Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year from Philadelphia!

Stay safe out there tonight...you know ABQs finest will be on the lookout for any of you who have had more than one beer and tried to drive!

So last night we ventured into the Northern Liberties section of Philly to visit the Standard Tap, a renowned beer bar that ONLY serves draft beer, and ONLY local beer at that! I went with the Sly Fox Odyssey Double IPA and Jenn had the Weyerbacher Delta. Odyssey is a beer comprised of a mix of all the hops used in the single hop variety IPAs released throughout the year, and comes in at 9.4%. Weyerbacher Delta is the fourth beer in a series of special releases, and this is a 7.5% imperial stout brewed with large amounts of ginger and cinnamon. We also had small glasses of Weyerbacher's Old Heathen Imperial Stout and Troegs Mad Elf, a Belgian Ale brewed with cherries.

Tonight we have been hitting the beer buffet located in the refrigerator of our hotel room. We started with Southern Tier Unearthly Double IPA, followed by Founders Centennial IPA, followed by Bell's Two Hearted Ale, followed by Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA, followed by Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin, and soon to be followed by Stoudt's Double IPA at midnight!

Thanks for keeping up with the site this year, and I hope you all have a happy and prosperous and (most important) great-beer-filled 2009 in Albuquerque!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Here We Go Again!

Sure, Albuquerque will become a great beer city, but to get an accurate yardstick of what a great beer city is, we occasionally have to travel to see what is going on in other cities.

So we are in Philadelphia, the city that Philly beer writer boldly proclaims "The Best Beer City in the US". The trip started off in a bad way at the ABQ Sunport. Usually we will jump out of the cab, give the Skycap a few bucks for our checked bags and get to our plane. However, the line JUST for the Skycap was 200 people long, with an even longer line inside! We re-created the OJ Simpson Hertz commercial and ran through the A Concourse, barely making our flight but getting stuck with shitty seats. Damn Southwest Airlines and their "pick your own seat". I vowed never to fly that airline years ago but it had been so long that I forgot how much I hated unassigned seating. The kid SCREAMING behind me was a good reminder. She went on for the majority of the flight, to the point where I was sitting with my head in my hands, pressing my earphones as tight as I could towards my eardrums. Sometimes I had to use only one hand though, as the breath of the guy next to me forced me to hold my nose at times.

After a quick layover in Chicago, we made it to Philly. We are staying near the airport at the Extended Stay Deluxe, which is nice because it has a couch, oven, microwave, and a refrigerator! Knowing this, we made Frontier Saloon in Folsom the first beer stop of the trip. We could buy all the beer we want and have it cold in our very own hotel fridge.


We had to restrain from buying more than what you see in the picture; there is much to try, and patience and pacing is key here. Having gone through the beers thus far, I'd have to say the Rogue Yellow Snow IPA is the best thus far. Maybe the beer will hit Albuquerque some day, but for now, I'm glad to be enjoying it here at our hotel, eve though it seems the front desk person has invited all her friends for a party in one of the rooms, complete with a girl running through the lobby from the 30 degree outdoors, wearing only a bikini and snow boots.

Tomorrow we will venture away from "Winter Break at the Extended Stay" and I will have more for you!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I'll keep it short, as I know you are all trying to enjoy your eggnog and new sweaters. Just wanted to wish you all out there a Merry Christmas, even if you had to drive to Arkansas and the best the beer store carried was Sam Adams.
We'll be drinking Santa's Little Helper from Port Brewing, a 10% imperial stout that is fitting for the holiday. The label has Santa blacked out because the government says you can't have an image of him on a product containing alcohol. Kids will turn into lushes just looking at something that traumatic, I guess.

Monday, December 22, 2008

What's on Your Christmas Menu?

No, no, I don't care if you are eating roast beef, ham, or turkey. The only important choice is what to drink on Christmas Eve and day.

Albuquerque stores offer a variety that'll keep your yule log burning all through the holiday season. There is the old standby, Anchor's Our Special Ale, though it is overpriced at $11 a sixer, when the beer is only 5.5%. For some reason I keep buying it, both the six-pack and the magnum bottle. You could go with something a little bigger, like Mikkeller's Santa's Little Helper, an 11% Belgian Strong Ale brewed with cocoa powder. Sounds pretty good, but the Helper's $12 price tag per 750 ml has kept my purchases to $8 six-packs of cheer, like Deschutes Jubelale or Avery Old Jubilation. Anderson Valley's Winter Solstice has hit the shelves recently, along with Rogue's Santa's Private Reserve. Rounding out the worthy this season are Odell Isolation and Great Divide Hibernation.

I almost forgot those beers that people buy just because of the name, those Cost Plus favorites: Bad Elf, Very Bad Elf, Super Bad Elf...

Fat Tire six packs have snowflakes on them now, so I guess that makes it a choice for holiday beer...

I'm not sure what we will be drinking yet, but I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Short's: Only in America

Ignorance may be bliss, but the ignorance people show when they talk about "great beer" makes me rethink the meaning of bliss. Dealing with beer for a living, I hear people gush about Euro lagers like Stella Artois and Heineken, or speak about how Tsingtao is better than American beer because of their ancient Chinese secret ways, or Guinness/Beamish/Murphy's...and Red Stripe??? You like these beers, fine, but don't give me the "it's better cause it's imported" argument.

