Mac’s Brew News – November 3, 2019

It’s time for Mac’s Brew News again.  What can I say?  I’ve got a lot of news to share with all you beer lovers out there, but I’ll try to keep it short.  Please read responsibly!

I have only written about one beer I brewed in 2019 – “Reefer Nearness”, so I will try to catch you up on what has been created this year (so far) at Mac’s Brew Pub.  I’ll try to be brief about each beer – after all, I don’t want you to lament that you didn’t get any.  For information about Reefer Nearness, see Mac’s Brew News – January 26, 2019.

Goldihops (And the Free Beers): Brewed February 18, 2019.  5.2% ABV, 14 IBU.

I brewed this honey blonde ale in collaboration with Martin and Marty Gilberstadt.  It’s my usual honey blonde ale, and this time I brewed it specifically for the Orange County Fair homebrew competition.  When I entered this a beer few years ago, it won second place and the judges made suggestions for improvement.  Well, this time I followed their advice and revised the recipe slightly, per their suggestions.

The beer turned out very good but didn’t score as well.  Normally there is a section to write comments about the beer when entering it into the competition (all entries are completed online).  But his year, there was no allowance for comments in this category.  The judges dinged me for off flavors that were intentionally brewed into the beer (honey, sweet orange peel, coriander seed).  They perceived the nuance of honey and the citrus notes as imperfections and scored the beer accordingly.  Oh well, c’est la vie!

San Andreas Malt: Brewed March 6, 2019.  5.5% ABV, 43 IBU.

I brewed this lager in collaboration with Sam Simpson.  I added just a bit more hops than I did in the original iteration because I suspected that the hops were a little old and might not have the alpha acid content indicated on the package.  I was wrong, however, and San Andreas II turned out just a bit hoppier and more bitter than the original (see Mac’s Brew News – January 26, 2019 for details about the original SAM).  Although it was very good, I’ll go back to the original recipe next time I brew this.

Mac’s Apricot Wheat/Cherry Wheat: Brewed April 23, 2019.  5.6% ABV, 15 IBU.

My standby summertime wheat ale brew.  I normally brew a 10-gallon batch of wheat ale and split the fermentation in two – 5 gallons of fruit-wheat ale, and 5 gallons of Bavarian style hefeweizen.  This year I decided to divide the fermentation and make two different fruit beers – apricot and cherry.  Both turned out delicious.  I still have some cherry wheat on tap, but the apricot has been gone for a while (it’s a little more popular).

Woolly Bugger Blonde (Every Fisherman Should Have a Couple): Brewed April 30, 2019.  5.2% ABV, 14 IBU.

Goldihops (And the Free Beers)” by any other name is still Mac’s Honey Blonde Ale, and that’s exactly what Woolly Bugger Blonde is.  I brewed a 10-gallon batch of this beer for a fund raiser that we hosted on June 1, 2019, at Mac’s Brew Pub.  The event benefited Wild Warrior Adventure, a group that takes wounded combat veterans (including those suffering from PTSD) on fly-fishing retreats in wilderness areas of the Western U.S.  In an effort to encourage mental and spiritual healing and renewal, the men are removed from the stresses of daily life, where they spend their days fly fishing in pristine rivers and streams.  They are encouraged to build meaningful relationships by engaging in deep conversations with the other veterans and the retreat guides/facilitators.  Wild Warrior Adventure has been eminently successful in helping these wounded veterans gain a new and healthy view of life.  The costs associated with the retreat and the transportation expenses to get to the wilderness venues (airfare, ground transportation, etc.) are covered by this organization, so the participants are charged no money for the experience.  [Note: Don Evans (my brother-in-law) is on the Board of Directors, and Paul Cunningham (an acquaintance) is the Director of Wild Warrior Adventure.  For additional information about this fine organization, refer to their website at: https://www.wildwarrior.us/ ]

Woolly Bugger Blonde (aka: Goldihops) is easy drinking and refreshing.  I always have it on tap during the summertime; it’s Mac’s most popular brew.  But what is a “Woolly Bugger” you ask?  It’s a fly fishing lure (or fly).  In fact, it’s one of the most common lures found in a fly fisherman’s tackle box (thus the slogan attached to the name of the beer . . . “Every Fisherman Should Have a Couple.”).

Fat Ass in a Glass: Brewed July 6, 2019.  12.0% ABV (so far), 72 IBU.

This is an English style Barleywine, the same recipe (scaled up) that won first place at the Orange County Fair homebrew competition in 2017, and brewed commercially at Phantom Ales in Anaheim, CA.  This time I brewed a 15-gallon batch (in collaboration with my young friend, Dave Hollandbeck) in order to age it in a 15-gallon oak bourbon barrel.  The beer was conditioned, post fermentation, in three 5-gallon carboys for three months.  It went into the Few Spirits Bourbon barrel at 12% ABV on October 23, 2019, where it will remain for 6 – 8 months while developing a smooth Bourbon character.  I tasted a small sample when I racked it to the barrel – it’s quite good, sweet (as per the style) and smooth for such a big beer that’s this young.  I will have it on tap (on nitrogen) sometime in late spring or early summer 2020.

Hurricane Mac: Brewed July 24, 2019.  7.2% ABV, 45 IBU.

Our homeowners association has an end of summer block party each year.  They asked me to brew a batch of beer for the party; this year I brewed 10 gallons of Hurricane Mac (a Category 5 Tropical Hop Storm).  I brewed this recipe once before (for Mac’s beer appreciation party in September 2018), but I couldn’t get the same hops this time (Zythos was unavailable), so I substituted with Mandarina Bavaria.  I think this was a good choice – the beer was delicious, with loads of citrus, tangerine, grapefruit, melon, berry and mango flavors.  Unfortunately, all the neighbors were thirsty that day and drank most of the 10 gallons.  I was left with just a few pints for myself, so I brewed it again on October 15th (this time with fellow brewer Jeff Nash).  It’s currently dry-hopping, and I hope to have it back on tap by mid-November.  If you spend Thanksgiving Day at Mac’s Brew Pub, you can have as much Hurricane Mac as you like, and then you will be truly thankful!

Strange Addiction: Brewed May 30, 2018.  13% ABV (est.), 78 IBU.

I’ve written about Strange Addiction for over a year, and now it’s finally on tap.  This is a 15-gallon bourbon barrel aged English style Imperial Oatmeal Stout.  After barrel aging (in the Few Spirits Bourbon barrel) for 7 months I racked it to three 5-gallon kegs in April 2019.  I added coffee to one keg (Strange Addiction – Coffee), and coconut to a second keg (Strange Addiction – Coconut).  The third keg was left as the unmodified base beer (Strange Addiction).  Strange Addiction and Strange Addiction – Coffee were carbonated and then pressurized with nitrogen for dispensing in April.  SA – Coconut required extra attention.

It took me about 3 months of experimenting with the coconut version and sampling it for the flavor development.  Finally, in August (2019) I carbonated it and put it on nitrogen with SA – Coffee.  I removed the unmodified SA from the nitrogen tap and bottled it (500 ml bottles).  I now have three versions of Strange Addiction available at Mac’s Brew Pub.

[A quick side note about Strange Addiction: The name of this beer originates with an Australian fellow I met at the 2018 Kentucky Derby, Peter Chapman (refer to Mac’s Brew News – June 26, 2018 and Mac’s Brew News September 17, 2018 for full details about the brewing, aging and naming of this incredible beer).  I told him I would ship one bottle of each version of Strange Addiction to him when it was all ready.  I filled three bombers (one of each version) and when I contacted FedEx to send them to Australia, I learned the shipping charges would be a minimum of $230 USD.  Being the cheap bastard that I am, I backed out of my agreement with Peter and instead sent him a Strange Addiction tap handle (about $40 for shipping via US Postal Service).  Hey Peter, my apologies, mate, but if you make it over to the colonies any time soon, you’re welcome to come by Mac’s Brew Pub and have as much Strange Addiction as you want – if I still have any by then.  Thanks for your understanding!

BREAKING NEWS ALERT!

