York: Crisp, light, clean beers is the focus on this batch! I’ve assembled a mix of beers that are all brews that I go for on hot (that’s a relative thing to say in San Francisco, I know) days when the refreshing quality of a beer is especially appreciable. I was able to get my hands on some Cellarmaker, which is a brewery both the guys have requested more from, and have also included two hoppy brews from HenHouse, a big up-and-comer in the San Francisco area. A bright sour, a tropical blonde, and a pilsner collab from two of my favorite breweries round out this lineup of thirst quenchers!
Shane: This is an exciting batch of beers, featuring a few breweries whose beers I have never sampled before. I’m particularly excited for another crack at Cellarmaker, given that the first beer I tried from them wasn’t quite up my alley. I’ve been dying to try their Dobis and Double Dobis IPAs, so the fact that York was able to get his hands on some of the former is hugely exciting. Add in another beer from Alvarado Street Brewing and one from Local, and this batch has my mouth watering already. I’m also excited to taste Sunbather, as York has yet to send us a single sour from the West Coast that was anything less than delicious.
Pete: Here we get a little light variety from California. Usually these batches are just a slew of double IPA’s from the first area of the country to put their stamp on the style. I like that we finally get a pilsner in here and a sour is never something to turn your nose up at. I spy a bunch of pale ales too which is great for me because I will take a nice pale ale over a bunch of IPAs any day. I like sessioning beers and a good hoppy pale ale is the best session for me. You get all the hops while still enjoying a beer that doesn’t knock you on your ass. I am especially excited to try Cellarmaker and their Dobis. They are probably the most popular cool kid brewery that I have heard of and their Dobis is their take on Citra so I expect it is good. I am calling this a York summer pack because these are perfect beers to wrap up summer with. Cheers!
York's Thoughts: This is a whole lotta flavor in something called a Pale Ale! Stoked! is their rotating brew that uses different hops for different batches. I both love and hate that model to be honest--it creates some difficulty trying to keep up with the brewery, but it also allows us to learn about the hops and pick out how hops can alter each portion of the beer. I had tried a few of the more experimental type hop iterations of this beer but when I saw the Mosaic one, I knew it was time to get some out to Shane & Pete. It’s also reportedly the first time they have repeated a hop in this series since it’s been the fan favorite to-date. I’d venture that if tasted blind, most would describe this as an IPA sitting right about 7% ABV. It’s got tons and tons of flavor in the body coming from what must be a pretty hefty hopping, and, just guessing here, a fairly complex malt profile. I say that because the color doesn’t seem to match the smell and neither of those match the finish. A complex malt bill would allow for multiple experiences like that, and regardless of whether thats actually whats going on here, it’s delicious. Reminds me a bit of Captain’s Daughter from Grey Sail, but stands out a little more because of the bursting freshness and more pronounced hop profile.
Pete's Thoughts: I don’t think there is a beer name that better reflects my feeling about hoppy beers than this. I actually did not know that this was a Mosaic only beer until I went to check it in to untappd. You crack this beer and you immediately smell it. That is the most reliable indicator of a good time for me. I have tried to go by look, and description. Thing is, if a hoppy beer is old, you can’t tell based on the look and you can’t trust bars to rotate stuff enough. I have been burned many a time ordering a pint of something I was shocked that a bar still had on. And then I realized it had to be old because the season for the beer had passed. So aroma, especially from the can when you open it, cannot be faked. This beer is a straight hop bomb. All fruity mosaic dank passion fruit deliciousness. It pours that nice orange hazy visual that everyone loves and the taste is spot on to showcase the range of this hop. Fruity, then citrus, then some slight herbal dank flavor and just more fruit character. No bitterness, just all the positive characters of the hop. I also love that it is a pale ale because this would be a great session beer for me. That is usually what I want in a beer. Yes, high test is fine, but what do you really want? You want a beer you can sit and have a couple of without having it knock you around. This beer is my dream beer.
Shane's Thoughts: There are a few things I know I can count on. Death and taxes, sure. Tom Brady being devastatingly handsome, of course. The sun will come up, and the sun will go down. But the number one thing I know for sure in this world is that Pete will lose his mind over a Mosaic-heavy beer. And make no mistake, Stoked is about as Mosaic-centric as it gets. From beginning to end, this is a beer with a single profile. Plenty of fruit character, a little bit of dankness, and some of that almost oniony flavor that Mosaic tends to impart. It’s an easy drinker that finishes exactly the way it starts, although I wish it had a slightly crisper finish. While I like Mosaic hops, I don’t find that they sit particularly well on the tongue once you’ve finished drinking, so I don’t love the amount of stick on this particular beer. Still, that’s a small criticism, and what we’re left with her is a very successful single-hop beer highlighting one of the biggest crowd-pleaser hops in the world right now.
