudts Fat Dog Stout
13. Stone Ruination IPA
12. Oskar Blues Gubna Imperial IPA
11. Tröegs Nugget Nectar Ale
10. Mendocino Winter Seasonal Imperial IPA
9. Sweetwater Happy Ending Imperial Stout
8. Great Divide Old Ruffian
7. Three Floyds Alpha King
6. Rogue Yellow Snow IPA
5. Founders Red’s Rye PA
4. Ellicottville Pantius Droppus Imperial IPA
3. Flying Dog Double Dog IPA
2. Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale
1. Arcadia Hop Rocket 11th Anniversary Ale

Oskar Blues – Gubna

•July 2, 2010 • Leave a Comment

So it turns out that “Gordon” isn’t the most overpriced beer that Oskar Blues has: that honor is now taken by “Gubna,” which might just be the most overpriced beer of all time.

I paid $16.99 plus tax and deposit for a four-pack. That sounds out to just over $4.25 per can. That’s a fine price … if I’m at a bar! But it’s borderline highway robbery for getting it form a store.

Having said that, I don’t want to imply that Gubna is a lesser beer; quite the contrary, it is a fantastic brew.

It appears a deep, cloudy copper orange. The color is great, the head retention is not bad, the Brussels lace is outstanding.

The aroma is borderline perfect. Sweet pine oil bitterness followed by heavy citrus — grapefruit, orange and tangerine. The resins leave a hints of sawdust.

The woody pine and spruce follow into the taste, melding beautifully with the sweet blood oranges and pineapple finish. Starts all East Coast with resins, then West Coast represents with citrus and spices. This combined with the thick, smooth, oily finish is the perfect feel for the flavor.

If only Oskar Blues could find a way to make their beers a little less cost-prohibitive. Of course, I bought it, so who’s the idiot in this situation? You win again, Oskar!

[Update: I forgot to mention, Gubna also gets extra points for putting a slightly obscure reference to Blazing Saddles right on the can. Tip of the cap to you, Oskar.]

The Motherlode: Dieu du Ciel – Route des Epices

•July 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Dieu du Ciel means “Oh my Gawd!” in French, and the Muntreal, Quebec, brewery of the same name certainly gives several reasons to evoke their name in vain.

The first was the sticker shock of the price of their beers. And the second was the flavor of one in particular.

I purchased a twelve-ounce bottle (someone help me with the metric equivalent) of their Route des Epices (translated as “Spice Route”) for $4.19 at the Beverage Den and Smoke Shop in Bennington, VT, a beverage store best known for putting beer and porn magazines right next to each other for my convenience. I hadn’t heard of the brewery, the beer, or Canada at this point — and I didn’t have my Droid, and it’s app at the time — so I was flying blind, spending so much on a single bottle. But I figured if it costs that much, it’s gotta be good, right?

Well it pours an ordinary clear orange color, with decent amounts of carbonation, leaving a decent head and lace. Certainly nothing wrong with it, but nothing all that extraordinary either.

The aroma, however, let me know this was going to be different. The first thing I could smell is the roasted rye malts. They are burnt and lovely, and dovetail beautifully with the woody hop aroma therein. Oak and pine come through, but are sweet and not bitter. The malts are grainy and gritty and dark, and I love it.

I’ve never tasted habanero in a beer before, but I definitely sensed it here. And if it wasn’t habanero, it was some kind of a peppery spice. (The label says peppercorns.) It has the same burn on the way down as curry or Indian food, but not in an over-the-top sense. It fit perfectly with the burnt malts, which carried some of the rye characteristics, but also gave off hints of chocolate and walnuts, and more resembled a porter malt. (There was a bit of an astringent/battery aftertaste to it, but it doesn’t ruin the experience.)

I found this to be a very intriguing beer, and one that lingers on the palate long after you take the last sip. Get on it.

Stafford Convenience Store: Salt City’s Best Kept Secret

•May 9, 2010 • 2 Comments

While it may not quite be THE most amazing beer store in the greater Syracuse region — Party Source, Brilbecks and Galeville Grocery still have the top three slots locked down, with Wegmans gaining — there is a surprisingly good beer-gettin’ locale on Stafford Street in Eastwood: Stafford Convenience Store.

As you can see in this poorly photographed evidence, the selection is better than your average gas station or convenience store.

The guys behind the counter are friendly (one even gave me some swag once!) and say that they are open to suggestions on what beers to get. Their selection of IPAs is surprisingly good.

It might not quite be a “destination” beer store (yet!), but if you happen to be on the north side and don’t want to go downtown, or Liverpool or Tip Hill, this is the place to grab an armful and be on your merry way.

Make a stop at Stafford, and tell em Beerjanglin’ sent ya!

The Motherlode: Founders Red Rye P.A.

•May 7, 2010 • Leave a Comment

As I type this, my palate is basking in the afterglow of one of the better beers I have had in a while: Founders Red Rye P.A. I first had this concoction at the great Moe’s Tavern in Lee, MA, about a month or so ago.
Founders is one of those breweries that we can’t get where I live, and so it was imperative that I try every possible beer they had. I remember this one being my favorite. Sooo, when I got the chance to order some beer by mail, I made sure this was on the list.

So what the hell’s so great about it? Welll, first of all, it pours a beautifully cloudy red-orange, with tiny black bubbles floating up from the bottom. The head is white, foamy and thick, and it takes its coat off to stay a while. The lace is spotty, but decent: the fact that it has any lace at all is a welcome change from the recent beers I’ve had.

The aroma is a perfect blend of spicy and sweet, with the hops and malt each taking a turn. The first whiff is amber malts, with some of that rye/pumpernickel, which adds a spiciness that I didn’t expect. The hops come in as citrus first, sweetening the air above the glass, but then some mild pine oil comes in. The malt then takes another turn. It alternates beautifully between the two elements, and I’d have to say it’s one of the most balanced aromas I can think of.

The flavor … oh baby that flavor. Again, the balance is crucial, like two strong personalities. The hop is spicy because of the woods, but the malt is spicy too because of the rye. The citrus adds a nice sweetness as well, but then the roasted amber-like malts come in to balance that. Just when you think it’s gonna zig, it zags. It is the perfect checks-and-balances beer. Add some creamy thickness and a lingering, effervescent aftertaste and you have something you could drink all night, even though it’s 6.6% and you probably shouldn’t.

I would have to say this ranks right up there among my favorite hoppy beers. Unlike so many IPAs, which fetishize the hops and forget all else, it’s the malt backbone that makes this one stand out.