Sorry about the absence. Events conspired against me to keep me from posting as regularly as I would have liked, but crap happens from time to time. To make up for some lost time, here are some quickie reviews:
With all of these funky new beers, many of which were unimaginable even a few short years ago (and I say that as a guy with a vivid imagination when it comes to beer), I often forget that a good pale ale is one of the true treats of the beer world: delicious; low enough in alcohol to drink several without causing the world to spin, yet flavorful enough to thoroughly enjoy; and strikes the right balance of bold flavors and drinkability for a craft beer neophyte to enjoy. Few things make me happier than seeing the inroads Sierra Nevada has made with marketing its flagship Pale Ale. No matter how lame the bar is (and I have been in plenty of lame ass bars), these places will usually now carry Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale as a sop to beer snobs like me. No matter how lame the pizzeria (or now that I am in Texas, a taqueria is more likely), they usually have a few bottles of it handy, or better yet, a tap devoted to it.
Collaborations are all the rage in the Craft Beer World. The idea is two or more brewers get together and bring their complementary talents together to collectively brew a beer that they could not individually brew. If the collaboration works they way it is hoped, the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts.
In my experience, collaborations rarely work that well. They are almost always good beers, and some of them are quite excellent, but I almost never say, “This is a beer that could only be made by these brewers working together.” The one exception to this was Fritz & Ken’s Thirtieth Anniversary Ale, a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Anchor Brewing, that might well be the best beer I have ever had.
Life & Limb, the collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head (two of my favorite brewers) does not reach the lofty heights of the Sierra Nevada-Anchor collaboration, but it is still pretty damn good. As you can see, it pours a deep mahogany color with some ruby highlights and a nice tan head. There are dried fruit notes in the flavor, mainly raisin and dark bitter cherries, along with chocolate, vanilla, and maple syrup flavors, with a touch of oak. There is also a mild birch beer aftertaste, which those of you from the northeast will recognise. I know that sounds like it would be too sweet, but it really was not at all. There is the warmth from the 10 % ABV and just enough bitterness from the hops to offset the sweetness. Do I think that neither Sierra Nevada nor Dogfish Head could have produced this beer on their own? I won’t go that far, but it ranks in the upper tier of collaborations, that is for certain.
I wish I had another bottle of this to hide in the back of the fridge, as I think it would age well, but I did not have the foresight to pick up more than a single bottle. I am quite happy that I grabbed this one, 8.5/10.
Have you all heard about this Jeremy Lin? Asian guy, plays hoops, went to Harvard, bounced around a few NBA teams, and finally got a chance to play with the Knicks, where he absolutely explodes and becomes the biggest basketball story of the year, if not the biggest sports story overall. It as if the guy came from nowhere, and is now just short of being a legend. Put it this way: Spike Lee has taken to wearing a Jeremy Lin jersey at Knicks’ games, but not a Knicks’ jersey. Spike is wearing a Harvard jersey.
LINSANITY!* has nothing to do with this excellent beer from Sierra Nevada. There is no Asian-Harvard-NYC connection that I can see. It is not as if this being an outstanding beer is a “Who expected this?!?!” story like the LINSANITY! legend. We are talking about Sierra Nevada, after all. It would be a big story if this beer was lousy. Sierra Nevada making a great beer falls in the Dog Bites Man category. Nothing to see here, just move along.
However, beer is far too important to just move along without taking a look at we have in front of us. The Ruthless Rye IPA is a fruity IPA, with the rye giving it a bready maltiness. This tastes like biting into a sandwich made from an unpeeled orange, fresh and juicy, with some bitterness from the peel, some sweetness from the juice, and the rye bread giving it a touch of peppery spiciness. That sandwich sounds nasty, but this beer is outstanding, 9/10.
*All references to Jeremy Lin and LINSANITY! constitute shameless google search whoring on my part. I am just trying to drive up traffic to the blog. While I am at it: “Jeremy Lin Porn SEX Asian boobies ” That is probably worth a hundred hits a day.
UPDATE: It is disturbing how many people have found this post by googling “Jeremy Lin Porn”.
I had a good 2011 when it came to beer. I probably drank less beer by volume than any year in recent memory, but the quality of the beer I did drink was much better than in years past. I decided this year to not drink beer just for the sake of drinking beer, but to drink only if the choices were genuinely appealing. No more knocking back a Shiner Bock just because that was the best beer available at the taqueria; I went with water (or sometimes soda) if that was the case.
My 2011 Best Beer list is Texas-centric. There are two reasons for that: First, I live here now, and these beers are readily available to me. Second, Texas is home to some damn fine brewers, although most are relatively unknown outside the state. Texas is the best kept secret of the craft brewing world, but the better brewers are starting to get some attention elsewhere.
Here are the best beers I had in 2011:
If forced to choose one beer as the best of 2011, I’d go with Jester King’s Wytchmaker Rye IPA. That is one tasty beer. Jester King has a busy and creative 2012 planned, so much so that it would not shock me if one of their new beers knocked out the Wytchmaker to take the title in 2012. On the other hand, at the beginning of 2011, I had not even heard of Jester King, so there may be some as yet unknown brewer who will take the crown. We will have to see how 2012 plays out.
*Photo courtesy of Aaron Goldfarb, Author of How To Fail
I am a huge fan of Sierra Nevada. Their beers are consistently good to great, with one notable exception, giving them a Hall of Fame batting average. The Celebration Ale is one of their better beers. There is nothing especially Christmassy about this beer as there are no spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamon; it is not particularly heavy; nor is the 6.5 % ABV is all that high. In fact, the only signifiers that this is a Christmas beer is the end of the year release date, and the poinsettias, pine trees and snowbound cabin on the label. I am not complaining as this malty and hoppy IPA is one of my favorite harbingers of the Holiday Season, along with Advent Calendars, the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol, and Christmas cookies, loads and loads of Christmas cookies. My only gripe with this beer is the limited availability as I would drink this all year long. It is that good, 8.5/10.
I am a huge Sierra Nevada fan, and was beyond excited to see this on the shelf at my local beer emporium, but the Sierra Nevada Hoptimum falls short in a number of ways. First of all, the name: Sierra Nevada usually does not use puns when naming their beers, preferring to use simple descriptions like ‘Pale Ale’ or ‘Stout’. This is the first pun I can recall them using, and let’s be honest, it is sort of lame, not punny at all. It is certainly no ‘Modus Hoperandi‘.
Second, the label: Anthropomorphizing a hop cone has been done so many times before that it is no longer creative or interesting. Normally, I would not even comment on the label, but this just struck me as dull. Unfortunately, the label is not the only thing that is dull about this beer.
Third, the beer: The beer is not bad, but it is not up to Sierra Nevada’s usual high quality. It pours a nice orange color. The hops are piney and prevalent, along with some caramel malt, and it is boozy at 10.4 % ABV, but there is just not much going on here. It is just not very interesting, and considering this is Sierra Nevada we are talking about, interesting should be the bare minimum we can expect, 5.5/10.