Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review: Sierra Nevada Chico Brewer's Harvest Estate

Every so often you get lucky and find something special. A rotator brew that isn't loaded with godawful raspberry flavor, or a new local micro that simply blows you across the room with it's specialty.

Thursday night at The Flying Saucer ( ) is “tap night” – this means they've formulated a deal with a brewery for a single keg something special.

I had no intention of going to the Saucer tonight – I was tired, work was exhausting, and I figured a quiet night at home with the kids, wife, and an early bed timer. She was particularly agitated: school wore her out today.

The Saucer was her idea.

Well, hell. Twist my arm.

So we went, and lo and behold, it's tap night. And the special something? Look here:

I have three words for you: Damn, that was really, really good.

They opened the tap it at 7:00, and I waited until 7:30, to allow the line to die and the keg to settle. I was served in a short-stemmed ¾ pint glass, decanted with about ½ inch of head. I pondered the name while it was poured: I believe Chico, California, is known for having a prison. Not much else. Perhaps I need to learn more about the area, but these are the thoughts you push out of your head when you're trying a new beer.

Nose: it's like wild grass. Herbal, not lawnmower-grass, but something earthy and a little bit like good pot and a spring day. It smelled so good I just sat with my node in it for a while – the aroma hops were obviously well selected I discovered later.

First sip: not a bold blast of flavor, a normal pale ale swell, a fairly rapid build of malty power, ultra-dry and powerful hops, and tart flavors. This changes quickly to a really surprising little period of molasses-sweetness, maybe a little bit of honey. This is then gone in a flash, and the big Pale Ale takes over: robustly hopped, maybe a little too much, but all the other flavors finally gel into a finish that lasts...well, I can still taste it, and as mentioned earlier, coupled with the aforementioned aromas this is not a terrible thing.

They planned this.

I worked the glass slowly, and (dread, dark music here) had a meal in the meantime: The Flying Saucer has particularly good bratwurst, and the meal today was brats (2 kinds) with sauerkraut, a little slightly toasted cheap garlicky French bread, remarkably good mustard, sweet German potato salad, and a blah pickle. Bar food, but the brats steal the show. Anyway, a dumb newcomer mistake, as I will outline shortly.

Ongoing: Specialty crafted beer with dinner is just stupid if a review is pending, especially with brats and kraut and mustard and pickles, and this beer made no exception of that rule. The first sips were absolutely lovely and surprising, but I was hungry, so I sipped and ate, and in the end it was a waste of beer: all that flavor competed with the typically delicious Saucer brats, so I stooped drinking until I was done eating.

Still ongoing: the beer went back to very wonderful, although I had occasional moments of not-as-pleasant-as-I'd-like bitterness that was out of place with the rest of the beer. I think it was the beer, but let's face it – after that meal, who knows what I was tasting. Duh.

Finish: I mentioned I can still taste it: this is not one of the myriad over-hopped monstrosities the micros throw together and call something silly like “Crush Your Testicles With Thermonuclear Hops Pale Ale From Hell!” While it is a hop-heavy ale, it wasn't...stupid. It is careful and symphonic and crafted, few mistakes, and utterly delicious. I want to say it is strongly hopped, gently.

Sierra Nevada is not a dime store beer; it's squarely middle-ranked alongside many favorable brews I an ever growing market of (unfortunately) similarly created offerings. This is a renewal of my faith. Just delightful and sip-able, drinkable too, but you want to savor it. From a brewery with an evident seriousness and intent, it is a firm, solid, artful effort, and I will try it again.

I hate to do it, but I will leave my review as an anecdote with some basic ratings, since I obviously screwed up the hell up by eating brats and mustard and sauerkraut like an idiot.

Still, these guys have been around a long time, longer than some far more famous beers, and they've weathered very well. While they have several specialties out there that I've yet to try, this offering is the best thing they've done that I have tasted, and it has renewed my interest in the brand – it's not every day that you get something special, after all.

Sierra Nevada Chico Brewer's Harvest Estate
Tasted 10-22-2009
Unrated: all I can say is what I wrote above, I rate this about an 8 out of 10, and strongly recommend it to anyone.
ABV: 6.70

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Throwing Rocks: Rock Art Brewery takes heat from The Big One.

Rock Art Brewery – never had a sip of it, never heard of it, and may have gone my entire life without ever once giving a flaming tinker's damn about them. Nameless, faceless, just another “one of those” micros out there, one I could get around to trying, but it's a bit of a drive, eh?

In short: who gives a shit?

