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 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!

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.

Friday, October 3, 2008

New Beer This Week

We get all of the regular lineup of beers that Deschutes Brewery, of Bend Oregon, produces. In fact, they get such good distribution that they keep a regular space on shelves at Albertsons and Smiths.

They also make a series of special release big beers that never made their way to Albuquerque until this week. Black Butte XX, part of their 20th Anniversary series, is available at Jubilation Wine and Spirits. This beer is an imperial porter that may be the heftiest abv porter I have ever seen: 11%! The beer is brewed with Theo's chocolate of Seattle, dry hopped with 100 lbs. of Bend's Bellatazza’s coffee beans and aged in bourbon oak barrels from Stranahan's in Colorado.

The beer was released in June so it has taken a while to reach us. Fine with me, since the additional months of aging in the bottle can only enhance the flavor. Of course, a beer this big comes with a big price tag: $9.99 for a 22 oz. bottle. Buy yourself an early Christmas present!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Worth the Wait?

The San Mateo and Lomas location of Sunflower Market has finally been approved to sell liquor almost a year after opening its doors. The store opened in December of 2007 but the planned liquor section has sat as an eyesore of empty shelves until this week.

So was it worth the wait?

Well, no. The beer selection isn't bad. It just isn't anything special. The row of coolers looks promising as there are about 15 doors worth of beer but the contents don't outshine any of the three other stores within a mile that sell beer. Of course one of these stores in Jubilation, but I am comparing it more with the Smiths at Carlisle and Constitution.

The shelves all seemed to have just one facing of any beer, which made the coolers look bare. The contents were what you'd expect to see: Stone, Mendocino, Odels (but not the IPA) Full Sail, New Belgium, Widmer, Rogue. Nothing bad, but Smiths has a better selection, and better prices.
The prices were what I liked the least about Sunflower's beers. The Arrogant Bastard and IPA from Stone were both $2.99, which is the same as just about every other store in town. However, what is the deal with selling the Smoked Porter for $4.99??? And Full Sail and New Belgium for $7.99 for all varieties? That's a dollar more than Kelly's and Trader Joe's. $8.49 for Mendocino Red Tail? Not to mention grabbing you by the pumpkins for the Anheuser Busch made Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale at $7.99! The only deal I saw was Anchor Liberty Ale for $8.49, which is a dollar less than Trader Joe's and $1.50 less than Kelly's.
I guess I was expecting Sunflower's selection to be more like their Alameda location, which has a great selection of bombers and even carried growlers for a while. This is barely a step above the beer section at the Smiths at Lomas and San Pedro. I will visit them again, since they just opened and will probably change a few things around and hopefully increase their selection. For now though, I will go the extra half mile to Jubilation.