Lagunitas Brewing Company, out of Petaluma in Sonoma County, I feel is often overlooked here in San Diego with all of our local brewers taking up (deservedly) so much of the spotlight. Yet Lagunitas has been growing by leaps and bounds, experiencing a 55% increase in the volume of beer sold over the last year alone, and is now the 11th largest craft brewer in the U.S. according to industry estimates put out by Beer Marketer’s Insights (http://www.beerinsights.com/).
And they’re putting out more and more specialty beers and limited releases, mostly in the 22 oz. format. Look for them in your local discriminating beer shops. I’ve been holding on to this limited release Bavarian-styled Doppel Weizen from Lagunitas for a few months now, and it’s time to pop the cap and see what’s going on here…
“Weizen” or “Weiss” is German for “wheat”, and this beer is a double-wheat with 55% wheat going into the malt, and fermented with a yeast strain that Lagunitas obtained straight from Bavaria. This beer pours a cloudy golden/orange color, with little carbonation and almost no head (unlike the picture on the label). Like a lot of wheat-based beers (check Karl Strauss’s hefeweizen) the aromas of cloves and bananas are abundant. On the first taste, again–a lot of cloves and bananas–but also some honey or nectar sweetness coming through and a hint of citrus. Medium-bodied, some light hops character just to add balance but not bitter at all This is an interesting release and would make a nice session beer for a warm springtime afternoon on your patio, if it weren’t for that meddling alcohol content (8.5 percent!)
Question for my readers: What limited release or seasonal beers have you tried lately? Do tell.
CellarTracker review: Thumbprint Cellars 2010 Gewürztraminer, Russian River Valley, Sara Lee’s Vineyard
Gewürztraminer is a white wine grape, notably from Germany and the Alsace region of northeastern France. It’s usually done in an off-dry style that shows off its naturally higher sugar content, and fruity/floral aromas. Let me stress–this is not a “sweet wine” or dessert wine, but an off-dry wine that is a bit sweeter than what I would normally drink, and I usually go for dry reds. But I thought this would pair nicely with some Asian food I was preparing, and it didn’t disappoint.
Lots of honey, nectar, and roses right up front on the nose. Granny Smith apples, peach, and some citrus on the mid-palate. Minerality on the finish with some of that lingering honey sweetness we started with. Very fruit forward and crisp…this is not your average oaky Chardonnay!
Another very good to excellent wine that I received in a club shipment from one of my favorite wineries, Thumbprint Cellars in Healdsburg. Thumbprint is a small, independent boutique winery with an artsy lounge of a tasting room located right across from the Square. They purchase grapes from the best vineyards in the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, and Knights Valley regions of northern Sonoma County–with a lot of single-vineyard and block-designated bottlings.
Their trademark thumbprint-painted bottles also make nice art…I save mine up for BottleHood, a local recycled glass artists in San Diego who makes tumblers and ashtrays out of beer and wine bottles with cool painted or screened logos and artwork on them.
CellarTracker review: 2008 Dutton Estate (Russian River Valley, Dutton Ranch) Karmen Isabella Pinot Noir
This was a highly anticipated bottle to uncork, and did not disappoint. Lush strawberry notes and a hint of spice (cardamom, cloves?) on the nose. Drinks nice, slightly darker than other Pinots I’ve enjoyed lately, firm but silky tannins showing off a well-balanced and varietally correct Pinot Noir. I got some dense cherry pie on the mid-palate. Not the most fruit-forward Pinot, but not as subdued or earthy as some French burgundies either. I would buy this again, and heartily recommend a visit to this winery when in Russian River Valley (northern Sonoma county).
“MixTape”, as a nod to those artfully and thoughtfully put-together music experiences of yore, is a unique blend concocted by Greg Koch and Laura Ulrich of Stone Brewing Co., and includes their Levitation, LeVariation, Sublimely Self-Righteous ales, Smoked Porter, Cali-Belgique, 2011 Imperial Russian Stout, and 2011 Belgo-Anise Imperial Russian Stout…they seemingly just put all those beers in the blender with some added peppers, sage, lemon thyme, and Citra hops (as if Stone beers need any ADDED hops!)…and voila! Pop this one in the tape deck of your ’91 hooptie for a trip into a zone forbidden to sippers of fizzy yellow beer !
As you can see, the MixTape pours dark, with a thick head of foam from all that ale and stout interaction. Surprisingly to me, it drinks quite well…this is not just some evil dare handed down from the Stone gods to college fraternity brothers looking for something new to push on recruits. A little on the smoky side, some of the character of those herbs and spices definitely coming through….reminds me a bit of the Stone 15th Anniversary Black IPA with a touch of Belgian malts….but there’s more going on here. Basically a complex dark ale, heavy but not overwhelming on the hops, with some spice. Something for the stout and porter drinkers (which I’m not particularly) and something for the hoppy ale and Belgian lovers (yeah, that’s me!). Nicely balanced, just like those TDK high bias 90-minute cassettes I used to fill up with my own patented blend of alt-college rock, punk, new wave, hip hop, funk, reggae, and Jerky Boys prank phone calls.
And for a limited time, you can also pick up this handsome pint glass with the saying of the week, “Don’t Bro Me If You Don’t Know Me”…a Neighborhood exclusive, and a quote which I shall not speculate upon since that’s already been done by fellow bloggers. Cheers, and keep mixing it up!