I entered Strange Addiction – Coffee and Strange Addiction – Coconut into the Southern California Regional Homebrewing Championship (October 19, 2019).  SA – Coconut won gold, and SA – Coffee won a silver medal.  I knew these were excellent beers, but I didn’t know how well they would compete.  Beers on nitrogen have a special consistency and creamy smooth mouth feel that add a lot to their enjoyment.  HOWEVER, when bottling a nitrogen dispensed homebrew, something is lost in the translation because the nitrogen effect is lost (commercial brewers can effectively bottle nitrogen beers because they have expensive, specialized equipment that allows nitrogen carryover in the container).  So, I increased the volume of CO2 in the Strange Addiction variants for a couple of days prior to filling a few bottles for the competition, hoping that it wouldn’t seem to be completely flat when the judges opened the bottles and sampled the competition beer.  I guess it worked, or maybe it made no difference as the beer was so good that it didn’t matter.  Whatever the case, it pleased the judges.  When I get the score sheets with comments, I’ll look to see if they mentioned anything about the carbonation level.

That’s about it for all the latest news about Mac’s Brew.  However, I must give a “Shout Out” to a couple of fine young fellows I met on Friday (November 1st) at Fullerton Brew Company in downtown Fullerton.  I walked into the establishment for Friday afternoon Happy Hour when a group of about 8 – 10 young men started shouting at me, “They have Pliny on tap, they have Pliny on tap!”  In my arrogance I assumed they all knew I was the award-winning Mac of Mac’s Brew Pub, and they wanted to gain my favor by informing me that the nearly impossible-to-find Pliny the Elder (Russian River Brewing) was available on tap.  Well, it turns out that I’m not so famous after all . . .  they had no idea who I was (nor did they care) but were just being helpful and courteous when they saw I was wearing a Russian River Brewing “Pliny the Younger” shirt.

Later, after having two pints of PTE, I went over to their table to thank them for their kindness in notifying me.  By then most of the group was gone and only two remained – “Condor” and “G”.  I struck up a conversation with these two delightful young men and found out they are Firefighters for the City of Fullerton (this was also when I learned that they didn’t know who I was, but informed me about the PTE because of my shirt).

At Fullerton Brew Co., November 1, 2019. Deb, “G”, Mac, and “Condor”; Rose is center, front row.

So, “Condor” and “G”, I offer a huge THANK YOU for the heads-up about the PTE at Fullerton Brew Co.  Also, thank you for your service to the community – I wish all the best to you, and admonish you to be safe out there.  Oh, and you are always welcome at Mac’s Brew Pub (just contact me through this website and I will give you the taproom location where the award-winning beer is plentiful, cold and free).

Sláinte!

Mac’s Brew News – October 27, 2019

Greetings beer seekers.  It was a long busy summer at Mac’s Brew Pub, and I have a lot of information for all you readers to catch up on, so I’ll get right to it.  Please read responsibly!

As I mentioned in the previous newsletter, we went to Belgium and Netherlands for a couple of weeks in April.  As many of you know, Belgium is widely considered the beer capitol of the world, so this was a trip that I was excited to make.

We were in Belgium for only a few days; most of our time was spent in Netherlands.  However, I would say that Belgium and Netherlands are almost like one country – they share a common border and a common language (Flemish), so the beer scene is similar in both countries (though it is more important and prevalent in Belgium).  I’m not wild about Belgian style beers, but since Belgium is the beer capitol, I was determined to embrace it.

All of the well-known Belgian beers that we can easily obtain here in the US were available and plentiful there (Stella Artois, Chimay, Duvel, Westmalle, Rodenbach, etc.).  I was more interested in drinking the local and lesser known beers, i.e., those unavailable in the US.  I had several good ones.  One thing I found interesting is that each of the breweries has their own glassware.  If you go to a bar and order a Chimay, it will be served in a Chimay glass; if you order a Westmalle, it will be served in a Westmalle glass, etc.

In Netherlands, the beer scene is very similar.  Heineken is ubiquitous (it’s also one of the largest breweries in the world), and the other well-known Dutch beers are widely available (Amstel, Grolsch, etc.) in restaurants and pubs.  I didn’t bother with any of this type of beer while we were there.

The craft beer scene in Belgium/Netherlands is quite limited but will hopefully expand.  It’s not like the US, where new breweries are opening all the time, and the existing beer styles are rapidly evolving and with new styles frequently added.  I think that in Europe they are very much steeped in tradition, and change is resisted.  Craft beer has a very small market share and low growth trajectory.  People want to drink what they’ve always drank, and are not too interested in trying something new, so the demand for craft beer is not high.

We toured Brouwerij de Hemel (Brewery of Heaven) in Nijmegen, Netherlands, and sampled their beer.  It was good, though not great (Caveat: I’m spoiled by all the great breweries and beer in Orange County, Southern California, and the West Coast, so European craft beer is at least 20 years behind us).  Brouwerij de Hemel is quite small (they brew on a 3-barrel system), and is only distributed in the immediate area, so you won’t find their beer very far from Nijmegen.

Our travel group of eight sampling beer at Brouwerij de Hemel on April 8, 2019. Clockwise from left: Don & Donna Evans; Kristie & Jim (Jr.) Ott; Barbara & Jim Ott; Sheila; Rose Evans. (Mac not pictured)

We also went to Jopen, a brewpub in Haarlem (near Amsterdam).  This brewery is fairly large and is housed in a former brick church building (their slogan – “Crafting Devine Beer”).  We ate lunch there.  The food was good, and the beer was quite good – we all had a flight of three beers, and I had a pint of “Yankee Punch”, a New England style Double IPA, brewed with American hops.  This was really good, and a very pleasant surprise.

Brouwerij Jopen. Notice the stained glass windows – this building used to house a church.
The beer selection at Jopen – April 12, 2019

On Sunday, April 7, while the rest of our group (including Sheila, Rose and Donna) were shopping in Maastricht, Don (my brother-in-law) and I found a small bar, Twee Heeren, where we were surprised to find an IPA.  This was a solid IPA, but one would never confuse it with Pliny the Elder.  I would love to tell you the name of the beer and the brouwerij (brewery), but the bartender spoke limited English and the label on the tap said, “BIER VAN DE MAAND”.  I thought this was the name of the beer, but later learned that ”BIER VAN DE MAAND” simply translates to “BEER OF THE MONTH”, and thus I have no idea what beer this was.  Good one, Mac!!

Beer of the Month at Twee Heeren in Maastricht, Netherlands on Sunday April 7, 2019. It was an IPA (NFD, due to my ignorance of the Dutch language).

So, here is my informed opinion of the craft beer scene in Belgium and Netherlands:

  • It’s in its infancy, compared to the US.
  • The selections (styles) are limited.
  • The brewers are not too bold – no one is pushing the envelope.  For example, what they consider a hoppy IPA would barely qualify here as an American style Pale Ale.
  • You would be hard pressed to find experimental beers, “one-offs” or non-traditionals (pumpkin beer – unlikely; coffee beer – forget it; pastry stout – don’t even think about it; etc.).  I saw some of these styles on tap at Jopen, but no bars or restaurants had anything like them.

Having said that, I will say this:

  • If you’re going to run a brewery, you have to sell your product, or you won’t be in business very long.  I don’t think the market is there (yet) in Belgium/Netherlands.
  • Think about the American craft beer scene 30 years ago – it was in its infancy, and no one at that time could conceive of the craft beer that is available today (e.g., the original bourbon barrel aged beer, brewed by Goose Island in 1992, Bourbon County Brand Stout, was packaged and released to the public for the first time in 2005.  Before that there was no bourbon barrel aged beer.).
  • I think the Belgian people consider all of their beer to be craft beer, and rightfully so.  It’s really good stuff (if you like the Belgian style) and will never be confused with “Fizzy Yellow Beer.”  Therefore, they don’t see the need to expand their repertoire.
  • The young people of Europe imitate Americans.  Unfortunately, when it comes to beer, that means Budweiser and Coors, which are popular there.  That’s a shame!
  • Give them some time . . . well, I should say, give them a lot of time, because entrenched cultural phenomena change slowly, and the beer culture is very entrenched there.

