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Strong Beer Month, Parts III and IV

Before I delve into Parts III and IV, you might be asking yourself, “Hey, what happened to part II?” Alcohol induced amnesia happened. I took four trips into San Francisco to participate in Strong Beer Month, and I underestimated its ungodly power every single time. I have a ticket that proves I in fact tasted Magnolia’s Rye Rye Rocko, Promised Land IPA and Quadlibet for Tenderfeet, but my hippocampus seems to disagree that those beers ever passed over my tongue. Promised land was really good (I think). It also makes your head feel really good. Rye Rye Rocko makes it feel even better. Tenderfeet then makes walking in a straight line into a fun little personal challenge. I give them all 10/10. My liver gives me a 0/10 and would like a new owner that actually takes care of it.

Part III took me back to 21st Amendment to get obliterated on a Thursday afternoon. Hooray for senior year!

Framboise Forte d’Or

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First up was the Amendment’s Framboise Forte d’Or, an oak barrel aged Belgian style strong golden ale with raspberry puree weighing in at a lean 10.4% ABV. It pours a slightly reddish brown with a thin beige head. The nose is dominated by the raspberries, as is the initial taste. The oak doesn’t come through until the finish, and is very faint. At the finish, the alcohol comes on in an incredibly sharp fashion (even in comparison to the other strong beers) and essentially obliterates any other aftertaste that would have lingered. However, it’s still an interesting beer and worth a taste, especially for people who like fruitier beers (read: women) (just kidding) (sort of). I was expecting something more similar to a Belgian lambic, and it more resembles straightforward Beligan ale with some raspberries thrown in. It definitely gets bonus points for uniqueness.

Overall score: 8/10

Bike Lane Hopper

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Beer number two was a 9.6% ABV Imperial Black IPA known as Bike Lane Hopper. Fun fact that you don’t care about: this beer was called Two Lane Black Top in 2013, and was the first strong beer I ever tried! It was awesome back then, and it’s still awesome now. It pours a midnight black, and produces a thick and foamy off-white (and almost tanned) head that sticks around longer than CC Sabathia at a Sizzler. The nose produces a surprisingly pungent hit of citrus from its Amarillo and Citra hops, which is followed by a subtle hint of dark chocolate and maybe even some coffee. After the hops have their fun on your tongue, toasted malt comes to quickly dominate the taste. As someone who tends to dislike stouts for their heaviness, this hybrid beer is a perfect alternative, as it maintains a nice lightness while still packing a dense malt flavor. That being said, both the hoppy character and the maltiness pack an impressive punch, and together can be a little overwhelming on the palate. It’s definitely not a beer to just throw back, but should rather be sipped. Anyone who enjoys the Amendment’s Back in Black (which I believe is sold in cans year round) will definitely enjoy this beefier (and far more destructive) version.

Overall score: 9/10

Hendrik’s Stout

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Last item for the day was Hendrik’s Stout, an imperial stout sitting at 9.3% ABV.  Full disclosure: I don’t like stouts. However, this one wasn’t too bad. It pours a thick jet black and produces a light tan head. The nose brings out nuts and coffee. The forefront of the taste is overtaken by the traditional roasted maltiness, but gives way to a surprising sweetness, as oats round out the aftertaste. Yet that sweetness gives way to bitterness as coffee comes into play. For someone who enjoys stouts, I imagine this would rank among the better ones. I’ll grant that it’s smoother than most, and actually doesn’t feel as creamy or heavy as many. I still wouldn’t go out of my way to try it again (unless conquering Strong Beer Month is again on the line).

Overall score: 7/10

 

Two days later, it was time for the fourth and final round back at Magnolia.

Let it Rauch

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Oh. Mah. gawd. This one wins Strong Beer Month, hands down. A German influenced smoked beer at 8.8% ABV, this beer is simply phenomenal. It pours a deep amber and produces an off-white head. The nose packs a big punch of sweet caramel and toffee malts, followed by even sweeter smokiness. The palate again brings big hints of caramel and toffee with earthy undertones, which give way into a mildly smoky finish. That smoky finish is not something you find commonly in beers, and really makes this one unique and interesting to try. That combined with its sweet malt character make it an absolute delight to sip, almost like a Vienna Style beer was left on the barbecue overnight. It’s like drinking a campfire, if campfires made you super duper drunk. I dub it the Strongest Beer.