Pete: A ridiculously hoppy Mosaic pale ale is basically my favorite beer. 10/10
Shane: Pete, your Mosaic bias is showing. This is a really tasty beer, though. 8/10
York: Excellent go-to hoppy beer. A lower ABV than you’d guess means you can have even more of it! 7/10
York's Thoughts: Well, I can’t say I really understand the relationship between this beer and the frozen envelope story but I suppose now I have another beer I like and a piece of bar trivia as a bonus. As you probably noticed with the Stoked beer from HenHouse, these guys love mixing it up with hops. Idaho 7 is a varietal that I find in a ton of West Coast danky IPAs, but Ahntanum…never heard of it, can’t really figure out how to say it, and have a hard enough time just spelling it out. Anyway, turns out Ahntanum hops pack a huge flavor punch that’s much more on the fleshy fruit side than it’s Idaho 7 counterpart. It pours a hazy orange and has a gloriously hoppy nose on it. I get some peachy and mango flavor spikes from the body and then everything rounds out with a bit of the West Coast dank. Extremely curious to see what the guys think of this one since it’s tough to bucket it in with any specific IPA style.
Shane's Thoughts: Before I even took a sip of this beer, I jotted down “pours an absolutely gorgeous, rich orange color.” Little did I know that it would actually get BETTER from there. This beer tastes like a single-IPA version of Maine Beer Company’s Dinner. If that sounds like high praise, it absolutely is. This beer is well-rounded in exactly the way I love. Bold mango flavor explodes on the front of the tongue, with lighter, more mellow notes of melon to temper it on the way down. The back end of the beer has a surprisingly robust malt backbone, but it never feels like it’s going to take over the flavor. Instead, it serves as a fantastic prop for the tropical flavors that permeate the beer, giving it a wonderfully full, drinkable body. It’s an incredibly delicious, incredibly successful beer. Oh, and while we’re talking about incredibly successful things, let’s talk about how the NBA successfully rigged the 1985 draft lottery. When I saw the name, I hoped against hope that it was a reference to those dirty cheaters at the NBA handing Patrick Ewing to the Knicks. HenHouse knows their beer, and they also know their (totally true as far as I’m concerned) conspiracy theories.
Pete's Thoughts: Wow, so HenHouse means hops. Message received. This beer is another where you crack the can and boom hops are in your nose even if you are sitting across the room. It pours a deep orange almost gold color and it nice. There are familiar notes of dry pineapple and peach with some notes that I can’t really place. I don’t have enough experience with Idaho 7 and Ahntanum hops to be able to pick them out effectively. There is a fruitiness on the back end that I think could either be the malt or some character from the hops that I can’t yet pick up because I am not familiar enough. Either way, this is a really big hoppy beer that delivers tons of flavor and will definitely numb your tongue (in a good way).
Shane: I don’t give out many 10s, but I’m struggling to find a single fault with this beer. I’d drink it again and again. 10/10
Pete: This is just hops on hops, which appears to be the motto of this brewery. Great beer. 8/10
York: One of my favorites from HenHouse so far. Really unique style and super easy to drink. 9/10
York's Thoughts: Summer is sorta cold and annoying in San Francisco but Local Brewing is determined to will the warm weather in with a huge lineup of bright beers. I sent a few from Local in the last batch that were a bit more true to know styles. This one blows all preconceived notions out of the water (I’ll admit, I don’t really get excited about anything labeled a “blonde ale”) and packs HUGE fruit flavors into an amazingly crisp brew. I associate blonde ales with being more similar to a witbier than a pale ale but this one has almost none of the stickiness I expected it to come with and drinks ridiculously smooth. If that wasn’t already good enough, add a hop profile that gives off pineapple and mango AND THEN add passionfruit and guava and you’ve got yourself a go-to summer brew!
Pete's Thoughts: Blondes are fun when they have a little twist on them. There are a group of styles that we tend to see where there isn’t much you can do to step out of the box because the style is regimented and the brewer has to hit certain notes to meet the style. This style is usually pretty basic, refreshing, and slightly fruity from the yeast but it isn’t a style that has been memorable. But in America, we don’t play by traditional styles so the general solution is make it an IPA! And that can be very good but it can also be a little expected because we Americans love shoving hops in everything. The problem comes when the attempt to make an IPA falls a little short and as a consumer you just wish the brewer would have picked a lane and stuck with the blonde or just made an IPA instead. This take is interesting because they clearly shoved a bunch of tropical fruits in to enhance the beer and made it a refreshing fruit beer. The fruit is very apparent and the hop character balances the tart crispness out very well. I would absolutely love this beer on a beach because it’s light and really flavorful. The beer gets lost in this a little bit because of all the fruit and hop character. So on the back end you don’t really taste anything, and the blonde ale gets lost in all the other flavors. That’s my only knock on this because overall this is the best blonde I have ever had.
Shane's Thoughts: This was the final beer I tasted from this batch and it might be the most fascinating. This is a beer that straddles a lot of different styles, and I honestly don’t think I’d have called it a “blonde ale” if I had this during a blind taste test. There’s a little bit of light tartness on the nose, which was both unexpected and incredibly welcome. It also has a little bit of that farmhouse funk to it, and while I don’t tend to be a huge fan of farmhouse ales, it actually works really well here as a foundational complement to the tartness. The name is perfect--the hop profile on this beer is incredibly tropical, and drinking it makes me feel like I should be sitting on a beach somewhere. I’ll say that although this is the first “blonde ale” that we’ve reviewed, we did discuss Liquid Riot’s Ka$h Money blonde IPA a while back, and that was a beer that we universally loved. Maybe it’s time we started giving a little more respect to blondes.