I’ll sign off for now, lest this newsletter gets too lengthy and you lose interest.  BUT, watch for another newsletter very soon with some very exciting news about Mac’s Brew.

Sláinte!

Mac’s Brew News – June 18, 2019

Greetings beer lovers.  I must apologize for not posting a newsletter sooner – I know, I always say that.  I need to get off my dead butt and produce more than I have been the last year or so. I beg your indulgence, and please forgive.

My last newsletter was almost 5 months ago, and a lot has happened since then, so I will attempt to bring you up to speed as quickly as possible.  Here is what has been going on at Mac’s Brew since the last newsletter.  Please read responsibly!

In February I went to Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, CA, for our annual Pliny the Younger trek.  On the way up to Santa Rosa (it’s 500 miles), we stopped for the night in Paso Robles.  That afternoon Sheila and I went to Barrel House Brewing for beer tasting, then drove about 2 miles over to the Firestone Walker Brewery/Taproom/Restaurant, for dinner and more beer.  If you ever have occasion to go through Paso Robles, you really need to visit these two breweries.

Sheila and Mac enjoying a beer at Barrel House Brewing Co., in Paso Robles, CA, after a long drive. February 4, 2019
Our flight at Barrel House Brewing Co.

Now on to Santa Rosa . . . last year I went with my Dad, then met Uncle Kevin and my cousin, Jordan Schiller, at Russian River Brewing (refer to my newsletter of February 18, 2018 for details).  This year, we had a party of 12: Mac, Bob, Sheila, Mike, Deb, Kevin, Steve, Jordan, Bryce, Ryan, Scott, and Ryan).  It was absolutely a riot!  We learned from last year about how to get in with the first wave of seekers, so we got in line at about 10:15 AM and were seated before 11:00 AM when they open (I think they wanted to impress the legendary Mac).

With a party of 12, one might think it would be difficult to get a table.  Au Contraire!! We were given the table of honor – on the stage, under the PTY sign (see photo; again, this could be because of Mac’s reputation).  They treated us like royalty, and the Pliny flowed!!  Here are the details . . .

We’re all drinking PTY. Clockwise starting front left – Ryan, Ryan, Jordan, Bob, Kevin, Steve, Mike, Deb, Sheila, Mac, Bryce and Scott. Cheers!

Bob, Sheila, Mac, Mike and Deb met for breakfast at a The Parish Café (a New Orleans style restaurant a couple of doors down from RR) at 9:00 AM (yes, we had beignets!!) and were in line at Russian River by 10:00 AM.  The rest of our party joined us within a few minutes, and we were seated at about 10:50 AM.  My sister, DEB, is not a beer drinker, but could not resist the mystique of PTY, so she joined us for the day (more on how that worked out in the next paragraph).  My good friend and sometime brewing partner, Bryce Lowrance, also joined us with three of his friends (Ryan, Scott, and Ryan, aka, Rone).  Uncle Kevin came from Seattle, his good friend, Steve, came all the way from Santa Rosa, and my cousin, Jordan, came from San Francisco. This was a memorable day with a fun group.

The food was good, and the Pliny the Younger was GREAT!!  Now, about my sister, Deb.  She does not drink beer, but wanted to participate . . . [Here is how the PTY thing works: when you get into the pub, they give you a wrist band with three tabs – you are allowed to have 3 x 10 oz. pours of PTY.  The server takes a tab from your wristband each time a PTY is ordered.]  Deb ordered her first (and only) PTY along with everyone else at our table.  When it was delivered, she drank a few sips but couldn’t take any more (as I previously stated, she’s not a beer drinker, and PTY is not a novice beer).  SOOOOOO, her husband (my brother-in-law), Mike, drank the rest of her PTY.  During the course of the event, he also drank his own allotment of three PTY’s, plus Deb’s allotment of PTY.  That means he drank about 5 ½ PTY’s that day.  He then complained that someone was stealing his PTY and consuming it while he wasn’t looking.  Nice try, Mike, but that’s not working here!  NOW, I say all that to say this, Mike had (almost) twice as much PTY as anybody else at our table, but claimed that he only had about ½ as much. You’re killing me MIKE!!  Oh, and even though Deb doesn’t drink beer (and didn’t like PTY), she had a sour ale that she enjoyed (Supplication).  Cheers, Deb!

Mike, Deb, Sheila and Mac at Russian River Brewing. February 6, 2019.

We ate lunch at Russian River Brewing while we drank our PTY and then we all went over to Cooperage Brewing a couple of miles away.  The beer at Cooperage was also quite good.  We spent about an hour there (I had a flight) then called it a day.

The quest for Pliny the Younger was quite involved – a long drive, waiting lines and coordinating our party to get everyone in line at the same time.  But it was well worth the effort, and I plan to repeat this next year.

The opening of the Russian River facility in Windsor seemed to have a very positive impact on the event.  The lines definitely seemed shorter.  I do believe that going mid-week and arriving before the pub opens also helps to speed up the wait times.  I considered going to the Windsor location to get The Younger, but decided against it after consulting with Kevin McCaffrey (we were both on the same page on this one, and the decision was an easy one).  Good call, Kevin!

After saying goodbye to Santa Rosa, Sheila and I went to Pacific Grove for a few days, where we were joined by Mom and Dad.  On Saturday February 9, Dad and I went on a little brewery tour in Monterey while Sheila and Mom shopped.  We visited Fieldwork Brewing and Alvarado Street Brewing where we had flights of delicious beer.  The taproom at Fieldwork is outdoors, and we got a bit of rain that morning; fortunately we had a table that was sheltered, so we managed to stay dry while we drank our beer.  Due to the rain and the limited seating under cover, we were joined at our table by a delightful young couple from San Carlos, Nick and Stephanie Fustar.  [Nick, and/or Stephanie, if you are reading this newsletter, you have a standing invitation to join me at Mac’s Brew Pub for free beer any time!]

Mac enjoying a flight at Fieldwork Brewing in Monterey. February 9, 2019.

After the rain let up, we walked to Alvarado Street Brewing, a popular brewpub just down the street.  We enjoyed some appetizers and a flight of Alvarado Street beers, and then drove back to Pacific Grove.  Yes, Dad and I missed out on a Saturday full of shopping with the women, but a few fine beers assuaged our disappointment.

After Pacific Grove, our next stop was Cambria. If you have ever travelled to the Central Coast area of California, then you know that Firestone Walker beer is ubiquitous and plentiful.  It’s no different in Cambria, but we also found lots of other good beer in town. Dad and I went to the 927 Beer Company, a nano brewery and taproom.  The Robust Porter and the Oatmeal Stout were very good.  The West End Bar and Grill is always on our agenda when we go to Cambria – they have about 15 beers on tap, and their Halibut Fish and Chips are delicious. On the East end, the Cambria Pub and Steakhouse is the place to go for beer.  They have a nice selection of local beers (including offerings from Firestone Walker and Barrel House Brewing) and reasonable prices.

After Cambria, vacation was over and so we returned home to regular life at Mac’s Brew Pub (but not for long – see details in the upcoming newsletter of our Belgium/Netherlands vacation in early April).  I did a lot of brewing this spring, and I will provide details in the next newsletter, but this one is already too long, so I’m signing off before you lose interest.  I promise to get the next newsletter out within a few short weeks, so stay tuned.

Sláinte!

Fremont Brewing (Dark Star – Coffee Edition, and B-Bomb)

Today I bring you all the luscious details of two black beauties from Seattle’s Fremont Brewing.  Dark Star and B-Bomb are limited release ales aged in bourbon barrels.  They are extremely satisfying, albeit somewhat difficult to obtain; both are 2018 limited release bottles.  Please read responsibly.


Dark Star (Coffee Edition): Fremont Brewing, Seattle WA.  13.6% ABV.

This beer is an Imperial Oatmeal Stout with coffee added, and aged in bourbon barrels.  It pours pitch black with a ¼” cocoa colored head that fades immediately to a ¼” ring around the perimeter of a tulip glass.  The aroma is coffee, though not strong, with some chocolate and an overall sweetness.