We know that Bud and Bud Light are the biggest selling beers mostly because of their massive advertising, but what about Sam Adams? I personally can't hear "Who do you Love" without thinking of their commercials, which is a switch from the days where I couldn't hear it without quickly tuning to another station. They have barely made a dent in the public's idea of what great beer is. People also are unwilling to change their beliefs as to what is good, even if what is good to them is piss wrapped in European smugness and fueled by American insecurity. It has to be great if they make it, right? While advertising and complacency may be big culprits here, ignorance rears its head most prominently when these same people talk about the great beers. This ignorant thinking about the superiority of Any Beer Not Made in the United States is infuriating. Don't these people wonder what all those exotic looking six-packs in the American beer section of their local markets hold, as they saunter past in search of a 24 oz. bottle of Beck's?

This rant comes a few days after finishing a growler of Uber Goober, a peanut butter oatmeal stout created by Short's Brewing. Short's had long been on my radar of beer to try, and I finally got my chance at this year's Great American Beer Fest. Their line was the second longest of the day, only surpassed by Russian River Brewing, so I knew I wasn't the only one interested in this company's beers.

Short's is a brewery that epitomizes the spirit of American craft brewing: calling the town Bellaire, Michigan home, in the upper, upper, area of the state (these guys are almost north of Ottawa), with a population of under 1,200 people, they still have managed to crank out 50 varieties of beer- atypical beer at that: black cherry porters, smoked apple beers, beers fermented with over 400 pounds of bananas, a bloody mary-inspired beer with Roma tomatoes, dill, horseradish, and peppercorns, and the aforementioned uber goober, an oatmeal stout which is fermented over peanuts. Uber Goober is one of the richest stouts I have tasted, with a full chocolate mouthfeel initially, with the nuttiness coming through in the finish. We were enjoying this beer so much that the growler was gone before we knew it. That's too bad, because in my peanut-chocolate-alcohol euphoria I had visions of soaking bread in Uber Goober and making French toast with it the next morning...but that will have to wait until the next time I can get my hands on this treat.

I remember reading a piece about how some breweries were skipping the Great American Beer Fest because of the overall cost of putting everything together. Short's justified the cost as "We think of it as a way of rewarding our employees". Hey AmBev: you hear that? Those 1,900 layoffs are one hell of a Christmas present to those folks in St. Louis, don't you think?

So the next time you see the person in line with their 12-pack of Foster's, case of Bud Dry, or silver bullet-style cans of Sapporo, relish in the fact that you have the knowledge of choice. The knowledge that you don't have to settle for one bland style...rather a million choices fueled by the ingenuity that is American craft brewing, from amped up pilsners to Imperial Pumpkin beers to 20% IPAs. Cheers to Short's and other breweries like them, with the drive to keep pushing the envelope and making the best beers possible, whether the rest of the world takes notice or not.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Trader Joe's Vintage 2008

Another holiday is approaching, which means it is time for another version of Trader Joe's Vintage Ale.

The beer is produced annually for Trader Joe's by Unibroue, whose Belgian-style beers are available year-round at local beer stores. The style changes a little each year, though this is listed as a Dubbel, just like last year. However, I found the 2007 to be kind of muddled in flavor, a disappointment after the 2006 version. That was very good, except for the fact that, though it was released in 2006, you had to wait until 2007 to actually take a sip because the head didn't subside for a few months.

I am happy to report that the 2008 Vintage is a winner. It starts off with a neutral smell that belies the amount of flavor packed into its 750 ml container. This 9% beer is selling for $4.99, which is a couple of dollars cheaper than other Unibroue products in the city. Pick up one to drink now and a few to cellar, as this beer will age well. I still have some '06 and '07 waiting for me, but man it's hard to have the patience to wait out years worth of releases to do a vertical tasting.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Upcoming Cask Fest


Marble is once again hosting a cask-conditioned beer fest, this one happening on Saturday, December 13. I went to the one earlier this year and it was blazing hot outside, not really the weather conducive to enjoy cask beer, which is served closer to room temperature than your typical draft beer. December weather seems better suited for an event like this.
The event costs $20, which gets you a taste of all ten casks and a pint of your favorite- you know, the same formula used for every New Mexico beer event. My advice: get there early! The previous event got packed and beers were gone way too quick. I think the pint I settled on was my third choice because the other two were gone already. Another reason to show up early is because the crowd inside may be worse than the last time because less people will be willing to hang outside because of the cold. Be prepared for lines, big guys not moving their bellies an inch to let you get through, but great beers! One of a kind Beers! Casks will be tapped at 2 pm.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Blackout! Stout Fest

I never used to like stouts very much. My consumption was limited to a Guinness on St. Patrick's Day, and then I'd move onto an IPA. But drinking only Guinness and declaring you don't like stout is like trying a Swanson Salisbury Steak TV dinner and deciding you don't like steak. There are so many varities of stouts, along with American craft brewers focusing on aged and infused imperial versions that now have me looking forward to the next big release.

So when my friend Kelly (a.k.a. Buck) Wild approached me with the idea of a stout tasting party, I thought it was a great idea. We ironed out the details and decided to do a blind drawing where invitees picked a slip of paper and the name listed was their assigned beer to bring. I tried to include beers that are easily available in Albuquerque, but I didn't get it quite right. What do you mean Left Hand Brewing doesn't distribute their Milk Stout here anymore. Poor Dan got that hopeless assignment, and dutifully went around the city trying to find this beer.

Aside from that hiccup, plans worked out and Buck Wild Productions and Abqbeergeek.com presented the Blackout! Stout Fest. Guests began arriving en masse at Abqbeergeek headquarters Sunday evening. Ok. Headquarters = my house. Click the damn Google Ads and I'll rent some headquarters someday. The stouts were spread out on the counter according to their respective styles: Dry/Irish, Oatmeal, Cream/Milk, Chocolate, American, and Imperial.