Overall score: 10/10

Smokestack Lighting

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Another stout, which immediately lands this beer in my “meh” category. This one comes in at 9.7% ABV, and pours a jet black with a thin and frail beige head that dissipates quickly. The nose brings up toasted malts and brown sugar. The taste is full bodied and well balanced, never really tasting too malty or too thick. However, the high alcohol really content comes through on the finish and dominates the aftertaste. Otherwise, nothing much stands out in the flavor. Just your run of the mill stout. I’d pick the 21st Amendment’s offering over this one.

Overall: 5.5/10

Old Thunderpussy

The 12th and final beer of Strong Beer Month, Old Thunderpussy is a 10.6% ABV Barleywine. It pours a murky amber and produces a big off white head. The nose has far more malt and caramel than you would expect from a barley wine, and even brings some notes of molasses. The flavor is brutally alcoholic, but does carry a nice sweetness with caramel and molasses, which delves into a bitter finish. It’s definitely an interesting drink, but the alcohol really makes it somewhat tough to do so (especially when it’s your third strong beer and standing upright has become a bit of an endeavor).

Also, I may have forgotten to take a picture of it. Alcohol.

Overall score: 8.5/10

 

And that’s a wrap! Strong Beer Month is awesome, and I would highly recommend anyone to experience it for themselves next time February rolls around. Just realize it probably takes a few years off your life.

Musical Pairing

You could certainly go with some more Tool, but I’m going to take a slight step in another direction and go with Smashing Pumpkins, mainly because Siamese Dream sounds really awesome when you’re trying to not pass out on Bart on the way home. Billy Corgan might be the most underrated front man of all time. No one (including him) denies that he can’t sing worth a damn, but, man, that dude could write songs. I’ll grant that when Smashing Pumpkins are bad, they’re awful. About half of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is unlistenable. And what the hell even is that cover of Landslide? Stevie Nicks wants to start doing cocaine again every time she hears Corgan gurgle his way through it. But when Smashing Pumpkins are on, they freakin’ rock. I’ve spent the last eight years of my life trying to figure out how Corgan can make a guitar sound like he can when he tears through the riffs in Cherub Rock. Also, Siamese Dream turns 21 later this year, so it just seems fitting. Enjoy.

Dub Step IPA, which will certainly have you wobbling.

Strong Beer Month, Part I

 It’s the most wonderful time of year…

Strong beer month is finally here! For those of us that like nothing more than getting utterly destroyed on less than 40 oz of cerveza, our month has finally arrived.

For the uninitiated, Strong Beer Month is an annual celebration put on by the 21st Amendment and Magnolia breweries, in which each site offers six concoctions of firewater. Try all twelve and you get a commemorative glass — and early stage liver cirrhosis, which comes free of charge! It’s a great time for all, assuming you have health insurance.

DUB STEP

First up was the 21st amendment’s Dub Step, an imperial IPA boasting a 10.2% ABV. The beer pours a clear and reddish amber, with an off-white head. The nose is dominated by citrusy Centennial and Chinook hops, which also come to the forefront of the taste. Yet, just as in any self-respecting west coast IPA, those citrusy overtones never dominate the palate, as the beer uses a nice malty base to balance out the hoppy taste. The high alcohol content definitely comes through on the finish, but doesn’t at all ruin the big flavor. You’re definitely aware that this beer is over 10%, but it doesn’t necessarily feel overwhelming, and the hops provide a large enough taste to trick the tongue into looking past the absurd amount of alcohol passing over it into the drinker’s esophagus. Still, people with a preference for lighter beers will likely struggle with this one. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, and probably should come with a waiver form.

Dub step is usually the first or second of the strong beers to sell out, so definitely go earlier rather than later if you’re interested in experiencing its might before it’s gone. Due to its immense popularity, the guys at the 21st decided to make two batches of it this year, but it’s still likely to disappear sooner rather than later. Don’t miss out.

 Overall score: 8.15/10

SIDE NOTE: Check out that MASSIVE hipster in the background of the above picture. I was very surprised to find such a unique specimen in a bar that doesn’t serve PBR in a can. Direct your attention to his florescent pink pants and his leather satchel, which I can only assume is filled with Neutral Milk Hotel vinyls. He probably condescendingly ordered a cider, because that would be, like, so hilariously ironic and counterculture. Hipsters are the absolute worst.

