Friday, March 30, 2012

Snow Angels and Craft Beer

So we thought we’d do a little something different to celebrate St. Patty’s Day.  Instead of going to one of the many celebrations here in the OC, we took a trip up highway 38 to Big Bear Lake.  The weather forecasters, who usually have a winning percentage in the 40 percent range, hit this one spot on…unfortunately for us.

We had a great plan to check out the Big Bear Mountain Brewery and sample one of their many fine craft beers along with a great mountain burger.  According to their website, the Big Bear Mountain Brewery and Restaurant building on Red Ant Hill is one of the oldest commercial buildings in Big Bear.  It was built in 1925 by a renowned pioneer of Big Bear named Bill Knickerbocker. The big pale yellow building was the original home of the Masonic Temple, but now the historic landmark building has a hand-crafted wooden bar and rustic ambience.  I was really looking forward to trying their Old Miners Gold, a honey blonde, Little Beaver, a Cali Pale Ale or The Grizzly, a Chocolate Porter.  I had hoped to speak with owner/brewer about attending Taste of Brews in Riverside on Saturday, June 2. 

That day may eventually come, but not on this weekend.  So the storm arrived a little late, but packed a heavy punch.  I’d estimate a good foot of snow dumped on Saturday afternoon to early evening making the roads treacherous.  The winds were whipping up and visibility was nil.  We would have given it a go but our good friends at Snow Summit left a sizeable berm of ice and snow at the end of the driveway making it impossible to get out.  OK, so we decided to give it a go on Sunday instead…better late than never!

We weren’t lacking for food having packed enough for an extended stay.  I really screwed up though and forgot to bring any beer thinking we’d hit the brewery and stock up on our favorites. Fortunately someone had left a 12-pack of beer.

The snow continued overnight on Saturday into Sunday; another 6-8 inches at least.  It took nearly an hour of digging snow tunnels for our dogs, Chip and Dip, to make their way around the yard.  Not used to the altitude and already exhausted, it then took another hour of trying to clear the now four foot-high wall of snow at the end of the driveway.  Fortunately for us, a couple of Snow Summit employees ventured by with a snow plow and cleared the berm.  Excited, we finished a couple of (literally) ice cold beer, made a few snow angels (like teenagers) and headed into the house for a well-deserved break.

Well, Mother Nature was having her way with us on this weekend.  The skies opened up again with heavy snow and high winds, dumping another eight inches—the snowboarders must’ve had a field day on the fresh powder.  It felt to me like Groundhog Day all over again, having to re-dig the dog’s paths and clear a route to the car only to find yet another huge berm! 

Alright, even I could read the tea leaves on this one.  I cleared as much as my exhausted body would allow and headed into the cabin to build a fire, grill some burgers and suck down another Blue Moon.  The snowflakes continued to fall well into the evening on Sunday, leaving me no choice but to watch the Walking Dead Marathon.  So much for best laid plans and the trip to Big Bear Mountain Brewery.  There’s always next time, but I do hope they pour at Taste of Brews.  I really would like to sample that Honey Blonde!

See you all on June 2nd at White Park.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Bruery

One Friday afternoon, we were doing our typical "research"on beer related news when my supervisor was awe-struck by a beer. It was called Chocosaurus Rye. As two chicks who try to defy the gender related stereotypes we are faced with concerning beer, we just can't deny the love we have for chocolate. So from that very moment, those darn cravings (induced by the idea of both chocolate AND beer) came in waves. Shortly after we left, and on a mission.

I've been to The Bruery Provisions before, but have yet to visit their actual tasting room. This (every?) Friday night was poppin' so we waited in a line that wrapped around the outside with great anticipation. Upon arrival we quickly ordered our first round without hesitation. Chocosaurus Rye and Humulus Lager with Ginger to share. So here's the rundown.

Chocosaurus Rye is a union of The Bruery and Bootlegger's two styles: a dark rye lager that was finished with cacao nibs and vanilla beans. It poured a very dark brown with a bit of a velvety consistency. A frothy head was quick to form, and even more quick to recede to light lacing around the glass. You'll get a whiff of fresh vanilla beans and bitter bakers chocolate, rounded out with boozy notes keeping it from smelling like a milkshake. Taste-wise, this beer had duel personalities. It was much more rich and smooth with a chocolaty opening when we first got it As it slowly warmed the grains took the spotlight which took away some of the richness.

Simultaneously we enjoyed the Humulus Lager with Ginger. It poured a pretty pale golden yellow with a finger of fluffy head that left some frothy lacing sticking to the glass. I loved the smell of this beer. It had a nice piney floral scent upfront with citrusy, malty sweetness, and hints of booze. The taste very much reflected the smell. Even though it's a lager, I believe the ginger gave it an almost IPA-like flavor profile. It had a nice piney hoppy punch that was well balanced with caramel maltyness and earthy accents. As someone who loves ginger almost as much as I love chocolate, I would have liked it to be at the point where it'd be overpowering to most. But it was a mild accent. I'll take what I can get, I still loved this beer.

