York: Big batch of big flavors here! We’re all a bit IPA-heavy, but it’s hard not to be when there are so many good ones to choose from. I tried to pick a few different styles here, including a prototypical West Coast IPA (that I don’t fully expect the guys to dig, but it’s good to branch out a bit). The others include some really neat hop combos featuring Huell Melon, Moteuka, and Hallertau Blanc. In addition to the four IPAs, I threw in an equal number of funky beers.
The saison and gose worlds are slightly separate for me from the true sour realm, and they’re styles that I struggle to pin down sometimes. I find huge variation in flavor profiles among saisons, and goses seem to be on a similarly wide spectrum that includes beers that remind me of everything from a kettle sour to a sparkling ale. These four run across all different spots on that spectrum, and a few are further complicated by adjuncts like passionfruit and boysenberry (turns out that’s real). Modern Times and Local Brewing have been featured by us before, but this is the first time I’ve been able to snag two Alvarado Street (a major player in the San Francisco scene as of recently) as well as an IPA from Temescal (one of my personal favorite young breweries in the bay area). All I ask of Shane and Pete on this one is to not judge anything by style or description before they give it a go, because many of these really surprised me in flavor, complexity, or both!
Shane: To say that I’m excited to try this batch of beers would be a dramatic understatement. Alvarado is a brewery whose great reputation has made waves all the way over on the east coast, and I can’t wait to try not just a big, juicy IPA from them, but a kettle sour as well. On a similar note, the Modern Times gose is calling my name. I’ve been huge on goses recently, and, when done well, I would count the style among my favorites. To have a delicious looking one coming our way from Modern Times, a brewery that has already made serious waves during our previous tastings, is all I could ask for. I’m intrigued that York has chosen a couple of saisons in this batch, given that none of us tend to be huge fans of the style. That said, I trust York’s palate, and we’ve been surprised by some absolutely incredible saisons before. I’m very excited to get started.
Pete: Brian has done a great job finding a mix of beers from different breweries without repeating himself too much. I am happy to see more Modern Times, because everything they make seems to be wonderful (also, I have a hard time following whether their releases are coffee or beer). I like seeing him also take a chance on some saisons. I am always a fan of the style and I am always looking for new ones to set a different trend for me. We (of course) have a full complement of IPAs as well, ranging from the classic West Coast to a take on New England IPAs. Overall, I am excited for this batch.
York's Thoughts: I’ve been hearing about Alvarado IPAs for a bit now and had to get my hands on one to see what it was all about. This did NOT disappoint. I really really enjoy how big the flavor is here, and I absolutely agree on the peachy notes that I associate with East Coast beers. This definitely gives me some memories of our Vermont beercation. I’ve had a few pale ales brewed with oats, but never something with this many hops or at quite this high ABV. There’s definitely a softness to the middle and finish of this beer, but I’m not sure I agree with their mild hop bitterness description. I’d have guessed a significantly higher IBU than they list, which at the end of the day is actually a good sign in my book!
Shane's Thoughts: With a name like Vengeful Barbarian, I almost expected this beer to be a strong, dark, imperial stout. Not so. Instead, this beer greets you with a fresh, crisp, hoppy aroma from the moment you crack open the can. It pours a gorgeous pale orange that perfectly matches its flavor profile: from the first sip, Vengeful Barbarian is all peach and apricot. And it’s subtle--one thing that I really appreciate is the fact that the citrus fruit flavor comes through in a really well-rounded way. It isn’t tart. The flavor isn’t particularly sharp. And yet somehow it captures the essence of two of my favorite fruits. It’s also worth noting that the aftertaste on this beer is just absolutely fantastic. It’s all juice--but not in that New England IPA, “juice bomb” sort of way. It tastes like wonderful, fresh, peach nectar.
Pete's Thoughts: Yup, that’s the stuff. Peachy, mango, bright citrus notes. An amazing interpretation of a New England IPA. I could drink this all day. Creamy texture and mild bitterness hits this beer on the head. I like seeing that the west coast brewers have started to embrace the haze. Yes, they have their own regional style to protect, but good is good. And peach mango IPA juice is good.