The scoring was on an overall scale of 5, without the hassle of subcategories like color, aroma, body, etc. For one thing, this was a stout tasting, so the color is gonna be pretty similar throughout. And this was a non-formal gathering of friends who like beer. Why overthink things? I was lucky if I remembered to write down the beer I was trying at the time, as I was enjoying the people almost as much as the beer. Almost. After all, it wasn't just locally available stouts on the menu; Jenn and I also busted out some of our collected stouts for the event.



Of course, get some of these guys drinking and their gay tendencies seem to come out in full force. A harmless game of ping pong looked as if it was going to break out into "dong pong" until Marcus backed his ass up into one of my framed pictures and it went crashing into the floor. Thankfully at that point, all boners died down.



Well, almost. One non-beer drinker who will remain nameless spent most of the tasting on Jenn's laptop looking for prospects on Adam4adam.com, a website that I guarantee will never grace her computer again. Unless she goes away for the weekend.

The guests' stouts had all been sampled by this time so I started pulling out some of our stuff: Bell's Java and Cherry Stouts, Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout, Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Stout, Green Flash Stout, Oskar Blues Ten Fidy, 2006 Victory Storm King, Avery Mephistopholes, Sweetwater Happy Ending, and Deschutes The Abyss. These beers were not part of the official judging because the crowd had thinned out by this point and not everyone got to enjoy these beers.

I actually had more stouts that never made it out: Oak aged Yeti, Peche Mortel, Hoppin' Frog B.O.R.I.S., Alesmith Speedway,Dark Starr Stout, Heavy Seas Peg Leg, Big Shot Espresso and a couple others. But man! We had already had so many good ones that we had to say enough at some point. Instead, it was time for a concoction of our own.

Corrine came up with the idea of mixing a special "Garlic Stout" that consisted of Old Rasputin Imperial Stout mixed with Papa John's Garlic Sauce. The unwitting guinea pig would be honored guest Andreas. At first, he was not willing to try the beer because he is not the biggest fan of garlic. However, his love of beer prevailed ane he took a healthy swig.


Judging by his reaction, I don't believe he liked the beer much, though he was unable to speak for awhile save for some groaning. I have to give a special thanks to him for always being a good sport and bringing laughter to any event he attends.



And good job to Corrine, whose Garlic Stout may not ever become the mainstream flavor people enjoy like chocolate or coffee stout, but at least SOMEONE was willing to drink it. And I believe I saw her savoring more than one sip of that beer without any prodding. Yuck.


On that note, the evening ended, and I have finally
tallied up the scores from the guests' judging. The order, from last to first:

14. Lost Coast 8-Ball Stout
13. Avery Out of Bounds Stout
12. Ft. Collins Chocolate Stout
11. Young's Double Chocolate Stout
10. Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout
9. Rogue Chocolate Stout
8. Samuel Smith Imperial Stout
7. Deschutes Obsidian Stout
6. Ska Steel Toe Stout
5. Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout
4. Port Brewing Old Viscosity
3. St. Peter's Cream Stout
2. North Coast Old Rasputin

And the winner, by one-one hundredth of a point: local favorite SLEEPING DOG STOUT from CHAMA RIVER BREWERY!!

Thanks to all attendees who made it to the event, with special thanks to Molly who made the #1 stout trophy and Kelly Wild for brainstorming the idea. Look for Buck Wild coming to your local public access channel soon!
Jenn and I enjoyed having you all and hope you had a good time as well. Cheers!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Double Bastard Party

As promised, I went to the Stone Double Bastard Release Party at O'Niell's Friday night. Of course, a beer party isn't much of a party until Abqbeergeek gets there, so the bouncers let me right through the line of people stuck behind the velvet ropes and took me right to my place at the bar.

Ok, that was all a lie. O'Niells isn't that kind of place, thankfully. It is a friendly, low-key type of bar with a good staff, no televisions and a nice beer selection. As previously posted, they also have all four kegs of Double Bastard that came to the state so it was another good reason to be there. The beer is sooo easy to drink for a 10% beer. I find it easier to drink than its baby brother, Arrogant Bastard. And O'Niell's doesn't gouge you for this beer, either. $5.99 for a pint of a limited release 10% beer is very reasonable.

Go try this beer while it lasts; as the bartender told me, "It's selling like hotcakes!"

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope you all are enjoying your turkey day. A Thanksgiving for us includes finding the right themed beer for the occasion. There aren't a whole lot of beers available in Albuquerque that seem to fit the bill, though. You could have a beer from Jolly Pumpkin Brewing, all Belgian style ales. Or maybe an actual pumpkin beer from Buffalo Bill's, Sea Dog or Shipyard. Other than that, I can't think of locally available beers for this holiday. I can't even think of anything that doesn't have the word pumpkin involved in it. Too bad we don't get Dogfishhead Indian Brown Ale here, or anything from Mayflower Brewing. Even a Crazy Horse Malt Liquor would be suitable today, if we could get it. You may have get a little more interpretive with beer names- like how about drinking Stone's Double Bastard in honor of your brother-in-law's annoying twins who are making a commotion at the kids' table?

We will be having Pilgrim's Dole from New Holland Brewing, which we bought in South Carolina back in August. We were going to age this one longer but the name is making us drink it now...I'm sure we will be thankful!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My Kind of Party


Friday, November 28 marks the date of the Stone Double Bastard Release Party at O'Niell's Pub (4310 Central Ave SE).