RED TITAN

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At 12.8% ABV, 21st Amendment’s Red Titan is certainly a beast, but is it any good? Eh, not really. Classified as a “Giant Red Ale,” this behemoth only comes in 8 oz servings. It pours a cloudy and deep amber red with a fragile beige head. The nose is hoppy like an IPA with some citrus, but also is muddled by the alcohol content. The same is true of the taste, as mild citrus is followed by some spice. The finish is mostly malty, but doesn’t seem to really go anywhere interesting like you would expect out of a red ale. There’s nothing overly exciting about this beer other than its ABV. But I guess there’s also nothing overly offensive about it either. It is surprisingly easy to drink despite the fact that it probably functions as a pretty decent antiseptic. Still, the maltiness isn’t interesting enough to have it stand up against other red ales, while the hoppiness doesn’t stack up against what you’ll find in an IPA. I wouldn’t go out of my way to try it again.

Overall score: 6/10

 PSA: this beer will destroy your ability to drive a car, operate heavy machinery, make rational decisions, talk in coherent and complete sentences, remember the keypad code to your house, successfully operate a door knob, etc…

BEAST of BURDEN

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This is where things started to get pretty fuzzy. The 21st amendment only allows you to purchase three strong beers in one sitting, which I initially assumed was just a ploy to make sure it took four separate visits to earn that glass. I figured that throwing back six of these things would be no problem. BIG MISTAKE. I assumed I could just engage my 22-year old tank mode, which has seldom failed me in the past. This time was decidedly different. Strong beer month does not care about tank mode. It’s equipped with RPGs that rip your tank to shreds and leave you drooling and sprawled out, coming in and out of consciousness. Strong beer month is not a toy, and should only be operated under professional supervision. Strong Beer Month does not mess around. Do not ever turn your back on Strong Beer Month.

Determined to attain that glass in four trips, I intrepidly marched forward and went with the Beast of Burden for my third and final adventure of the day. It’s an American-Belgo Imperial IPA that weighs in at a light 9.9% ABV. It pours a thick and cloudy golden brown, and produces a big, clean white head. That’s about all I can report about it, other than vaguely remembering it tasted, like, really really good. I think it was slightly less hoppy than the dub step with a smoother body and wheaty aftertaste, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable betting on anything stated in that last sentence. I wrote some tasting notes for myself at the initial encounter, but if you can decipher any of that handwriting, you must be some kind of shaman capable of magic. Or perhaps you have an advanced degree in hieroglyphics. My handwriting is barely legible when I’m completely sober, and things really go south when you add beer into the equation. That penmanship should really serve me well when I’m (hopefully) able to write prescriptions in the future. I look forward to some exciting malpractice lawsuits. It’ll be just like House!

Overall score: Mmmmm beer/10

In conclusion, Strong Beer Month is awesome, but not quite as awesome as trying to stumble back to Bart afterwards. I’ll be having three more such experiences with it in 2014. Do yourself a favor and make sure you do the same. But maybe drink some water beforehand.

 

Musical Pairing:

These beers do not like you. They do not want to be your friend. They want to cause you pain, both physical and mental. They could care less about what you think about them. They’re complex, they’re intricate, and most of all they’re behemoths. Therefore, it’d be only natural to throw on some Tool while sipping on some liquid demise. I’m not sure what will melt your face first: a Danny Carey drum solo or a couple of strong beers. Both are probably bad for your health. Both are beasts not meant to be toyed with. Both are awesome in ways not often found on this Earth.

Tool is playing two sold out shows in San Francisco in March. I have tickets. You probably don’t. Be jealous. If you have any doubts about Carey’s status as one of the greatest drummers of all time, check out the drum line in “Ticks and Leaches.” It’s unreal to think one human being is capable of producing that. And Justin Chancellor can slap the crap out of a bass. Seriously though, his Wal 4-string should think about getting a restraining order.

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Weihenstephaner Pilsner

Brewery: Weihenstephan Brauerei

Website: www.weihenstephaner.de

Style: Pilsner

ABV: 5.1%

IBU: 10

 

Review

Medium: Pilsner glass

Having previously tried the Weihenstephaner Hefe Weisseber — and having been completely blown away by it — I knew I had to track down the Pilsner. I had heard stories of its epic-ness, but had been previously unable to locate this mysterious beast — even on a recent visit to Berlin. Upon discovering it last weekend, I celebrated harder than that N64 kid.