Dark Star (Coffee Edition)
Fremont Brewing

The flavor is sweet dark chocolate with hints of coffee, vanilla, and toffee.  It’s quite sweet.  There are also notes of raisin and fig, but alcohol is not detected.  It fades to sweet vanilla and chocolate.  The aftertaste is bourbon (vanilla, coconut) and semi-sweet chocolate, which lingers forever.  Carbonation is low; the body is thick with a creamy, silky smooth mouth feel.

As Dark Star warms, the alcohol becomes quite apparent in the nose.  In the flavor, the sweet dark chocolate increases and the coffee fades.  The bourbon nuance substantially increases late on the palate and in the aftertaste, and the alcohol becomes slightly noticeable with some heat in the back of the mouth and in the throat.  In spite of the mouth/throat warming, alcohol is still not noted in the flavor (although its effect is QUITE pronounced!).


B-Bomb: Fremont Brewing, Seattle WA.  14% ABV.

Although not a stout, B-Bomb is a dark Winter Ale with a very high alcohol content.  Like Dark Star, it too is aged in bourbon barrels.

B-Bomb
Fremont Brewing

B-Bomb pours dark brown, almost black, with a ½” cocoa head that fades after two minutes to a substantial ring and thin cover. The aroma is vanilla, brown sugar and caramel.  The flavor is . . . WOW!  Thick chocolate, raisin, caramel, vanilla and brown sugar.  It’s pretty sweet, but not cloying.  The bourbon takes over late on the palate and is very much in command, yet is not overwhelming or boozy; there is also just a hint of coffee, and a hint of bitterness.  The flavor fades to a lingering bourbon, vanilla, and oak aftertaste.

The body is thick with a smooth, velvety mouth feel.  The carbonation level is low-medium, with enough effervescence to tickle and cleanse the tongue.

As B-Bomb warms, there is more chocolate in the nose, and bitter chocolate becomes more prevalent early, mid and late palate. Alcohol also becomes noticeable in the nose, and much more so in the taste.  It’s never harsh or boozy, however.

What is a Winter Ale?  Usually that means a beer higher in alcohol (thus the term “Winter Warmer”) and with some spices added for flavor complexity. I would actually classify B-Bomb in the Stout category.  However you want to classify this one, know that it is EXCELLENT!


Well, there you have it beer lovers.  Two wonderful beers from Fremont Brewing in Seattle.  Dark Star (Coffee Edition) is rated the #1 Oatmeal Stout in the world on Beer Advocate. That’s pretty heady stuff, and it’s excellent beer, but I’m not sure it rates that much praise.  Let’s wait to see how Strange Addiction (Coffee Edition) turns out.  I think it will compare favorably to Dark Star (Coffee Edition).  This beer is difficult to locate. My uncle, Kevin McCaffrey (“The Bomb”), sent this beer to me from Seattle. I have not seen it locally, but it’s probably available somewhere in Southern California.

In regards to B-Bomb: This is truly one of the world’s great beers.  By far, it’s the best Winter Ale (Winter Warmer) I’ve ever tasted.  There’s nothing even close to it.  I purchased this at Total Wine – $19.99 for a 22 oz. bomber.  That’s a steal folks, for a beer this rich and decadent.  So, if you can still find it, buy it!  [Caveat: Fizzy yellow beer drinkers and cheapskates – don’t bother; you won’t appreciate it, and you’re not worthy anyway.]

Sláinte!

Mac’s Brew News – January 26, 2019

Greetings All.  You’re on this blog site because you’re interested in good beer, and especially good beer from Mac’s Brew.  To satisfy your demand for beer knowledge, here’s all the news you need to know (for now).  Please read responsibly!

As I mentioned in my last newsletter, I’ve been so busy that brewing here has slowed down to the point that I currently have only three beers on tap (in 2018 I only brewed 8 batches/85 gallons of beer).  I know, that’s just not right, but I’m taking steps to correct that problem.

We had a Thanksgiving celebration here, with extended family present.  Then on December 15thRosie graduated from Art Center College of Design (in Pasadena).  We had a graduation party that night with family and friends in attendance.  With these two parties, we emptied 3 out of 6 kegs, which is why we currently have only 3 beers on tap.  But, the 3 beers are very good.  I brewed an IPA three weeks ago, but it won’t be on tap until February.

In early February Sheila and I are leaving for Santa Rosa.  Yes, for the second year in a row, I will be going to Russian River Brewing on a Pliny the Younger quest.  Last year there were four people (including me) in our party and we had a great time. This year our party has grown to nine people, and we plan to trek over to another Santa Rosa brewery after having our ration of PTY at Russian River.

I was fortunate to meet three young fellows on Black Tuesday at The Bruery this past October.  These men were from Santa Rosa and suggested that I visit three small breweries in town – Plow Brewing, Cooperage Brewing, and Moonlight Brewing. It just so happens that all three of these breweries are close to each other, and just a few miles away from RR. Unfortunately we won’t have time to visit all three, so we’ve chosen to visit Cooperage Brewing.

If you were not aware, Russian River Brewing has opened another facility (brewery and bistro) a few miles up the road from their Santa Rosa location.  We are hoping that the new facility (much larger than their SR brewpub) will draw off a significant portion of the crowd from Santa Rosa, resulting in shorter wait times.  I’ll let you know how that works out for us.  And, by the way, this year Sheila is attending the PTY madness with us at Russian River (last year she went wine tasting while I was beer tasting).  She will be the sole female in our group that day, but I have no doubt she will be able to hold her own (and she loves IPAs).

I’m sure you’re all anxious to know what is currently being offered at Mac’s.  Here is the current and soon-to-be available beer list.

Maktoberfest: Brewed June 22, 2018.  5.5 ABV, 26 IBU
This is one of my most requested and sought after brews, second only to Goldihops (Honey Blonde Ale).  It’s really easy drinking with the low alcohol and bitterness, and Oktoberfest style beers are very popular.  I brewed this alone, so I had 10 gallons for consumption at Mac’s Brew Pub, and that’s why it’s still on tap (since the beginning of September 2018). For additional description, see my newsletter of September 17, 2018.

San Andreas Malt: Brewed September 19, 2018.  5.4 on the Richter Scale, 43 IBU.
This is a California Common style lager brewed in collaboration with my friend, Jeff Nash (see Newsletter of September 17, 2018, for additional information on this beer style).  This was a new recipe and first time brewed.  That usually means tweaking the recipe and process for subsequent batches in order to get the beer I envision.  However, this turned out fantastic and I don’t plan on changing anything with future batches.  It’s a medium amber color with a slightly malty aroma, but not sweet.  The flavor is clean, crisp and hoppy, but with a nice moderately rich malt foundation (bread, toast, caramel and grainy) and dry finish that makes it well balanced (but definitely on the hoppy side).  It’s very similar to (but not a clone of) the standard bearer in this style category – Anchor “Steam Beer”.  San Andreas Malt is so good it’s shaking my world!

Wide Awake Drunk: Brewed November 7, 2018.  5.0% ABV, 45 IBU.
This is an annual fall brew at Mac’s.  It’s an English style oatmeal stout with cold brewed coffee and conditioned with cacao nibs for a nice mocha flavor.  It’s dispensed on nitrogen, so it’s creamy smooth with very little carbonation bite. It really tastes like a big stout, even though it’s only 5% ABV.  This brew was a collaboration with my young brewing friend, Dave Hollandbeck.  [Note: Dave, I need to get you over here to have WAD on nitrogen.]

Reefer Nearness: Brewed January 6, 2019.  7.1% ABV (so far), 127 IBU.
Designed and brewed in collaboration with another young brewing friend, Bryce Lowrance, this is a West Coast style IPA using Nugget hops for bittering, and Azacca and Idaho 7 hops for aroma and flavor.  It’s currently dry hopping and in the final stages of conditioning.  When I last checked (11 days ago) it was 7.1% ABV, but could possibly go just a bit higher – I’ll know when I keg it on January 31st.