The "party" consists of the keg being tapped at 4 pm according to their website, though the guy who I talked to said it would start at 7. After that, you are welcome to "celebrate" by buying a pint and drinking it. Price was unknown (also according to the guy on the phone) but I remember last year's going for 6 bucks a pint so it will probably be about the same. It's cool that O'Niell's is pushing this as a release party, but throwing in some Stone giveaways or some other gimmicks(besides just pouring the beer and calling it a party) would make it better. However, nobody else is pushing craft beer releases like O'Niell's, plus they bought the only four kegs in New Mexico so I'll take it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

New Beer and New Old Beer

So, months after Odell IPA won our 4th of JulIPA Challenge, and years after its release, the beer has finally mode it on draft to area bars! Apparently the delay was a distributor decision, as the Odell rep explained to me at the Great American Beer Fest. Cutthroat Porter, 5 Barrel Pale Ale and 90 Shilling were all regulars at many local bars, but until now the IPA, which is their best beer, has been conspicuously absent from draft lists.
Billy's Long Bar is the first I know to carry it, but others can't be far behind.

Reappearing in Albuquerque is Stone's 11th Anniversary IPA. I don't know the reason behind it, but suddenly every beer outlet in town, from Quarters to Kelly's to Whole Foods has plenty of this beer. It is nice from a collection standpoint, but there are two things that no retailer is doing that should get done in the public interest:

1. Clearly labeling that this beer is over a year old.
2. Lowering the damned price!

An IPA that is a year and two months old will have a drastically different flavor profile than a fresh one. Not to mention the fact that God only knows where these beers have been sitting for months and months. Because of this, the price should not be the same as the Stone seasonal release that JUST came out (at this time, Double Bastard). I'm not saying that the beer can't taste good; just that if someone thinks they are getting an IPA they should be made aware of the circumstances regarding this beer, as the "IPA" factor is taken out.

Let's show a little responsibility to the people who are supporting craft beer sales and educate them as well as sell to them.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Another Anniversary Present From Santa Fe

Santa Fe Brewing has released the third in a series of beers celebrating 20 years of business: Yippee Imperial IPA. I was a bit wary about purchasing this beer because I have had the regular IPA from Santa Fe and did not care for it much. Thankfully, they have come through with this beer! There is an initial sweetness and hint of the 9.5% abv, then the hop bitterness reveals itself in the finish. More aromatic hops in the beer may have made this world class, but it is a fine beer as is.

The label states that this beer will age well, though if you are a hophead you may not want to lose the bitter finish. Otherwise, I think aging Yippee would be interesting; it may even bring barleywine-like flavors into the equation.

Pick up this limited (only 3317 bottles) 750 ml offering at Kelly Liquors for $11.49 or Jubilation for $9.99.

Monday, November 17, 2008

This is Why I Don't Go to Clubs

I even try to avoid the Rancher's Club of New Mexico, which isn't hard considering their prices. Let's face it, the revenue from Google Ads hasn't put me in a higher tax bracket.

But somehow I found myself at The Rancher's Club last week, resplendent in my collared shirt- required at this stuffy restaurant. This is the kind of place where your server is referred to as your "captain", where entrees are delivered under a silver cover and unveiled with a flourish. Eighty dollar steaks are featured.

But what does this have to do with beer? Well, our dining companion Andreas wanted to have a beer with his meal. I wouldn't have been surprised if our captain had turned his nose up and said, "We only serve WINE!", but to their credit, the Rancher's Club has a few beers on tap. Andreas chose the Sierra Nevada Seasonal, which I would have guessed to mean Wet Hop Harvest, though our "captain" had no clue. Strike one. When the beer came, Andreas took a sip and said, "Hmmm, kind of malty!" We both knew this should not be the case with any Sierra seasonal (unless it is the Pale Bock, which we don't get in NM), so he had the captain check into it.

It turns out that the keg of Sierra (whose "seasonal" was the Anniversary- Why is that beer STILL AROUND? Strike Two!) had just kicked so the bartender poured a NEW BELGIUM SKINNY DIP instead and tried to sneak it past us.

Strike Three!

Do you think that if a Cabernet was out of stock, the bartender would just pour a glass of pinot noir? Never! These so-called upscale establishments need to learn that beer awareness is growing here and around the country. Let's keep these people on their toes!

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Especially when this beer comes to town. Anchor Brewing's Our Special Ale is in its 34th year of release and has hit area stores. The style is a winter warmer, which to me usually tastes like a brown ale with spices added. The beer is usually around 5.5%, though the recipe varies from year to year. This is a fun beer to collect and age for vertical tastings, though I suggest keeping it cold as there isn't much alcohol to protect it in warmer weather. Retail price is $10.99.

Quarters- Westside Review

So I have been stretching the Westside reviews for over a week, but I have only traveled a half mile to get to these locations. Sunflower, Cost Plus, and Quarters are all located in a small stretch just west of Corrales Rd.

Quarters is the first of these to be an actual liquor store. This location, like the two they operate on the other side of town, is connected to their barbecue restaurant, so the smell on the way in is inviting- unless you are a vegetarian.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the amount of floor space. This is one of the largest stores in town, though the beer gets a minority share of the available space. Most of the floor is occupied by riveteers of liquor in the front, and wine taking up the rear, with a special room for the expensive stuff. It reminds me of the room you see in stereo stores, where you know you are getting into the high-end equipment. The beer is mostly confined to coolers, with a three-tiered shelf on the floor that held different beers, seemingly for overflow control as there was no country or style connecting the beers.