Shane: I drank this first, and it’s already a clear contender for Best of the Bunch. 9/10
Pete: I am really digging this brewery and the barbarian only intrigues me more. 9/10
York: Really unique “softness” for this style. Love the hop profile and jammy flavors. 9/10
York's Thoughts: Admittedly, I got excited to see a Modern Times beer that wasn’t their classic white-with-stripes can and had to have it. I wasn’t originally too hopeful that it would result in an exchange-worthy beer, but it was too cool not to include. I sent three funky beers in this batch: a true saison from Local, a true gose from Modern Times, and this beer. This brew straddles the line between saison and gose unlike any other I’ve had. It’s got a massive amount of fruit tones and definitely has far more pucker to it than one would expect in a saison. The wild components come out in a few layers to remind you it's a saison, but the complexity between the two profiles is very, very cool. Always a fan of a beer that can confuse my palate (and still taste good, obviously).
Shane's Thoughts: Saisons...saisons are a tricky business for me. On the one hand, the saison is not my favorite style. On the other hand, there are a handful of saisons that I would count among my favorite beers I’ve ever had. There is rarely much of a middle ground for me, but Drop Art actually manages to be exactly what I’ve always sort of wanted from the style: a tasty, drinkable beer with a little bit of funk and some subtle flavors mixed in. The orange zest hits the tongue nicely, as does the mango. I’m not sure I would describe this beer as “tart,” and the saison yeast still provides the overwhelming flavor base. But overall, I would call this a well above average saison.
Pete's Thoughts: The fruit on this is pretty funky. It really hits you with more of the citrus then anything. The can is gorgeous. I do think the yeast profile dominates this one a little for me. You get fruit then classic saison herbal yeast profile. But I didn’t sense much of a middle in this beer. It was a little funky, but I did not get as much off of it as I expected. This is an interesting style change from what we are use to and I still think this is a solid beer that everyone should try.
Shane: Nice, drinkable saison with some great subtle flavors incorporated. 8/10
Pete: Really well rounded saison, slightly fruity and good body. 6/10
York: Super fun beer but the sour and wild elements compete so much it results in a loss of flavor in each realm. All beer fans would be glad they tried it, though I’d venture not all would repeat. 7/10
York's Thoughts: Temescal is one of my favorite newcomers in the Bay Area, and Staycation is a perfect example of why. Packed with tons of hoppy, fruity wonderfulness, this is some of Temescal’s best work in my opinion. Motueka hops aren’t a varietal I’ve got much experience with, but whatever it’s doing in conjunction with the Mosaic and Simcoe here is magical. Not very bitter for how hoppy it comes across in the body, and definitely has a bit of sweetness on the back end. I expect this to go over really well with the other guys since it’s another East Coast-esque brew and has all the fruitiness of the Mosaic hops that they go for.
Shane's Thoughts: Oh man, I like this a lot. I feel like that’s important to say right off the bat when a beer hits the tongue with as much flavor as this one does. I’ve noticed that beers hopped with Motueka tend to strike me particularly favorably, and this one is no exception. Obviously Mosaic is also a crowd pleaser, and the citrus goodness from that hop does come through--but where it tends to overwhelm the palate in other beers, I find that Temescal has found a way to appropriately temper it and allow the Motueka and Simcoe to shine as well. That is no small feat. They aren’t lying when the call this a “passion fruity IPA.” Passion fruit comes through STRONG here. I suspect Pete will like this one a lot, given that he is an absolute slut for passion fruit beers. Personally, I’m less of a fan, but in this particular instance I think it is an absolutely fantastic interpretation of the style and incorporation of that flavor profile.
Pete's Thoughts: Passionfruity it is. Very great mix of a fruit beer and IPA. I love the can art--it’s a little abstract, but doesn’t give you too much information about how great this beer is going to be. The beer itself has a nice hazy orange look to it, great fruit character, and some nice bitterness to not destroy your palate. I like beers that take style notes from different areas and still bring their own character to the mix. This reminds me of a New England-style IPA when you look at it and smell it, and the feature reminds me of a Tired Hands fruit IPA. But the beer still retains some West Coast character that sets it apart.