I’m sure you all want to know where the name of this beer (“Reefer Nearness”) comes from, so here’s the story.  Is there anyone in this country who hasn’t seen, or at least heard of the movie, “Reefer Madness” (a 1936 propaganda film)?  Of course not.  What is not so widely known, however, is that hops (Humulus Lupulus) are a close cousin of cannabis.  Yes, it’s true (next time you have a chance to smell some hops, note the pungent “skunky” aroma), but of course hops have no THC, the psycho-active component of marijuana.  My point is this: hops are very NEAR TO MARIJUANA.  Because of this close relationship I’ve always wanted to name an IPA something along the lines of “Reefer Madness”, but of course it’s not actually reefer.  Thus, “Reefer Nearness– The Bitter Pill That Makes Life Sweet” was born.

Reefer Nearness is still conditioning, so I have not yet tasted it.  I only hope it’s good enough to cause as much of a stir as its namesake (“Reefer Madness”).

I think my next brew will be Goldihops.  I plan to brew it in mid-February after returning from Santa Rosa.  I need to start looking for a brewing partner for this one.

In 2018 I did not enter any brewing competiions – we were too busy travelling.  I plan to enter some of my brews into a couple of competitions this year. The American Homebrewers Association national competition is coming up soon and I think I will enter San Andreas Malt and Maktoberfest.  I’m considering Wide Awake Drunk, and I may enter Reefer Nearness, depending on how it turns out.  If I can get Goldihops brewed in time, I will also enter that into the national.  The Orange County Fair competition is coming up in May, so I have to start thinking about entries for that competition as well.

Well, that’s all I have time for now, and of course, that’s about all you have time to read today (sorry this got so lengthy). Check in again soon, or subscribe to macsbrew.com to get all the latest news and beer reviews.

Sláinte!

Black Raven Brewing (Coco Jones & Grandfather Raven)

Well folks, it’s time to open your minds and receive the first Beer Review lecture of 2019 from Mac.  Today I will enlighten you about two dark selections from a small brewery in Redmond Washington.  Please read responsibly!

Black Raven Brewing is not distributed to my area (Southern California), but as you know, I am well connected, and managed to score two bottles of each of the below listed beers.  In this case, the supplier is my overly generous uncle, Kevin McCaffrey, who lives in Seattle.  I love you, man!

Coco Jones: Black Raven Brewing, Redmond, WA.  5.6% ABV.
This is an award winning Coconut Porter.  The base beer is a Brown Porter, which is more in the English style, as opposed to Robust Porter which is more American style. That means Brown Porter is a bit sweeter, without the well-pronounced bitter roasty and coffee notes that characterize a Robust Porter.  [Note: Brown Porters are much more difficult to find than the ubiquitous Robust Porter style that abounds around these parts.]

I had heard of this beer, but was never able to obtain any because it’s not distributed widely.  When I found this on my doorstep, I was elated, and eagerly anticipated drinking and reviewing it.  My first impression, from smelling the aroma and taking that first sip, was disappointment. I was expecting a big bitter, roasty, coffee slap in the face.  It wasn’t like that at all.  In fact the flavors were much more subdued, and I was thinking that the praise I had previously heard about this beer was exaggerated.  It wasn’t until after I looked it up on the Black Raven website that I realized it was a Brown Porter.  After this enlightenment, I settled down and really appreciated this beer.

Coco Jones at Mac’s Brew Pub

Coco Jones pours dark brown with a ½” light beige head that lasts for a couple of minutes before fading to a substantial ring. The aroma is sweet – vanilla and semi-sweet chocolate, with a hint of coconut.  The flavor is more neutral, leaning toward bitter, but not sweet as suggested by the aroma.  Unsweetened coconut is front and center along with notes of slightly bitter cocoa, fading to a mellow and subdued coconut aftertaste that lingers for a short time.

The body and mouth feel is somewhat thin.  It is well carbonated, which bites the tongue and adds to the perception of bitterness.

As it warms, the coconut aroma increases as the sweetness in the nose decreases.  Of course the carbonation level decreases as it warms, causing the flavor to lose some of its bitterness, but cocoa and coconut flavors remain strong. There are no coffee notes in this beer, but I taste a slight roastiness.

Coco Jones is quite good.  It is very pleasant to drink; the cocoa and coconut flavors, and the low-moderate alcohol level makes it easy drinking.  Well done.

Grandfather Raven: Black Raven Brewing, Redmond WA.  9.5% ABV.
Grandfather Raven is a Russian Imperial Stout from Black Raven Brewing.  It is available on a rotating basis.

Grandfather Raven

This beer pours pitch black with a ½” cocoa colored head (in a tulip glass).  The foam persists for a few minutes, then fades to a very substantial ring and a thin covering.  The aroma is sweet, with notes of coffee, brown sugar, vanilla and chocolate.  The flavor is semi-sweet chocolate, coffee, and brown sugar, then fades to just semi-sweet chocolate in the aftertaste.  There are nuances of plum, raisin and prunes on the palate as well.  Alcohol, though fairly high, is not detected in the flavor or aroma.

The carbonation level is low-medium, with medium body and mouth feel.  As previously mentioned, the substantial foam ring and thin foam covering persisted throughout the session, so it is surprising that the beer left no lacing in the glass.

As Grandfather Raven warms, the alcohol becomes slightly evident in the aroma.  The coffee fades as the aroma becomes sweeter with more pronounced chocolate impressions.  The flavors become a bit stronger, but still no alcohol is observed.

Grandfather Raven is very good, but not distinguished from many other beers in the Imperial Russian Stout category.  It’s big (high alcohol with full and complex flavors) and a little chewy, but if you want an IRS that’s really in your face, try something like Stone “Woot Stout”, or any number of barrel-aged stouts on the market.

The bottom line for these beers: I can highly recommend Coco Jones; I also recommend Grandfather Raven, but it’s just another good Imperial Stout.  Coco Jones is a very good example of its style, and the coconut adds a special characteristic and depth to the brew.  Grandfather Raven is not particularly special like The Nothing (see my review of The Nothing by Smog City Brewing, posted 10-05-2018), but it’s still worth having.

I must give a little shout out and a special “Thank You” to my uncle, Kevin McCaffrey.  Sending these Washington beers to me in So Cal where I can’t get them was beyond considerate.  Imagine my delight when I found these at the entrance of Mac’s Brew Pub (the day before Thanksgiving).  Lucky for me, I still have one bottle of each to enjoy at my leisure.  Kevin sent several other Seattle beers as well. Stay tuned for reviews of those beers in the very near future.  KEVIN, YOU ARE THE BOMB!!

Sláinte!

Mac’s Brew News – December 23, 2018

Greetings Beer Lovers.  It’s been awhile since my last newsletter, but now it’s time to bring you all up to date about what’s happening at Mac’s Brew.  Please read responsibly!

Fall is a busy time at Mac’s Brew.  Football games, travel, brewing beer – it all adds up to a very hectic schedule.  My favorite football team laid an egg this season.  Oh well, better luck next year.  I brewed only two batches of beer this fall (San Andreas Malt and Wide Awake Drunk).  Both are currently on tap.  More about those in my next newsletter.  Our travels were the highlight of the fall season.

Sheila and I went to Italy for a couple of weeks in October, along with Rose Evans (mother-in-law), Don Evans (brother-in-law) and Donna Evans (sister-in-law).  While there, I went on a craft beer quest – after all, I need to keep current on worldwide beer trends.  Good craft beer is not easy to find in Italy, but it is available if you seek it out. Most everyone has had Birra Moretti and/or Peroni – two well known Italian Pilsner Lagers that are available everywhere in the United States.  Of course they are ubiquitous in Italy, and I did drink some of it while I was there (they were the only things available in some of the restaurants where we ate). Those are typical Pilsners, although I would argue that they only rank as so-so in that style category.  Oh well, it was beer.

As a side note, just a couple of short years ago, Don was strictly a Coors Light drinker.  He has significantly expanded his horizons since then, and has become quite a discriminating craft beer lover (I hope I had something to do with that transformation).  Donna, on the other hand, is still a Coors Light girl.  To her credit, however, she was game and sampled much of the craft beer that Don and I drank in Italy.  Some she didn’t like at all, and several others drew this comment from her, “Well, I don’t hate it.”  And then there was actually one that she liked (noted below).