So here we are at the grand opening of Rough Draft, the latest of a string of new breweries opening up during the past month here in San Diego. The tasting room is very spacious, with a long tasting bar and TVs already mounted, ready for you to pair up beer tastings with the sports game du jour.
Currently, Rough Draft has just four beers on tap: a Belgian-style blond ale, an amber ale, “What the Ale” American pale ale, and Eraser IPA. I’m told they will soon offer a double IPA, and plan to have a total of 12 beers on tap by the end of the year. The grand opening event includes tastings of all 4 aforementioned beers, plus a 64 oz. logo growler with a fill of your favorite, all for $20. It sold out last Sunday, so you’re not alone if you snoozed and missed out on your ticket to this one (Terry!)
The Belgian-style blond was nice and light, floral character. This was quite similar to some of my favorite blond ales imported from Belgium. A refreshing beer for a summer afternoon, a way to go light without being wimpy and selling your soul to the devil from St. Louis or Milwaukee. I also enjoyed the Amber ale–approaching a more medium to full body with a very malt-forward caramelish flavor, and packing 7.5% ABV although you wouldn’t know it from the taste. The “What The Ale?” American pale ale took us into hoppier territory, albeit on the lighter side of that style’s popular embodiment, Sierra Nevada P.A. Good clean citrusy finish. The Eraser IPA seemed to be a revved up version of the pale ale, but obviously with more hops–bold but not exactly knocking over any of the many other IPAs within this hop-friendly county. Being an IPA guy, I chose this as my growler fill and will be enjoying this tomorrow on my Sunday afternoon in the patio.
This latest Stone collaboration beer just came out last week, and I couldn’t wait to try it. I had hoped to fill up a growler at the 30th Street tasting room this past Friday, but things came up, and when I made it in Saturday afternoon the kegs had already been tapped out by my fellow beer enthusiasts. Luckily, they had some 12 oz. bottles sitting in the fridge!
This time Mitch Steele at Stone joined with co-conspirators Richard Norgrove, Jr. of Bear Republic Brewing and Matt Cole of Fat Head’s Brewery (out of Cleveland, OH) for what’s described as an “extra hoppy brown ale brewed with brown sugar and molasses.”. It seems Cole took the lead in the enthusiasm generating this project, with fond recollections of one of his first home brewing experiments from the early ’90s being in this style.
The result is a brown ale with a lower gravity than most, and a hops-forward flavor that will find immediate enjoyment by West Coast hopheads. Nicely balanced, easy drinking, and with an understated sweet finish that shows off the brown sugar and molasses that went into the recipe. This beer probably won’t be around too long, so seek it out and drink what you can before it goes dry like a sagebrush landscape in the Lone Star state! (Rating on a scale of 10…I was gonna go modest and say 8.75, but it’s a 9, solid! Now let me stop typing and enjoy this….)
Sylvaner is an ancient varietal of white wine grape originating from central eastern Europe and mostly fpund within Germany nowadays. Rancho Sisquoc, a family-owned winery located in the rural eastern end of the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County, is the only producer of Sylvaner in California. I picked up some honey and floral notes on the bouquet, nice aroma on this one. I got some apricot on the mid-palate and a slight bit of citrus on the finish.
A bit off-dry upfront, but let it linger a bit to enjoy the crispness as it develops, with the crunch of a green apple. Pick this up if you can find it, I picked mine up at the winery, which is one of my most-recommended wineries in Santa Barbara County…great off-the-beaten-path scenery and standout wines that won’t bust your budget.
Breakwater Brewing Company is the northernmost craft brewery in San Diego County, nestled a block away from the ocean on 101/North Coast Hwy.
I tried a taster set of 6 beers: Beach Honey Ale, Railside Red ale, Beachbreak Brown ale, Eric’s Quadrupel Belgian-style, Maverick’s Double IPA, and Walkabout IMP Stout.
The Beach Honey ale was light and refreshing, not too overpowered with honey and with a nice infusion of grapefruit for a citrusy finish. The Railside Red was okay, very drinkable but didn’t do much for me as far as a standout beer. Beachbreak Brown was a very nicely balanced ale made with Cacade hops, that hides the fact that it’s 7.8% ABV. Next up was is Eric’s Quadrupel….taking the ABV up to 9.6%, a dark Belgian-style with coriander and chamomile in the recipe by Eric Magruder, a local homebrewer who took home an award and then Breakwater picked it up and made it available to the North County masses. Maverick’s Double IPA was my type of beer, they bill it as a “hop monster” but I could handle more hops…good, but not particularly notable among hoppy IPAs and Double/Triple IPAs being put out by other brewers around the county. The Walkabout Stout was sweet with a delayed lingering finish of vanilla…tasting partner Terry says it was kinda flat overall (I’ve never been much of a stout guy). Also of note: Kali Kush, a medium-bodied special pale ale with a touch of local sagebrush, and Old Blue Eyes, a malty “Old Ale” style of beer that is extremely low on the hops while upping the ABV to 9.1% .
When in Oceanside, surf your way in to Breakwater for a wide selection of hand-crafted beer! Most recommended: Beachbreak Brown, Kali Kush.