Shane: I wouldn’t have expected it, but I wonder if I’ll end up being highest on this beer. 9/10
Pete: Really great well rounded fruit character with some west coast bitterness. 8/10
York: Absolutely killer beer from a really exciting brewery. Just enough west coast elements to bay homage but super smooth and juicy. 9/10
Pete's Thoughts: This beer really impressed me so much. I’m such a fan of the style that what I write might sound bad(?), but that’s only because I am grading on a very high curve. This beer is lovely. Bright golden color, slightly hazy. The aroma is classic saison with some hints of hops on the nose. It drinks very clean and bright with the funky character of the Huell Melon coming through. I think this is a really solid interpretation and I think it does justice to the style while showcasing some bright new hops. For me, I want a slightly more complex yeast profile. It drinks a little bit more like a pale ale than a saison for me. This is just my preference, but overall this is a really solid beer and I love that Brian keeps pushing these new hops for us to get acquainted with.
Shane's Thoughts: I’ve never been a huge saison fan. It’s just a fact. But it’s also a fact that I’ve been slowly coming around on the style, and I’ve come to respect a really well-done saison. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call this one of the best saisons I’ve had, I would definitely say that it’s a really tasty, easy-to-drink beer. The nose of this beer is surprisingly citrus-heavy for a saison, with a lot of that peach and apricot coming through. It drinks with a refreshing crispness, which I presume comes from the pilsner and wheat malt base. That base also gives it a lighter feel than I expected, which allows the citrus and melon flavors to play off of each other in a very delicate way. Saisons may not be the first thing I reach for in the cooler, but I found myself thoroughly enjoying this one from beginning to end.
York's Thoughts: I know none of us are really big on saisons. I also knew that as soon as I tried this one I’d be sending it. Local has found a way to keep all of the elements that make a saison enjoyable in the body without leaving the farmy stickiness on the back end. This one is on the citrusy side of saisons likely due to the addition of the Huell Melon hops. That fruitiness hits the nose hard and then takes you gently into the Belgian-esq body. Dry hopping at the end gives it a little hops on the nose and the kettling seems to help end the farmy taste cease once the sip is swallowed. Collectively, our favorite saisons have seemed to be a bit of a stretch for the style, but this one is fairly traditional and still has the elements that I enjoy.
Shane: Light, crisp, easy drinking saison. Really exceeded my expectations. 8/10
Pete: Really crisp and refreshing with the proper amount of balance from the hops. 7/10
York: Definitely part of the top of my saison list. Love how distinct the nose, body and finish are from one another. 8/10
York's Thoughts: We’ve had Pizza Port, Port City, and now Port Brewing. For this entry, I went with the imperial IPA as a changeup from many of the IPAs and doubles that have been exchanged so far. This one is far more West Coast in nature, with huge doses of pine and earthiness. I’ll say that this is a beer that drinks exactly as advertised. It’s got some booziness to it and is definitely an extreme on the bitterness scale. The bitterness meets you immediately, with an already strong malt bill present, enhancing both of those elements even further. Great homage to its style, and in the wheelhouse of West Coast IPA lover, but I find myself one-and-done here.
Shane's Thoughts: The Simcoe hops come through pretty strongly here, which can be a blessing or a curse. Simcoe offers an almost woody flavor, and I definitely pick up on a lot of that. While it’s tempered with a decent amount of citrus flavor, the main element I’m getting here is definitely pine. That’s not a bad thing at all--it just isn’t really my personal preference, and a bitter, piney double IPA can be a little overwhelming on my palate. Port Brewing clearly knows what they’re doing with their hop blends: Simcoe and pine are a match made in heaven, and other traditional West Coast hops like Cascade and Columbus give this beer a definite California feel. It doesn’t fall within my personal wheelhouse, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still impressed by what the brewers have done here.
Pete's Thoughts: This beer just represents West Coast brewing and how they have raised the bar. This is as solid as any orange, pine, dry cracker malt hop bomb as you are going to find. Easy drinking, great restrained bitterness. Doesn’t do anything outside of the dictionary definition of a good West Coast IPA. I could easily see drinking a couple of these on the beach on a nice hot day. Very good representation of the style using classic hops.