Now, about the beer in Italy (Craft and otherwise) . . . here is what you need to know about it.  I will provide very limited details of the beers I consumed while in Italy. Rather than giving you detailed beer reviews, I will just touch on the highlights and include them in this newsletter. I list them in the order I found/drank them, and offer just a few details of each one.  [Note: This is not an exhaustive list.  I had some non-craft beer that is not included here – I have no notes, and it was pretty forgettable.]

Our first stop in Italy was Venice.  As everybody knows, instead of streets, they have canals in Venice, as the city is built on swampland.

Theresianer Vienna: Antica Birreria Di Triesta.  5.3% ABV
(Silver at 2011 Chicago World Beer Championship; Bronze 2015 International Beer Challenge)

I can’t find my notes on this beer. This is a Vienna Lager.  Think Samuel Adams Boston Lager, but not that good. Sorry I can’t be more specific, but know that it’s decent beer, and shines compared to Birra Moretti.  I drank this at the bar in the Hotel Bauer in Venice (its where we stayed).

La Rossa: BirraNatura.  6.0% ABV
La Rossa means red.  A lot of Italian breweries put out a “La Rossa”, including Birra Moretti (the best La Rossa I had in Italy).  I don’t have my notes from this tasting, which occurred at the train station in Venice.  It’s a dunkle lager, but (because I couldn’t read the Italian printing on the bottle while drinking this one) I don’t know much more than that.  I can say this, however, it was altogether forgettable.

We took a high-speed train from Venice to Milan, then hired a shuttle to take us to Bellagio, on Lake Como.  The following three beers I drank at Far Out in Bellagio. Far Out is a small restaurant tucked in an alley just up from the lake, and adjacent to our hotel.  The restaurant offers a selection of craft beer. Don and I went there after dinner on Friday evening, 10-12-18, to sample the beer.   The proprietor, Roberto, was a gracious host who knew craft beer and made suggestions.  He spent quite a bit of time with us and informed us about a craft beer bar (Gambrinus – more on that below) within walking distance.  We enjoyed our experience there so much that evening that we returned there for lunch the following day with Sheila, Rose and Donna. They enjoyed the food and beer as well, and Roberto again treated us as if we were royalty.  Salute, Roberto!

Roberto and Mac at Far Out in Bellagio.

MILF Passion: Birrificio Legnone.  7.0% ABV
An English style Strong Ale.  Deep Amber in color with a light beige head.  Quite malty, and pretty good.  I drank three bottles of this at “Far Out” restaurant/bar in Bellagio (Lake Como).

Yes, I really had MILF Passion in Italy.

Monkey Planet IPA: Birrificio Legnone.  7.0% ABV
An American style IPA, but of course, brewed in Italy.  It was decent, though not terribly exciting.  There’s no doubt it is a mild IPA, but Americans are spoiled by the HUGE selection of outstanding IPAs we enjoy in our country.  This is one of two IPAs I found in Italy.

Spiga Di Legno: Birrificio Legnone.  5.0% ABV.
Golden Ale; very mild.  Low alcohol, easy drinking.  I visited this once, but that was enough.  Donna, a Pilsner drinker, really liked this one.

On Saturday afternoon, 10-13-18, while the girls were shopping, Don and I went to Taverna Gambrinus.  We sat outside in their beer garden and sampled some of their wide selection.  It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, and this is where I had the best Italian beer of the entire two-week excursion in Italy.  Don and I returned to the tavern on Sunday evening for a nightcap or two, and spent our time inside the bar talking to the owner, Fabio.  The place was rather small, but charming, and they had a large selection of craft beer (ok, not like Yardhouse or Heroe’s, but there were about a dozen beers on tap).  Over the course of my two trips to Gambrinus, I sampled the five beers listed next.

Don and Mac at the Beer Garden. Don is drinking Bibock; Mac is having Nigredo. Salute!

Sampling the selections on Saturday afternoon at the Taverna Gambrinus Beer Garden.

Nigredo: Birrificio Italiano.  6.5% ABV
This is a dark lager (schwartzbier), but a bit higher in alcohol than is typical for the style.  Good beer, not great.

Reale Extra: Birra del Borgo.6.4% ABV
American style IPA (hoppy).  Very good.

Bibock: Birrificio Italiano.  6.2% ABVB
This is a German style Bock beer.  It’s malty but mild and balanced.  Not as big as most German bocks, but very tasty. Both Don and I really liked this beer.

Big Sharp: Draco’s Cave.  8.6% ABV
This is a barrel aged strong ale with Brettanomyces. It’s sour but not overwhelming. Oak is noticeable in both the flavor and aroma.  It’s chestnut brown with an off white 1” head that lasts for quite some time in a tulip glass.  It’s very drinkable, not too sour.  This beer is EXCELLENT, and was the best beer I had while in Italy.

Big Sharp – the best beer I had in Italy.

Ghisa: Birrificio Lambrate.  5.0% ABV
This is a smoked stout on nitrogen.  It’s chocolaty with just a hint of smoke. It’s creamy smooth, which adds to the enjoyment of this stout.  I’m a sucker for nitrogen stouts, but this one was pretty forgettable.  Guinness, anyone?

Mac in front of Taverna Gambrinus.

After Bellagio, we moved on to Milan.  I really didn’t find any local craft beer there, but drank some “Craft” type offerings from Birra Poretti and Birra Moretti.  I found one craft beer while on a day trip to Verano.  There we ate lunch with our tour guide for the day, and our driver (for our entire stay in Milan), Fabio Marsala.

2969 Monpier de Gherdeina: Birrificio Gardena SRL.  5.0% ABV
This is a Helles style lager, brewed by Birrificio Gardena in the Dolomites region of Italy (near the German/Austrian border). The printing on the bottle was in both Italian and German.  It is dry hopped with Citra and Amarillo hops, which gives it a hoppy aroma, but the taste is more on the malty side.  This beer is pretty good, but the flavor is light.

In Milan Don and I each had a 1 liter Birra Porettiat a sidewalk café outside of Basilica Milano.  It’s a Pilsner lager, available everywhere, and not memorable.  Think Budweiser or Coors, but not as good.  I’m not going to waste any words describing this beer.  If you’re interested, you mightfind it at any Italian restaurant in the U.S.

Don and Mac having liters of Birra Poretti in the Duomo, Milano.

We ate dinner at a restaurant called Mozzarella e Basilico (right behind our hotel) where we had some pretty good Birra Morreti.  In addition, the servers brought us some delicious variants of Lemoncello – melon flavored and pistachio flavored liquor.

La Rossa: Birra Moretti.  7.2% ABV
As I already mentioned, there are a lot of “La Rossa” beers in Italy.  This was by far the best La Rossa I had.  It was a draft pour at Mozzarella e Basilico.  Deep amber in color, with lots of dark fruit and raisin notes.  Smooth drinking and the relatively high alcohol content was well hidden.  Very good beer.

From Milan we flew down to Sicily, where we stayed in Palermo.  Rose’s grandparents immigrated from Bisacquino and Santo Stefano, two little villages on the island of Sicily.  We went to the Roman Catholic Church in the village square (Bisacquino) where Rose found baptismal and wedding records of her grandparents and earlier ancestors dating back to 1829.

In Palermo we stayed at Grand Hotel Villa Igiea, one of the nicest hotels in town.  They had a bar where Don and I found several Italian Craft beer offerings (all were in 750 ml bombers).

Ulysses: Birraficio Dell’Etna.  5.7% ABV
This is a “Birra Bionda” (American Pale Ale). It’s hazy yellow with a subdued citrus hoppy aroma.  The flavor was grapefruit, but not strong.  It’s a nice enough pale ale, but will not be challenging Sierra Nevada anytime soon.

Polyphemus: Birraficio Dell’Etna.  6.6% ABV
A “Doppio Malto” (Double Malt) ale.  Based on the aroma and flavor, I would say it’s a Belgian Dubbel.  It’s cloudy light brown with a light head.  It has a sweet/spicy aroma and flavor – not too strong, but definitely Belgian.  I’m not a fan of Belgian style beers, but this was pretty good.