Price: That's a good one. Too bad the majority of beers in the coolers are not priced at all. I saw Sam Adams varities for $7.49,nothing special there, and Anderson Valley beers for $8.99, which is a good price. Besides that, finding a price for a beer would require asking for help.

GRADE: D

Service: There were two people having a conversation behind the counter when I arrived, and neither said hello. I don't mind that, but it could rub some people the wrong way. I personally never liked the situation where I would walk into a store and a clerk would greet me, but when I looked up, three clerks would be staring at me so I never knew who to acknowledge.
I was never asked if I needed help finding or choosing a beer, and when I left the two were still talking. You'd think they could have at least been pricing some beer in the meantime.

GRADE: D

Selection: Here's where Quarters redeems itself. Most of the great beers are located in the walk-in cooler, where shelves hold haphazardly stocked bombers and six-packs of most of the beers available in the state. I saw bottles of Dark Force from Haandbryggeriet Brewery in Norway alongside Cantillion Gueze. I also saw a bottle from Achel, one of the Trappist beers of Belgium. I honestly had no idea this was even available in Albuquerque- this was the first time I had ever seen it here. They also had a good selection of local and regional like Monk's Ale and Marble IPA. There are also domestic kegs available for purchase, and Quarters will special order kegs without hassle. A little more organization to the cooler would make for easier shopping. It gets cold in there!

GRADE: A-

It's all about the beer for me, and Quarters has a selection that stands out from the other stores reviewed so far, and also makes me forgive the service and pricing flaws.

OVERALL SCORE: B

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Cost Plus- Westside Review Part 2


Having left Sunflower, I continued west on Alameda to the next destination: Cost Plus World Market. Cost Plus is located in one of those mega-store strip malls that have blown up around the country. It is not, of course, strictly a liquor store; in fact, they only sell beer and wine. They specialize more in food from different parts of the country, which is cool, and overpriced furniture and decorations, which doesn't interest me. This isn't a beer destination, for sure, but I am including it because they do sell some better beers, and people shopping there might try something different because it is the kind of place where people are willing to experiment.

Price: The prices, for beer at least, are very reasonable. All New Belgium styles sell for $6.99. Sierra Nevada is the same price. Stone Arrogant Bastard and Smoked Porter are $3.49, $.50 cheaper than Abq. average. Anchor beers are a "bargain" at $8.49 because $9.49-$9.99 is typical.

GRADE: A

Service: There was a woman dusting the wine section, which was right next to the beer section, and she asked if I needed any help. I should have asked her about a beer or two to see if she actually knew any of the beers. The guy at the register gave me a "Welcome to Cost Plus" when I walked in.

GRADE: B+

Selection: The selection here is very small. I already mention most of the beers in the price section. Of course there are the big imports, including the Chimay line. Sierra Blanca was the only local beer represented. The "world" of beers in Cost Plus' mind is akin to giving a tour of American cuisine and just going to McDonald's and Burger King. The Stone beers are the most "exotic" and of course Arrogant Bastard sells just for the name alone. You have probably seen it happen; a couple of women come across it and one says, "Oh, this would be PERFECT for Bill!".
They sell safe beers here, like Planet Porter and Boston Lager. There are no double IPAs, no imperial stouts. And what I have always disliked about Cost Plus is that they have those "Beers of the World" boxes that they just fill with random single bottles and sell them as if the beers have been selected by some beer experts, and you are lucky to have the opportunity to buy them.

GRADE: D-

Cost Plus is the kind of place your aunt visits to buy you beer because she knows you like "fancy beers", but Guinness is not fancy.
This is a great store for logo beer glasses, and I have picked up Rogue, Lagunitas, Lost Coast and others for $2.99.

OVERALL SCORE: B-

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Westside Story: The Reviews Are In...Part 1

I thought I'd start my review of Albuquerque beer stores on the Westside. This decision came about because I woke up that morning and thought that since it was such a nice Indian Summer day, I would take a drive over the Rio Grande and check out the fall colors on the Bosque trees. This idea evolved into starting my promised reviews, but there was one problem: I hadn't brought my camera. So if you are the type who won't read a book that doesn't have pictures, you may want to skip this multimedia-less post. Otherwise, I hope you find this informative. My criteria is based on price, service, and overall selection.

Our first review is of Sunflower Market. Sunflower is a speciality grocery store first, but also has a full selection of beer, wine, and liquor. There are two walls dedicated to beer, one just for single bottles and the other for six and twelve packs.

Price: I found Vertical Epic for $5.99 and Odell's IPA for $8.59, but otherwise Sunflower's beer prices are as inflated as their food prices. All New Belgium beers are $7.99, about 50 cents more than local average. $7.59 for Full Sail beers when $6.99 is the norm. How about $8.99 for Gordon Biersch? Or Tractor Brewing for $8.49? That stuff only travels from Los Lunas!

GRADE: C

Service: There were no employees in the alcohol side of the store that day. I don't mind not being approached when I am shopping; in fact I often prefer it, since I know my way around a beer section and don't need suggestions. But I would at least like a cashier in case I want to actually buy something.

