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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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!