Ephisto: Birraficio Dell’Etna.  6.5% ABV
Birra Rosa Doppio Malto (a Belgian Dubbel Amber, bottle conditioned).  It’s hazy red with a white head.  Spicy sweet Belgian aroma and flavor.  The spicy-sweet notes are pretty strong.  It’s definitely a Belgian.  Not my style.

Alla Siciliana: Birra Moretti.  5.8% ABV
Blonde Ale with flower blossoms.  Alla Siciliana is deep yellow with a white head.  It has a sweet aroma with just a bit of orange. The flavor is clean and somewhat fruity, with light spicy and orange notes.  Very tasty beer.

On Saturday 10-20-18 we went into downtown Palermo to see the famous Opera House.  Around lunch time we stopped at a sidewalk café.  I had an ice cream sandwich with pistachio and hazelnut gelato. It wasn’t like our ice cream sandwiches in America.  They cut a bread roll in half and put scoops of gelato between the two pieces of bread. Delicious, if not unusual.  I also had another Italian craft beer.

La Rossa: Birra Vulcano.  6.0% ABV
The label says this is a Belgian Amber ale. It’s amber in color, but I didn’t really detect any signature Belgian flavors or aromas.  It’s sweet with some notes of raisin and dark fruit. Carbonation level is high (it’s bottle conditioned).  Pretty good beer.

The beer (Birra Vulcano) was forgettable, but the ice cream sandwich was delicious. In Palermo.

Well, that just about sums up my quest for craft beer in Italy, but I add one final beer tasting.  On the Alitalia flight home, I had my last Italian beer of the trip. I’m not sure, but it could be the same beer I had on tap at the sidewalk cafe in the Duomo in Milan.

Luppoli 4: Birrificio Angelo Poretti.  5.5% ABV
I just had to try it.  It’s a light colored Pilsner style lager with a nice sweet aroma. The flavor is mild, slightly sweet. I could have had more, but one was quite enough.

My Final Italian beer. It’s likely to be awhile before I have another.

We had lots of fun in Italy – the uniqueness of Venice, the beauty of Lake Como, the bustle of Milan, and the terror of driving in Palermo.  I could write a lot about the sights, but this is a beer blog, after all, and so you all get to hear about the craft beer scene (or rather, the relative lack thereof) in Northern Italy and Sicily.  By far, the best beer in Italy was in Bellagio at Far Out (thanks, Roberto!) and at Taverna Gambrinus (thanks, Fabio!).

I need to give a shout out here to our wonderful driver in Milano.  Fabio Marsala drove us all around the region for four days in a Mercedes Benz van.  He worked long hours, took us to out-of-the-way places, made food and restaurant recommendations, and was always kind and courteous.  Fabio, if you ever read this, know that all five of us (Rose, Sheila, Don, Donna and I) really appreciate your attentiveness.  You’re the bomb!

Our last night in Milano. Donna, Rose, Sheila and Don with our fantastic driver, FABIO.

That’s it for now, beer lovers.  Stay tuned for more beer reviews coming soon.  Merry Christmas.

Salute!

Curly Wolf & CBS

Greetings folks.  It’s time to get educated about good beer.  The cool weather brings out the winter warmers in the craft beer industry. Today I offer my insights into two big, dark ales.  As always, I admonish you to please read responsibly!

Curley Wolf: Barrelhouse Brewing, Paso Robles, CA.  10.3% ABV
Curly Wolf is the big boy offered by Barrelhouse Brewing in Paso Robles.  Never heard of Barrelhouse Brewing?  It’s right down the street from Firestone Walker Brewing.  Curly Wolf is a Russian Imperial Stout, with maple syrup added to the boil, then aged in bourbon barrels with whole vanilla beans.

Curly Wolf pours black with a ½” light cocoa colored head that fades after abut 45 seconds to a 1/8” ring around the perimeter. The aroma is sweet chocolate and vanilla, but is not strong.  The flavor is semi sweet chocolate, vanilla, and bourbon, with notes of coconut, brown sugar, dark fruit, figs, and raisins.  These fade to bitter chocolate, licorice and grainy bitterness.  The bourbon/vanilla notes, though subdued, linger in the aftertaste, along with hints of cocoa.  Alcohol is not detected in the flavor (or aroma).

The carbonation level is low to low-medium.  Curly Wolf is surprisingly thin bodied for such a big imperial stout.

As the beer warms, it becomes much more flavorful. Caramel and maple notes emerge mid palate.  The chocolate and cocoa come through stronger.  The aroma is still a bit neutral, but brown sugar steps up significantly, as does licorice.  Alcohol also becomes noticeable in the aroma, but still not in the flavor.  The bourbon flavor fades away and licorice increases as it warms.

I sampled Curly Wolf on Sunday 12-09-2018 from a 22 oz. bomber that I bought at Barrelhouse Brewing in February 2018. The bottle was labeled “2017.5 RELEASE”. After purchase, I stored this bottle in my cellar and forgot about it until I noticed it last week.

I’ve had Curly Wolf in the tasting room at Barrehouse on several occasions, and have always enjoyed it immensely.  This bottled version was a bit of a disappointment, as the bourbon notes had all but faded away, and the body seemed a little thin. I don’t know if Curly Wolf is better when consumed from a fresh bottle.  What I can say is this – I highly recommend Curly Wolf when consumed on premises in the Barrelhouse taproom.  A 1½ year old bottle is good, but not great.  Next time I pass through Paso Robles I’ll probably buy another bottle of Curly Wolf, but will consume it right away. [Note: I’ve never seen this available for sale in Southern California, so I don’t know how widely it’s distributed.]

CBS: Founders Brewing, Grand Rapids, MI.  11.6% ABV.
“CBS” (Canadian Breakfast Stout) is an Imperial Stout brewed with coffee and chocolate, then aged in maple syrup and bourbon barrels.  So let’s get right to it.

CBS pours black with a ¾” light cocoa colored head that fades after about three minutes to a substantial ring around the perimeter and a wisp of foam covering the surface.  The aroma is coffee, chocolate and vanilla.  The flavor is coffee, sweet chocolate, and vanilla, with just a touch of bourbon.  The sweet chocolate is strong mid-palate and early in the aftertaste, then fades to coffee, cocoa and vanilla, followed by notes of maple and bourbon, with a slight bitterness in the lingering aftertaste.  Alcohol is not noted in the flavor.

CBS is medium thick and silky smooth. Carbonation level is low, but enough to prevent this from being syrupy.  The substantial ring and thin covering lasted throughout the session, and it left nice lacing in the tulip glass.

CBS warms up nicely.  The aroma is a little sweeter, with more vanilla and just a touch of alcohol, but coffee remains front and center.  The flavor is also sweeter and very chocolaty.  At no time is alcohol detected in the flavor, but I notice a pleasant warming on the back end as it approaches room temperature.  The aftertaste remains the same.

CBS is excellent.  In fact, I would rate this as a world-class beer.  I liked it so much I bit the bullet and bought another bottle to enjoy on a future occasion.  It’s only available in November and December, so if you want some, you better get off your couch and get over to a discriminating retail outlet to buy yourself a bottle or two (drink one now, age the other one).  As an aside, if you can’t get your hands on a bottle of CBS, look for a six-pack of Founders Breakfast Stout.  It’s an excellent coffee-oatmeal stout (8.3% ABV) at a reasonable price.

I HIGHLY recommend CBS – it’s worth every penny ($24.99 for a 22 oz. bomber at Total Wine).  I also recommend Curly Wolf, with the caveat noted above (get it in the taproom).  It’s not widely distributed, so the possibility of finding it outside of the California Central Coast area is probably slim.  If you do go to the Barrelhouse taproom, be sure to also taste their Mango IPA; it’s delicious (you get thisrecommendation free of charge).

That’s it for now, beer lovers.  Stay tuned for more about beer in the days to come.

Sláinte!

Fundamental Observation & Stickee Monkee

After posting a flurry of beer reviews early this fall, it’s been nearly two months since my last one.  Here are two beers for your consideration this holiday season. Both of these are Special Release beers, so don’t wait too long if you think you might enjoy them.  Please read responsibly!

Fundamental Observation (2018): Bottle Logic Brewing.  Anaheim, CA.  13.2% ABV.
This is a big Imperial Stout, aged with Madagascar Vanilla beans in a blend of four different brands of bourbon barrels.