Shane: A little too pine-forward for me, but a decent profile of Simcoe hops. 6/10
Pete: A very standard west coast IPA for me. 6/10
York: Huge departure from most of the doubles we exchange. Neat to compare but not at the top of my list. 6/10
York's Thoughts: For a long time, I avoided “kettle” sours because they seemed to mostly share an odd sweetness that I have always had trouble defining. Recently, I’ve learned that it is stupid to generalize anything with “kettle” in the description, because that is where most of the good stuff happens for a lot of beers--not even just referring to sours. For example, berliner weisses have been a fun style for me so far and guess what...souring is done in the kettle for those too. Alvarado Street stormed onto the scene in San Francisco recently with two main offerings: big IPAs and kettle sours. I love the Vengeful Barbarian IPA, so that was a no brainer, but I struggled to pick out something to show off their other style. I’ll admit that this was the first beer I’ve ever decided to add to a tasting before trying it myself. When I saw that the current release was boysenberry (no idea what that is), I promptly got a four pack, knowing all the while I’d include it without having tasted it. Thankfully, this was a really enjoyable beer and definitely does the job of showing how broad a spectrum Alvarado Street is covering. Still a bit sweet where I’d like it to be more sour, but it comes with really robust, berry-based flavors without being syrupy, which I think is extremely impressive. Making a berry beer almost always results in something that tastes like someone poured melted down jolly ranchers into a pale ale, but Boysen Back in Town avoids that trap successfully.
Shane's Thoughts: This beer reminds me of nothing so much as Bissell’s 2016 release of Seed, a beer we enjoyed together in Ocean City, MD last year. Kettle sours are always interesting to me. Personally, if I’m drinking a sour, I like it to be very sour. I want some serious pucker. Kettle sours don’t really bring that level of tartness, though. They tend to be a little more mellow, with a more rounded flavor. This allows them to serve a very important purpose: they can be a great entry point for those who are interested in sours but haven’t quite acquired the taste. And I’ll tell you right now, if you fall into that category, pick this beer up immediately. I have no earthly idea what a boysenberry is, but if it tastes anything like the fruit backbone upon which this beer is built, I’d like to plant an orchard of boysenberry bushes, please. Boysen Back in Town pours an absolutely gorgeous, rich, purple-red color, and it smells like a sweet and sour fruit compote. The flavor is fruity and juicy, refreshingly light, and with just the tiniest hint of sourness. It settles in at 5% ABV, which is the perfect amount of alcohol for a beer like this. I highly, highly recommend this beer.
Pete's Thoughts: I must be a crusty old curmudgeon because when I first saw this beer, I went through all the reasons in my head that I wasn’t going to like this. Kettle sours are too weak, they are never funky enough, they are watery, what the fuck is a boysenberry, anyway? Are they going to just over-fruit it and not make a sour, wait, is this really a fruit or just a candle? I was totally wrong. This beer walks a fantastic line of being tart, slightly sweet, good body, with reserved but pronounced fruit character. It poured a beautiful blueberry purple with an impressive head. It has everything you want to see and smell from a beer like this. Fruit, funk, and just clean flavors. It’s tart, but not too tart. Fruity, without being too fruity. And it manages to be sweet and really surprisingly refreshing. You could definitely drink this all day and you wouldn’t know it until you tried it. Really great experience enjoying this beer.
Shane: No idea what boysenberry is, but I definitely like this beer a lot. 8/10
Pete: I guess I do like boysenberry. Great beer. 8/10
York: Objectively tasty, just not enough going on to set it apart. 7/10
York's Thoughts: Local Brewing is a few blocks away from my apartment and it’s become my go-to beer spot. I sent the guys Mambo and The Big One last year, which were also DIPAs from Local. I swore I’d mix it up for the next one, but this beer is too good to pass on. Much more fruit ended than the Mambo and more smooth and layered than The Big One, Double Day lives very close to the line of an New England-style IPA. It’s not nearly as hazy as the beers coming out of New Hampshire and Vermont, but it's got that signature grass and fruit profile combined with a very subtle malt bill that reminds you of the northeast. Shane wrote about being confused by Hallertau Blanc with The Big One, and I think this beer does it even better justice. I get fleshy fruit out of this, largely due to the combination of the two hops. It’s difficult to pin it down too much more specifically, but definitely get white grape and melon tones that carry right through the end and let you skip the bitter finish you expect from a 9% DIPA out of Cali. Perhaps one of the sneakiest 9% ABV and 90+ IBU beers I’ve ever had.
Shane's Thoughts: In our recent beer draft, York casually referred to Local Brewing as "primarily a lager shop," and it blew my damn mind. A lager shop? Local is responsible for maybe my single favorite IPA that York has offered us to date. They also appear to have a soft spot for Hallertau Blanc hops, as this is the second IPA we’ve had from them to feature that particular strain. It definitely comes through strongly here, with a massive hit of grape must both on the nose and on the tongue. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Hallertau Blanc (I’m a red wine person and it’s a little too white wine-y to me), but I recognize the deft hand that Local demonstrates with its incorporation here.