Our second round consisted of BeRazzled and White Oak. BeRazzled is a sassy lil' sour that tasted like raspberry jam. White Oak tasted like it would be the offspring of a Barleywine and a Tripel. Fruit and zest from the Tripel's characteristics mixed with the warmth and booze from the Barleywine's.

As you can tell I'm trying to cut my beer rambling short, but that also can be blamed on the fact that with each beer my memory was cutting short as well. I won't even get into the rest of our night. But we would like to thank The Bruery for the good times and the good beers they provided us.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Karl Strauss in Costa Mesa

The Taste of Brews’ crew dropped by Karl Strauss in Costa Mesa to sample beer and burgers in advance of St. Patrick’s Day.  Located near South Coast Plaza, Karl has been a big supporter of our events and is among the craft breweries attending our inaugural event in Riverside this summer.

You can never go wrong with any selection at Karl Strauss, but we opted to try the seasonal offerings on tap: Pintail Pale Ale (5.3% ABV), Off the Rails (8.5% ABV), Oatmeal Stout (5.5% ABV) and a Russian Imperial Stout (see top photo).  The Oatmeal was freshly brewed just in time for St. Patty’s and featured a hint of coffee and dark chocolate flavors.  The Russian Stout was outstanding as well, but seemed a bit heavy while having lunch outside on a spectacular spring-like day in Southern California.  Ultimately the choice came down to the Pintail (pictured on the left “Karl” coaster) and the Off the Rails (pictured on the right).

Pintail surfboards are used almost exclusively on big wave gun surfboards, where control is the most important element.  Pintails are not so maneuverable, but when you’re speeding down the face of a 20′ Waimea bomb it is more important that the board go straight and not suddenly start snaking all over the place.  In the Pintail Pale Ale, dynamic citrus and pine flavors from Newport and Cascade hops give this beer direction, while fine pale malts provide balance.  The remarkable floral aroma from dry hopping with Amarillo hops makes this beer as enjoyable as cruising down to the beach, board in tow.  The beer definitely went with the flow today and was a great way to cap an awesome meal.

The first things you feel when you lean into a turn on a surfboard are your rails. Their shape will determine whether your turning leverage is crisp and directional or spongy and sluggish.  After brewing their award-winning Red Trolley Ale for more than two decades, Karl decided to raise the stakes. Why mess with a good thing you ask? Karl answered because it’s that kind of dangerous thinking that leads to the next great beer. Off the Rails is no slouch, a hopped up cousin to Red Trolley, this Imperial Red Ale is brewed with tons of caramel malts and Willamette hops for rich toffee flavors, undertones of dried fruit, and a warming finish.  If this is your first time off the rails, hang on with both hands.

Both styles were excellent and highly recommended.  We’re looking forward to our next trip to Costa Mesa.  And if you’re in the Inland Empire on June 2, stop by White Park for Taste of Brews.  Karl Strauss has promised to surprise us with something really special!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Inland Empire Brewing Company’s Third Anniversary Festival

The Taste of Brews crew headed out to the IE this past weekend for Inland Empire Brewing Company’s Third Anniversary Festival.  The large and enthusiastic crowd was treated to the latest offerings from Packinghouse, Big Cheese, Taps, Main Street Brewery, Left Coast, Bootleggers, Hangar 24, Noble Ale and Dale’s among others; and completely dispelled the notion that the IE doesn’t embrace Craft Beer.  Hopefully this is a good omen for Taste of Brews, which is heading to Riverside’s White Park on Saturday, June 2.

Our first trip to the IE Brew Co. was well worth the drive from Huntington Beach.  We arrived early and were directed to nearby parking by the excellent group of volunteers.  Attendees entered through the tasting room and were offered the choice of $2 samples from IE Brew Co. or $30 for unlimited 4 ounce tastes from all the participating breweries.  For those of us who were there for the beginning, it was an amazing smorgasbord of flavors without having to throw any elbows!

We were particularly fond of Bootlegger’s Knuckle Sandwich Double IPA and braved the hordes for a couple of refills when they taped the special keg around 3 p.m.  Barbara liked the variety of citrus-infused offerings and I was partial to the bold IPA at Packinghouse which Scot Koury said was an 8.5 percenter.

We were somewhat surprised, but gratified to see the various food trucks in attendance (Short Rib BBQ, Gourmet Genie and Stella Pierre) having been forewarned that the city had been cracking down on these recently.  Paring craft beer with a variety of food types is essential, and the upscale food trucks are the easiest way to access that.

Congrats to everyone at Inland Empire Brewing Company.  It was a great event and everyone at Taste of Brews is looking forward to next year’s event.