The brewery, and the region of Bavaria, is mostly known for its wheat beers. If you’re in to hefeweizens, definitely check out their Hefe Weisseber. It’s relatively easy to find (BevMo usually carries it), and is without a doubt one of the finest offerings of the style.  Given my experience with that beer, I had impossibly high expectations for the pilsner, and was almost certain of an impending let down.

The beer pours a clear golden yellow and produces a very thin and fragile head that dissipates quickly — though still isn’t as fleeting as those made by most pilsners. The nose is surprisingly fruity, with strong notes of lemon and citrus, two flavors not typically associated with pilsners. That same fruitiness opens the palate, but is balanced out by an almost spicy hop flavor, which gives way into a traditional biscuity-malt finish. While there is definitely some bitterness on the finish, it’s not nearly as intense or overwhelming as the finish on other German pilsners, such as Jever’s. It’s also incredibly well balanced on the close, as the beer’s fruity overtones linger perfectly amongst its spicy hoppiness and biscuity malts.

Much of that balance derives from the beer’s heavy reliance on German pale barley malt, which gives the beer a solid body and firm foundation without overpowering the fruit and spice from the hops — like what you would get with more traditional pilsner malts from the Czech Republic. The result is a pilsner that definitely qualifies for the style based on all the classic characteristics, and yet retains its uniqueness by keeping its hop character at the forefront of the palate instead of solely relying on its malt. The beer drinks much more like a lager due to that complexity, yet finishes like a classic pilsner with a smooth and malty close.

It would be a great hot day beer. While its smooth finish and low alcohol content make it extremely easy to drink, its subtle complexity keeps it interesting and sets it far apart from your run of the mill pilsner. It’s tough to find here in the States, but worth your while if you manage to come across it.

Overall score: 8.5/10

 

Musical Pairing:

More so than anything else, this beer is incredibly easy to drink. Therefore, it needs something that’s equally easy listening to accompany it. But while the taste is initially unassuming and pedestrian, it yields to a rare subtle complexities that are harder to find than a basketball team in Seattle. As such, “Monsters” by Band of Horses proves an excellent companion for such an excellent beer. On the surface, it’s just a sweet and slow jam with little substance or complexity. But underneath all the banjos and shimmering reverb is Ben Bridwell carefully interweaving layer upon layer of effect-laiden guitar while musing on feelings of isolation and disillusionment in today’s ever so cynical world, resulting in a sound of unmatched depth. Yet that depth never once takes away from the song’s easygoing flow. It’s that careful balance that makes Band of Horses such an incredible and unique band. They also use reverb — which might rank third behind the wheel and penicillin on the list of the greatest discoveries in human history — better than any band in history. And they put on an unreal live show. So crack open a cold pilsner, throw on some BoH and watch all of your stress instantly disappear.

Also, Ben Bridwell’s tattoos are really dumb. But that doesn’t change the fact that I unconditionally love him.

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Headlands Hill 88

Brewery: Headlands Brewing Co.

Website: http://www.headlandsbrewing.com/

Style: Double IPA

ABV: 8.8%

IBU: 77

 

Review

Medium: 16 oz Can

Venue: Ocean Beach, San Francisco, Calif.

A buddy and I decided it was time to go beer hunting in the city last weekend. Our safari led us to Ales Unlimited in Pacific Heights, a cool little corner shop with an ABSURD amount of Belgian beers, amongst other rare and craft beers from around the world. It’s a place worth checking out with a friendly staff that seems open to the idea that sometimes people in their early twenties have a legitimate appreciation for beers that don’t just pair nicely with Rohypnol. There are many a bottle shop in the Bay Area that seem to expect anyone under the age of 30 to request their beverage in a sippy-cup. Their condescension makes me sad. But this isn’t one of those places.

After salivating down aisle after aisle of microbrew after microbrew, we finally reached our California fish and game restrictions and realized that it was just before 4:30 — about an hour before the sun would set over Ocean Beach, a mere 6 miles away. It seemed only logical for us to check out, head over to the beach and enjoy a brew while the sun disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. So we grabbed an unassuming 4-pack of silver tall boys and headed for the beach.