Pete's Thoughts: I really dig this beer, because it looks one way and then just takes the hazy juicy IPA in another direction with two relatively new hops. It’s got great tropical fruit notes, but not the cliche flavors we expect from Mosaic, Citra, Galaxy. It’s very cantaloupe and honeydew, with some nice hints of white grape undertones. I love the look of this beer, because I was not expecting these bright flavors, and it almost threw me off thinking this beer had gone bad. Then I read the description and I realized I was thinking about what I always expect. If you go in expecting the same thing, you will miss gems like this.
Shane: Hallertau Blanc doesn’t lie within my personal sweet spot, but this is a good beer with some nice subtle flavors playing off one another. 7/10
Pete: I just know Brian canned this particular beer. Great hop combo. 8/10
York: I went 9 and 10 on the previous Local DIPAs and this one beats em both. 10/10
York's Thoughts: I'll admit it. I’m still not sure if I like goses. I’ll also admit that I’m uncomfortable saying that word because people seem pretty sure about a few different pronunciations. All that aside, this beer is absolutely killer. Modern Times pumps out a ton of aggressively flavorful beers across a massive spectrum. I’ve sent a few to the guys, most recently Booming Rollers, which wound up on our top picks list, and am always on the lookout for new inclusions in their San Francisco distribution. Fruitlands is a recipe that changes with the seasons and it makes for a fun comparison whenever a new one gets released. I’m a big fan of several iterations, but the Passionfruit and Guava one is easily my favorite. There’s so much fruit flavor filling this brew that it combines with the saltiness for an incredible flavor (I’ve seen people do things like add salt to watermelon and I think I get it now) complexity that somehow gives you a pucker-style sour up front with a nice, sweet, fruity finish.
Pete's Thoughts: So, this beer prompted me to think, do we need a new style for the gose? You look at Beer Advocate, you see a gose is a light, tart, crisp beer with some complex flavors that you have to search for. But American breweries have taken this beer up a notch, adding a huge amount of fruit purees to up the flavor profiles to 11. The base beer has the right characters to accentuate the tartness of most fruits. Every new gose I have had pushes the envelope on what a gose can be. This beer is no exception: tart, juicy guava hits you right away and you get great notes of passionfruit that really make your mouth water. It’s an absolute fruit bomb. So, how can you compare it to the light, tart, refreshing goses from Germany? It’s like when Americans took the IPA and made it a flavor explosion. After a while it’s not really fair to compare an English IPA to a West Coast IPA to a New England IPA. They are just not the same thing. I think because of this, we need a new category to help distinguish American goses from traditional German ones.
Shane's Thoughts: I’ll second pretty much everything Pete said. I guess it isn’t a real style, but I’d have been more likely to call this a “fruit beer” than a gose. There a little bit of tartness, but not as much as you might expect in a more traditional gose. But there’s also that slightly briny, salty base that you know and love from the style. More than anything, the guava and passionfruit come forward very strongly here, and it almost tastes more like a tropical cocktail that you might drink on a cruise ship than a beer. To be clear, that’s a compliment of the highest order. Like Pete said, this pushes the boundary of what a gose can be, and it does so in the best possible way.
Pete: This beer is a great Guava Passionfruit bomb of a beer. 9/10
Shane: Outstanding gose that really pushes the boundaries of the style. 9/10
York: Go-to gose from the West Coast. One of the top I’ve had in the style. 8/10
Best of the Bunch
Shane: Toss-up between Vengeful Barbarian and Fruitlands. Since I suspect Pete will choose Fruitlands, I’m going with Vengeful Barbarian. I think it’s well past time that I gave the West Coast its due for producing some absolutely outstanding IPAs. My loyalty may lie with New England-style IPAs, but Vengeful Barbarian stands as proof that many West Coast breweries are making beers that can satisfy any palate.
Pete: Fruitlands for me. I am a sucker for a great fruit-forward gose and this fits the bill.
York: Double Day all day. Local somehow keeps upping an already impressive double IPA game. Absolutely love the use of lesser-known hops in an aggressive profile.
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