GRADE: C

Selection:The selection of bombers and 17 oz. imports is impressive, with Stone, Boulder, SKA, Avery and Great Divide as well as German and British singles being featured. At one time, growlers from Tractor were being sold there but I guess that they have been discontinued. The coolers were not unlike a supermarket's selection, with all the usual Odell, New Belgium, Bridgeport,and Sierra Nevada beers, but also held 4 varities from Durango Brewing. A big minus was Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome, which I thought was my first spotting of this year's version but turned out to be last year's. Sitting unrefrigerated. In clear bottles. Please don't buy this Petri dish of a beer if you see it there. Another minus was seeing Sierra Nevada Summerfest, not only still being sold, but for $15.59 for a 12-pack! Overpriced and out of season is not a winning combination.

GRADE: B-

Sunflower in a grocery store first, but their beer selection is decent, with the singles being their saving grace. My litmus test is: If I were visiting Sunflower Market from an out-of-towner perspective, would I be satisfied with my visit? Looking at it as a grocery store that I stopped in hoping for anything that resembled a craft beer I would say certainly, but not compared to a true beer store.

OVERALL SCORE: C+

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cask Wednesdays at Il Vicino Continue

A reminder that Il Vicino Taproom, located on Vassar just north of Comanche, continues to do a cask beer every Wednesday. The beer pours around 3 pm and goes until the cask is emptied. Head brewer Brady McKeown says he usually does the Wet Mountain IPA with different hop varities, as the IPA is the most popular, but he will throw a different beer in now and then. Last week he had a cask of porter. This week will be the IPA with Simcoe hops. Get there before I drink it all!

Brady also says they are winterizing the outdoor patio, which is a good thing since the interior has room for only a few beer bellies. They have installed a tent over the patio that will have sides, that is as soon as the company shows up with them. Heat lamps will also be a fixture as the winter arrives, so don't let the cold keep you from visiting the tap room. I would sit naked in a blizzard as long as I had a pint of that Wet Mountain with Simcoe!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Phillies Win! Albuquerque Loses!

Sorry for the hiatus, but I've been busy watching the Phillies win the World Series. Since I was so focused on the games, I have had little time to work on the blog. I realize the impact this has had on Albuquerqueans, and I apologize. As one city has gained, another suffers. So it goes.

Congratulations to the Phillies and the city of Philadelphia on a great season. I started the series with a Port Brewing Hop 15, since it has been 15 years since the Phillies were in the World Series. I celebrated the series win with a Philadelphia-area brewed Victory Hop Wallop.

I'll be back with reviews of area liquor stores.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The 505 is Blowin' Up

In other words, we are getting more good beers released here in Albuquerque every week.

If you read my previous post about the Denver trip, you will recall me finding Sam Adams Hallertau Imperial Pilsener and calling it "a nice score". Well score one for the locals because this beer is now available in Albuquerque. This 8.8% beer is the hoppiest of all Sam Adams varieties so if you are used the the sameness in flavor of many Sam Adams beers, keep an open mind and try this one. It's hard to believe that German hops could produce such high IBUs. Jubilation is the first to receive this beer, and they are selling the Sam for $9.49 a four-pack. I paid more in Denver.

More wet hop goodness in a bottle, this time from Great Divide. Their Fresh Hop Pale Ale has been one of my favorites since it first came to town in 2006. This beer is 6.1%, and is categorized as a pale ale, but has always had more of an IPA finish to me, more so than Hop Trip or Harvest. Great Divide has recently changed their labeling to a "sleeker" look, but to me they are less recognizablr now so keep a sharp eye out for their beers. This is another Jubilation find, $4.99 for a 22 oz. bottle.

Redhook follows the coffee stout trend with DB- Double Black. This beer, infused with coffee, is labeled as an imperial stout but is 7%, which seems a little light for an imperial. I'm saving this for colder weather but if you have tried it let me know. I don't have high hopes for the beer, knowing that this is the same company that produces Longhammer IPA, but I do have a soft spot for Redhook. After all, it was a 12-pack of Winterhook, bought on sale at Quarters for $4.99, that lured a certain girl over to my house for the first time, and eight years later we are still together.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Denver, Day 2 or: You Can Actually Look at Beer After Last Night?

Surprisingly, yes. The previous evening at the GABF had certainly done a number on us, but after coffee, a bagel, and a trip to the fitness center in our hotel I was ready to, uh, get right back into bed to be honest with you. But the world's largest liquor store was waiting for us.

World's largest liquor store, meet the world's largest lover of liquor! Daveco Liquors is in the Guinness Book of World Records (Guinness Book...how appropriate) as being the largest store of its type. The square footage is mostly dedicated to wine and spirits, but the beer selection is formidable as well.

We bought some beer at Daveco but there was a gaping hole in the spot where the beer we were hoping to get the most should have been: Pliny the Elder from Russian River. Russian River had recently started bottling this Double IPA, and luckily for us had decided to distribute to Colorado. Things were looking bleak though, as we went to Total Beverage and found the same empty shelves. The guys from Boulevard Brewing were there stocking up as well, and I was worried. Many people had come into town earlier that week. Maybe they had bought all the Pliny in the state!

By the time we hit the second Total Beverage of the day I was beginning to hyperventilate. I was breathing into a bag from an empty Franzia Boxed White Zinfandel when I spotted it. Pliny! Where ya been all my life! We grabbed up all the bottles on the shelf (sorry, latecomers; it's a dirty game) and left to do the girly portion of the day: clothes shopping. I left her at Steve and Barry's and checked out a little liquor store in a non-descript shopping mall. It amazes me just how many liquor stores there are in Denver and how I always seem to find something worth buying that the last store didn't have. I picked up a four-pack of this year's Sam Adams Hallertau Imperial Pilsner from this place, a nice score. We headed back to the hotel to watch the Phillies game and catch a nap.