Watch this and tell me:

Now go here:

I have this feeling one of the two (Hansen, the parent of Monster Energy Drinks, I think) has a bit more than the budget Mr. Nadeau is mentioning to take this asinine imbecility into court and destroy him, and hell yes: this IS all about the principal of the thing. This isn't just me saying “the big bad corporation is being big and bad.” It's me saying “This little guy is getting heavily, mightily screwed by the big bad corporation that's being bad.”

Remember Monster Cable sued every human on the freaking planet with “monster” in their name? That tapered off after a small internet revolt. This is just the latest, and it's just as foul: how in the blue blazing hell can anyone mistake that green, claw-ripped logo looking can of high fructose corn syrup, chemicals, and caffeine for a big brown bottle of beer? Anyone?

And how do you sue over the name "Monster?" I mean, all the beasts under my bed as a child, they didn't have lawyers, likely. I mean, really?

Me either.

So, last thing to do – go here:

And share your thoughts.

And then let's all give Matt an email for support.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

An introduction, or an admission, I can't tell.

Sad to say, I am a beer snob. The worst kind. More on that in a minute.

I have skills, you know. I have been drinking beer since long before I was legally allowed to do so, like most of my contemporaries. Ah, the days of youth, where beer needed only to be cheap, plentiful, Good was not an option, mostly because I'd inevitably throw it up anyway. Back then I just liked the social aspect of going to the beach at midnight, drinking to excess, barfing, and waking up at home, it was like heaven. These days, not so much.

Still, Beer is Life, or so the traditional beer snob might tell you. I read something once that said the Mayflower, the very ship which brought those hearty but ocean-weary and sickened pilgrims from the old world to the new, thus participants in the very first angel-investment start up, did not stop upon arrival because land was nigh and the weather was fair; but rather they stopped because they were out of beer, and had to make for a good port where the ship was still so they could make more. I understand they didn't bother to even get off the boat except to gather firewood for the stoves and bury some dead people, which was probably kind of an inconvenience really. Years later they'd land and cheerfully kill everyone they saw, but I think that was a different batch of explorers.

These guys, these were my kinda people, the pilgrims.

Anyway I have to inform you that beer is NOT life, despite evidence and endless dissertation to the contrary. It's one of my favorite perks, though, like gummy bears.

I like other alcoholic beverages as well. I like dusky, dark red wines, cabs and such. I like Russian vodka and Beefeater's gin, in a rocks glass, lots of cubed ice, with two or three really big Spanish olives. I will admit in public that I like Pinot Grigio: Santa Margarita is good, sure, but plain old Cavit is my favorite. The best thing, other than beer? Pouilly Fuisse, very cold. Slightly pricey dry French white.

I came to talk about beer, and this introduction is the beginning of our journey together: see, I am going to tell you, the reader, all about beers I have tried, and I will intrepidly offer my honest assessment of them on these very pages. I will be fair – fair as I can be anyway – because I certainly have my favorites, and feel compelled to honestly assess the less-than-favorites with a review based upon the overall crafting and quality of the brew, not solely whether I like it. Unless I really, really don't like it, like Belgian Ales. I have no idea why these are so popular' I have tried a few that taste a little like Zima (remember that crap?) and I guess I just don't get it.

I really don't get a lot about beer, actually. Because it tuns out I truly do not know a hell of a lot about it. Seriously. That's what I meant when I said I was the worst kind of beer snob: I am an ignorant beer snob.

I made it years ago with a friend – we did a stout that was excellent, and a hefeweizen that got bumped at a bad time, and the fermenter blew up like a balloon from the expanding yeast. Who knew beer was an IED? Anyway we had a pilsner and an IPA and every time it was awesome beyond belief, but I never paid attention to the process, what was on the stove, what hops went in when and in what quantity. Who cares? Silly me.

There are technical things about it that I missed out on, and in the big-beer making world (home brewing is a pretty simple process compared to making those thousand-bottle batches in the microbreweries). There's a thing called a mash tun – catchy, but I haven't a bloody clue what it does. Sounds like a dance move, ask me.

There's “specific gravity” and “wort” and all manner of very scientific-sounding things to discover.

There are dozens of types of beer, with cool-ass names like lambic, porter, wit, and marzen.

There are beers you should drink out of a bottle, and some you should drink out of a glass...a specific, certain kind of glass, at that.

And I get to do that. I will make this sacrifice, my friends. I will be brave.

And we get to learn together. Your comments will likely come in handy – hopefully some of you know a lot more about beer than me, and then I get to go drink your recommendations, and that's pretty much a good thing, because, well, I did mention I like beer, right? Right.

Salud, my friends.