Fundamental Observation
November 18, 2018

Fundamental Observation pours cloudy black with a ¼” cocoa brown head that immediately fades to a paper-thin ring around the perimeter.  The aroma is SWEET – vanilla, chocolate, brown sugar, caramel and oak.  The flavor is also sweet, featuring vanilla, chocolate, bourbon, dark fruit, raisin, figs, and brown sugar.  The vanilla is very pronounced on the back end, but fades to a nice lingering chocolate and bourbon aftertaste.

This is definitely a sweet one.  The vanilla is prevalent, but not overwhelming or unpleasant.  It tends to balance out the dark grainy bitterness, which would probably be considerable.  Where is the 13.2% alcohol?  It’s not noticeable in the aroma or flavor, but of course my brain detected it in the form of a massive buzz for the afternoon.

As Fundamental Observation warms, the bourbon becomes quite noticeable in the aroma, along with more intense notes of maple, toffee, and brown sugar.  The underlying flavors – chocolate, dark fruit, raisin, brown sugar, and tobacco – deepen, increasing the complexity of this brew.  Alcohol is now noted in the aroma and taste.  The bourbon and vanilla flavors increase late on the palate and in the aftertaste.

The finishing gravity must be fairly high in this beer, as it has a HUGE thick, creamy, silky smooth mouth feel.  It is extremely full bodied with a low carbonation level.  The thick body and mouth feel were my first impressions, even before the intense flavors were noted.

Fundamental Observation is an amazing beer.  It is very reminiscent of Black Tuesday, but without the alcohol “slap-in-the-face.”

Note: Someone brought a bottle of Fundamental Observation and gave it to me at our Beer Appreciation party in September (see Mac’s Brew News, September 17, 2018, for additional information about the Beer Appreciation party).  Unfortunately I don’t remember who brought it.  Whoever gave this to me went WAY beyond thoughtful, and I need to say thank you to that brilliant person.  After I drank the gift bottle (November 18, 2018), I saw Fundamental Observation the next day at Total Wine and bought another.  Truly, this is one of the WORLD’S GREAT BEERS!

Stickee Monkee (2018): Firestone Walker Brewing.  Paso Robles, CA.  11.4% ABV.
According to Firestone Walker, Stickee Monkee is a “Central Coast Quad”.  So what is that?  It’s Firestone Walker’s take on the Belgian Quad style, brewed with Belgian candi sugar, then aged for over a year in bourbon barrels.

Stickee Monkee
November 25, 2018

Stickee Monkee pours dark brown with a very slight medium tan head that immediately fades away (leaving not even a slight ring). The aroma is brown sugar, toffee, and vanilla.  The flavor is sweet, dark fruit, figs, raisins and brown sugar, with nuances of chocolate and coffee.  No alcohol flavors (or aromas) are noted.  The aftertaste, which lingers forever, is vanilla and toffee, with slight notes of tobacco in the late aftertaste.  As Stickee Monkee warms, I note a bit more chocolate, along with some alcohol in the flavor and aroma.

This beer features a thick, heavy body, with a creamy smooth mouth feel.  The carbonation level is very low.

Stickee Monkee is really good beer.  I’m not a big fan of the Belgian style, but this one is different.  I don’t know if it was fermented with Belgian yeast, but I suspect not, as I did not note any of the typical Belgian spiciness.  I think Firestone Walker calls this a Quad because of the Belgian candi sugar among the ingredients.

I highly recommend these beers.  However, both are limited/special releases, so if you’re interested, you really need to look for them right away.  I purchased both of these last week at Total Wine – $23.99 for a 500 ml bomber of Fundamental Observation, and $11.99 for a 12 oz. bottle of Stickee Monkee – but they had limited amounts of both.

There you have it, beer lovers.  Now go and reward yourself with a couple of World Class beers.  Caveat: Fizzy yellow beer drinkers and cheapskates, don’t bother; these aren’t for you.

By the way, this is my 100th post on Macsbrew.com.  I hope you enjoy reading about beer and beer-related subjects.  [How dumb is that?  Of course you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.]  Stay tuned for the next few years and we’ll see if I can make it to 200.  Special thanks to Joel Matulich, who set up this blog for me as a birthday present in 2012. You’re the bomb, Joel!

Sláinte!

Bravo & Punkuccino

I know all of you beer aficionados anxiously await my beer reviews.  What’s not to love about them, huh?  You get my recommendations, which are worth their weight in gold (ok, so my recommendations have no physical weight – they’re still priceless).  Anyway, here are two more reviews for your consumption. Please read responsibly!

Bravo: Firestone Walker Brewing, Paso Robles, CA.  13.2% ABV.
This is Firestone Walker’s bourbon barrel aged Imperial Brown Ale.  It’s unclear to me if it’s an annual release, with very limited availability (see below).

Bravo pours a deep hazy brown with a very slight, light beige head that rapidly fades.  The aroma is sweet, vanilla and bourbon.  The flavor features grainy bitterness, vanilla, and coconut, and then fades to a sweet vanilla, which lingers forever.  The bourbon is well represented in the flavor and aroma of this beer.  As Bravo warms, a nice mild chocolate flavor emerges mid-palate.

This is a heavy bodied beer with a thick, smooth mouth feel.  The carbonation level is medium-light, offering just enough fizz to keep it from being syrupy.

Bravo is all about the bourbon barrel – it’s front and center.  I have to describe this beer as EXCELLENT!  Bravo was released in early 2017, and I bought a bottle at Total Wine in February 2017.  I have tried to find Bravo since I drank the one bottle, but have had no success.  I’m not sure, but this may have been a one time release and unavailable now and in the future.  That’s too bad, because I definitely want more.

Punkuccino: Elysian Brewing, Seattle, WA.  6.0% ABV.
I’m not a pumpkin beer lover, but I try to get a couple of different ones each fall in the spirit of harvest celebration and American beer crafting.  Punkuccino is a Coffee Pumpkin Ale from Elysian Brewing, one of Seattle’s premier breweries.  I bought Punkuccino this week at Total Wine ($8.99 for a 22 oz. bomber), thinking I might possibly like it because it has coffee in addition to pumpkin.

Punkuccino pours clear, dark ruby red (you’ll see the red if you hold the glass up to the light) with a light tan ¼” head that faded after about two minutes.  A very thin ring around the perimeter and slight surface foam remained through most of the session.  It smells like sweet coffee with a dash of pumpkin.

The flavor is sweet pumpkin and spice. Coffee is not noted until the pumpkin pie fades to the aftertaste, which is mostly sweet coffee.  So, how do I describe the flavor?  It’s pumpkin and spice (cinnamon and nutmeg, like pumpkin pie), then it becomes a bit stronger mid-palate, and then the pumpkin fades to sweet coffee, which is very pleasant.

The carbonation is fairly light, as is the body – it’s a bit thin.  But then again, it’s not a stout or a big beer by any means, so I would have to say it’s within the style category parameters.

Well, like I said, I really don’t care for pumpkin ales, so I was wary (but hopeful) when I bought and then drank this beer. This one is mild on the pumpkin pie/pumpkin ale spectrum.  It came in a 22 oz. bomber, so I had a lot of it to drink.  At first I thought I would not buy it again, but the more I drank it, the more I liked it.  The aroma is really enticing.  And for any of you who like Pumpkin Spice Latte’s, you might really enjoy this beer. But what you all want to know is, will I buy this again?  The answer is: probably yes, BUT . . . only one more bomber (after all, I can take only so much Pumpkin Ale).

So what’s the bottom line on Punkuccino?  In my opinion it’s good as far Pumpkin Ales go. If you like those types of autumn beers, this is one you should DEFINITELY try.  [Krissy – you’re the Pumpkin Spice Latte girl; you need to try this. Kevin – I don’t know if you are a Pumpkin Ale drinker, but you really need to support your homeboys on this one; no excuses!!]

Well, that’s it for now, beer lovers.  One of these reviews is probably a bit too late (Bravo), but the other is current and very relevant (Punkuccino), so get out there and support the craft brewing industry.

Sláinte!