The photo pretty much sums up the night, which we spent at Falling Rock Tap House, or ground zero for beer folks in town. We were smart and arrived early while most people were still at the fest. Falling Rock, as always, had a stellar tap list. We had Odell's IPA, Poor Man's IPA and High Tide from Port Brewing, Green Flash Hop Head Red, and Blind Pig IPA and Pliny the Elder DIPA from Russian River. These were all enjoyed while meeting and talking to beer lovers from around the country. I talked to Don Younger, the owner of the Horse Brass Pub in Portland and so influential in the beer world that Rogue named a beer after him. I also met Jason and Todd Alstrom, founders of Beer Advocate. These guys have a newspaper column, immensely popular website, and the guts to start a beer magazine. I don't know how they found time for the fest, but they were there and were very cool. Also cool were Phil Snyder and Brandon James, who were in Denver representing Music City Brewers, the homebrew club out of Nashville. Phil had won the MCB competition and was having his Steam beer represented by Boscos at the fest. Brandon saw me taking notes on the beers I tried and offered me a taste of his. Not just any beer either; this was Isabelle Proximus, a wild ale collaboration from Avery, Dogfish Head, Russian River, Allagash and Lost Abbey. This beer isn't on the regular beer list either. It is from Falling Rock owner Chris Black's collection and cost $59 a bottle. And that is a fair price, considering that the beer can be found on Ebay selling for $200 or more!

I'd say we had our share of great beer that night, and by the time we left, the bar was so packed they were doing the one person in, one person out thing and the line stretched down the block. We were thankful that we had gotten there early enough to truly enjoy the beer and people at Falling Rock. Another great time in Denver and we can't wait to get back there next year!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Deschutes' Fantastic Voyage

I'm always up for a hop trip, especially when the "trip" only involves driving down to Kelly's, where Deschutes Hop Trip has arrived on the shelves. Hop Trip is a "fresh hop" style beer, which is essentially a beer that has whole hops that were harvested brewed into the beer rather than using hop pellets. This process results in a beer that is more earthy tasting and rather muted compared to an over the top IPA. Fellow beer geek Marcus and I were discussing this style and came to the conclusion that the fresh hops do the same to the beer as fresh herbs add to a food recipe: dried herbs are more potent than fresh and add a sharper flavor to the dish, much as the hop pellets make more more bite in an IPA.

I have had this beer twice in the last year; the first after finding the only bottle in a liquor store in Eureka, CA and the second on tap at Falling Rock in Denver, CO. The bottled version may have been from 2006 because I bought it in August 2007 and I don't think it is released that early in the year. The draft version was, well, fresh, and while I could taste the hops it didn't ruin my palate before I drank any other beer that evening.

I found this beer at Kelly's on Wyoming and paid $4.99 for the 22 oz. bottle.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Simpler Times, Simpler Tastes

Our local Trader Joe's has a new private labeled beer on their shelves this week. The beer is dubbed "Simpler Times" and comes in both a pilsner and straight lager version. The main selling point of this beer is the price: $3.99 for a six-pack of the cans. And this beer isn't your everyday adjunct-addled macro mess; this beer is all-malt, baby! The cans are only available in the lager version, while the pilsner and a "premium" version of the lager is offered in bottles, which sell for $4.99.
The pils is 5.5% abv, which is pretty substantial for a pilsner style. The lager stands out from macros not only for being all-malt, but also for its 6.2% abv. At $3.99 for the cans, it's a lot of bang for your buck.
This beer is made for Trader Joe's by Minhas Brewing (Milwaukee), which, after Yuengling, is the oldest brewery in the United States. They contract-brew beers for big names like Berghoff and also have their own "distinctive" beers like Kick Axe Malt Liquor. Yum. I tried the lager but don't think I can give the fairest review because I had been drinking the biggest and best beers at the GABF just a couple of days prior to trying Simpler Times. Oh, whatever. It tastes like your typical American Premium style lager, unoffensive and with a nice alcohol bite that, combined with the low price, make it a beer I would pick up over the big name boys.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

ABQ Represents at GABF!

Wow, what a weekend! I still smile every time I think about it. I guess that's what 1,969 different beers from 500 different breweries will do to me. Not that we sampled that many.

But we tried. Damn, did we try!

We were in Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, held Oct. 9th through the 11th at the Colorado Convention Center. We got a late start on the drive because of some morning meetings so we didn't get to our hotel until after 5:00. Since the fest started at 5:30, we knew there would be a line once we got to the Convention Center.

This wasn't a line. This was the entire state of Colorado in front of us. The line ran all the way around the building, which itself is a full city block. Just when I thought we were getting close to the front, we'd turn a corner and the line was even longer. The couple standing behind us didn't help the wait very much. The wife had procured a copy of the GABF program and was reading the beers offered inside to her husband, one by one. This went on for an hour; we'd turn another corner and be nowhere closer to the entrance, and the lady behind us was still on the B's, "Brooklyn IPA, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Brooklyn Local 1...".

The seasons changed a few times before we made it inside, but we DID make it in. I suppressed an urge to scream and take off running to the first beer booth. The best plan of action in a crowd this big is to use finesse and slip your way to the front of a line rather than use brute force. Even with this plan in mind, it was hard to keep control as the first section upon walking in was the Pacific area, home of Bear Republic, Green Flash, Port Brewing,Lagunitas...GET OUT OF MY WAY!!!