The beer in question was Hill 88, a double IPA from Headlands Brewing Company in San Carlos, Calif.  The can itself is relatively plain, as a silver background sits behind a light green illustration of what appears to be some sort of observation deck. The back describes its brewing process, even if in as vague a manner as possible (good call on hiring William James to write the brief, guys). It then goes on to explain how the beer derives its name from a now defunct missile silo, and concludes with the following gem: “Those missiles once guarded us from Communism…so will this beer.” And even if that’s not true — which it definitely is, as I believe the right to throw back tall boys on a crowded public beach was included in a rough draft of the constitution before the New Jersey delegates had it thrown out, because it’s that state’s job to ruin everything that’s awesome — this beer will at least defend us from sobriety. And that’s all we’re really looking for, right?

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The second you crack open the can, your nostrils are assaulted with the oh-so-sweet stench of Northern Californian hops. The beer uses a mix of Summit, Chinook, Centennial and Ahtanum hops, though the Centennial portion is the standout here. Though not quite as citrusy as its Cascade cousin, the relatively new strain dominates this beer’s palate, giving it a citrusy start and quickly delving into a bitter yet remarkably clean and smooth finish.  The beer itself feels almost creamy in your mouth, yet never once feels heavy or overwhelming. The hop character is definitely intriguing and different, but never once feels overly foreign or weird.

If I have one complaint regarding double IPAs, or IPAs in general for that matter, it’s that brewers tend to get carried away with their malts, resulting in a finish that detracts from the unique hoppiness that essentially can’t be found in any other style. Leave the malt domination to the stouts. IPAs should be 110% about their hops, with the malt there to simply provide a backbone to help balance our the bitterness that comes on in the finish. Too many times, the malt finish tends to come on too fast and too strong, and leaves you with a dirty and dissatisfying taste in your mouth. Overly malty IPAs are Ben Roethlisberger. Nothing should ever be Ben Roethlisberger (I’m looking at you, Jameis Winston).

This beer proves an exception. Despite including four varieties of malt, never once does the malt-character come the forefront, functioning to provide a foil for the hoppiness and give a solid base to the drinker, but never once dominating the drinking experience. It’s that subtly that sets it apart from other double IPAs, and makes it dangerously easy to drink (especially at 8.8% ABV). The malt does just enough to quell the bitterness from the hops, but doesn’t stick around long enough to trick your tongue into thinking it’s drinking something heavier. It’s truly a remarkable beer, and pairs nicely with the Ocean Beach sunset on a clear January day.

Overall Score: 9/10

 

Musical Pairing:

I’ve perused numerous beer blogs and beer books that offer food-pairing suggestions at the end of their reviews. That is stupid. This isn’t wine, we aren’t in Napa, and you’re name isn’t Chadsworth.

The truth about beer is that it makes everything taste better, and thus doesn’t need to be accompanied by food suggestions. Any foodie that recommends anything other than Taco Bell to be paired with a beer has clearly never had Taco Bell after a few beers. Because there is nothing in this world, or any world, that can possibly pair better with a couple of cold ones than cheap Mexican fast food.

SIDE NOTE: if you live in the Bay Area, check out the Taco Bell in Pacifica, as it is bar none the greatest fast food establishment in the continental United States. I will never forget my first time eating there, as my life has never been the same since. I saw Jesus that day. He took my order and gave me exact change. Nice guy.

Instead, I intend to offer musical pairings to accompany each beer I review. This particular one screams Black Crowes. While it’s very American at heart, you can sense it wants to be more worldly than that. It isn’t content with just being a double IPA (or a southern rock band). It wants to experiment with other flavors (by including four strains of malt and four strains of hops) and produce something that tastes (or sounds) like nothing else. The malt knows its role, just the Crowes’ Rich Robinson does. Sure, it has the required talent to be the star. But it’s here to provide a backbone for its more flamboyant partner, hops, to go be the front man it was born to be and dominate the spotlight. It’s totally content playing rhythm guitar and laying down some nasty licks to give its brother a jumping off point to show off its vocal chops. It’s ready to tear down the Fillmore and melt your face before you even know what’s hit you.

I’ll go with “Gone” off 1994’s amorica, because, after tossing back a few of these, that’s exactly what you’ll be.