I had to control myself. After all, I was here not just for myself, but to cover the Albuquerque contributions to the fest. We came across Brady McKeown, head brewer of Il Vicino, as he was busy pouring for the thirsty crowd. I enjoyed a Hopgoblin IPL,or India Pale Lager, an interesting twist on the IPA style. I talked to a few attendees after they hit the Il Vicino booth and all had positive reviews of the beers.

Located just a few booths away were the folks from Chama River, who seemed to having a better and better time the later the hour. I think they were enjoying the samples as much as the crowd, and good for them. How could you not take a few nips of the March Hare IPA they were pouring, the IPA that took first at the NM IPA Challenge!

I made it over to the Marble booth very late in the evening but they were done pouring and there were none of the Marble guys around, though I would think Ted and Daniel would make the trip. I did spot bar manager Ryan somewhere in the Northwest section, looking content with his samples.

We met up with our buddy Fred Crudder along with his co-workers Susie and Matt from Taco Mac. They introduced us to the Terrapin Brewers and we tried Terrapin's Terra-Rye'ZD, a black rye lager collaboration with Left Hand Brewing. Nice! Will we get it in Albuquerque? Doubtful! The Taco Mac gang had gotten into Denver at 9:30 that morning and had been visiting breweries all day before the beer fest, so needless to say they were leaving the fest early that night.

Most of the night was spent oohing and aahing over the selection. Many of the breweries brought their limited release and variations of their traditional lines, which is nice because often those are the beers that never get bottled and one only gets to taste them at the brewery. I made sure to tell the Odell guys that they had won our 4th of JulIPA Challenge. They were about as impressed as you would expect. Like I said earlier, we tried to taste as many beers as we could, but we tended to go for the bigger beers and couldn't get over 70 samples before the dreaded last call. I really think we could have done over a hundred but looking back, last call may have been the intervention we needed that night. By 100 we could have been seriously hurting the next day.

We headed out with the rest of the crowd and stumbled a few blocks back to our hotel. So was the hour+ wait to get in worth it? You better believe it! The sheer number of incredible beers there for unlimited sampling combined with the most knowledgeable gathering of beer enthusiasts all in one place made for an unforgettable experience!

BEERS SAMPLED:
Fireston Walker- Union Jack IPA, Parabola
Green Flash- Imperial IPA
Hollister- Hip Hop DIPA
Bear Republic- Racer X
Lagunitas- Hop Stoopid, Gnarly Wine
Bison- Organic Pumpkin
Alaskan- IPA, Smoked Porter
Heavy Seas- Loose Cannon
Odell- IPA
Moylan- Hopsickle, Double IPA
Deschutes- Hop Henge, The Abyss
Thomas Creek- Pumphouse Porter
Terrapin- Terra Rye' ZD
Surly- Furious, Coffee Bender
Shorts- Huma IPA, Rich's RIPA
Three Floyd's- Dreadnaught, Alpha King
New Holland- Charkoota Barleywine, Existensial IPA
New Glarus- Reapberry Tart, Unplugged Lager
Minneapolis Town Hall- Fresh Hop, Eye of the Storm, Mango Mama. Russian Roulette
Weyerbacher- Imperial Pumpkin, Thirteen
Vintage 50-Wee Heavy, Auld Abominable
Victory- Baltic Thunder
Troegs- Scratch #4 Barleywine
Triumph- Pumpkin, Coffee and Cream, Bengal Gold IPA
Great Divide- Espresso Oak Aged Yeti
Live Oak- Hefeweizen
Joseph James- Red Fox RIS
Il Vicino- Hopgoblin IPL, Jeff and Paul's Old Ale
Chama River- March Hare
Walking Man- IPA, Old Stumblefoot
Rogue/Tracktown- 200 Meter IPA, Oak Aged Red
Oakshire- Imperial IPA
Philadelphia Brewing- Newbold IPA
Sixpoint- Belgian IPA
Dock St.- Rye IPA, Espresso Stout
Nodding Head- IPA, Phunk
Sly Fox- Ichor
Stoudt's- Smooth Hoperator
Iron Hill- Belgian IPA, IPA
Stewart's- Old Perculator Coffee Stout
Tied House- Jupiter IPA
Fish- Detanator
Real Ale- Dunkel Roggen
Russian River- Pliny the Elder

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cool: Fat Tire Available in Cans; Uncool: Still Tastes Like Fat Tire

The "craft beer in cans" trend has reached New Belgium Brewing, who have released Fat Tire in 12-pack cans to the Albuquerque area. The cans were introduced earlier this year in Colorado, but have taken months to make it to Albuquerque. This means that the Summer outdoor enthusiasts like the backpackers and Elephant Butte visitors missed out on the lighter weight cans. Actually, all the Elephant Butte crowd needs is a case of Tecate and something to clear up the rash from swimming in a lake that all children from New Mexico (and some from old) have peed in.
The skiing season is coming up soon, so the cans might be attractive to the snowboarders. The cans would even make a nice surprise for those trick or treaters without the added weight of a bottle.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

More Goodies in Town




Sierra Nevada has released this season's Wet Hop Harvest Ale. This American Pale Ale is made using whole hop leaves in the boil (as opposed to hop pellets) right after they are harvested. This year's version is 6.7% and is available at Quarters for $3.99 for a 22 oz. bottle.





Full Sail has another release, this on celebrating their 21st anniversary. It is an 8% doppelbock, aptly named 21. The beer is sold in 22 oz. bottles and so far I have only seen it at Kelly's on Wyoming, priced at $3.99.