Pete: Amazing blonde, perfect beach and summer beer. 8/10
Shane: Straddles styles, playing with a lot of different flavor elements. Really enjoyable. 8/10
York: Love the creativity here and am pleasantly shocked and how smooth a drink this is. 8/10
York's Thoughts: Cellarmaker is a top tier IPA machine in SF. They also however are extremely hard to get in cans & bottles. I gave the guys a Nelson hop based IPA way back in our third exchange which they both weren’t huge fans of (see overuse of the word “dank”). This one is a Citra single hop with even less bitterness and still sits in that crushable 5-6% range. Cellarmaker does a lot of really impressive big scary double IPAs but their Pale Ales stick out as my preference from them. Really well balanced with an intentionally non-complex flavor profile that makes them really easy to down. Citra is a hop we’ve all talked about quite a bit but it rarely gets a solo gig. That provides a really neat citrusy beer that sits among all it’s dank, piney brothers at Cellarmaker.
Pete's Thoughts: So I have been jonesing for some Cellarmaker ever since I heard that Brian was moving to San Francisco. They are one of those places, to me, that you always hear about how awesome they but can never try their stuff because it is too popular. Sometimes exclusivity raises the profile for some of these breweries so it is always good to pierce the veil and see what is really going on. This is a slam dunk beer for me. Hazy fruit pineapple bomb. They got that exactly right by putting a bunch of pineapples on the outside of the can. Just a bright pineapple flavor and aroma with some nice dryness but not too dry to warp your tastebuds. Just a solid balanced fruit forward pale ale that I could drink all day. This is the problem, once you try something exclusive, and you like it….you just want more.
Shane's Thoughts: Hazy. Juicy. Fruity. An East Coast IPA from a West Coast hop shop. Dobis pours a hazy orange-yellow color that perfectly characterizes the fruit that dominates its flavor profile: pineapple. This is a pineapple bomb. Pineapple on the head. Pineapple on the body. Pineapple on the finish. And I love it. It’s a consistent beer that doesn’t try to tangle with too many flavors, too many different hops, too many ingredients. It’s single-hopped with Citra, and you know what? I respect that simplicity. It’s straightforward. If this was a double IPA, I’d probably say that I want a little more going on, I want some different flavors on the finish, I want something to mix it up. But for a 5.7% beer that you’re probably looking to crush several of at a time, I’m all aboard the pineapple express. I think they nailed exactly what they were going for.
Pete: Pineapple juice pale ale that fits the bill for my type of pale ale. 9/10
Shane: It’s a little bit one-note, but when that note is pineapple and the beer is crushable, I have no problem with that at all. 8/10
York: Pale Ales are quickly becoming my go-to style and this one is a good representative why. 8/10
York's Thoughts: Similar to the Stoked! from HenHouse, this is a single hop series that the brewers change up with each batch, and similar to the Dobis, it’s a Citra single-hop. Kind of fun to ride this ride huh? Angel City was the first LA brewery I visited after moving to CA and let me take a moment to just put a teaser out about how amazing their space is. A gigantic loft in the arts district (kind of looks like an old clothing manufacturer maybe?) is full of multi-level, indoor-outdoor, game riddled, eclectic areas that you can tuck yourself into for whatever experience you want. I’m yet to do my all-LA batch but to make sure we don’t forget about how good a beer town that is, I’m passing along the Sunbather cans. Really approachable summer sour that showcases the concept that sours don’t have to be wildly complex and come with 5 adjuncts in the name. This one has both enough tart to please sour seekers and enough of a beery taste and hop profile to satisfy the everyday craft beer fan. LA gets a lot hotter than SF so the concept of summer beers is even more real. This one is on my hot weather list for sure.
Shane's Thoughts: I’ll set aside my personal biases here--or at least acknowledge them: when it comes to sours, my preference lies with tart sours. I like a Warhead-level of pucker in my sours. But I also acknowledge that there are many different styles of sour beer, and many of them can be just as successful (and delicious) without turning your taste buds inside-out. This is one such beer. When I took my first sip, my initial impression was that it was going to be a little wheaty for me. When I took my second sip, I wondered how I could ever have thought that. The wheat flavor dissipates pretty quickly on the tongue, replaced instead by a lingering tropical citrus tang. The aftertaste here is really, really nice, and although the beer isn’t as tart as I usually prefer, it leaves exactly the sort of pleasant tingle on the tongue that I expect from an even more amped-up sour. That’s incredibly impressive to me. Citra was a great choice here, as the straightforward citrus character it embodies works incredibly well with sours. I had high hopes for this beer, and it lived up to them.
Pete's Thoughts: This beer was really really light coming out of the can so I was automatically prepared for either a super sour beer or a super light with nothing. This has a nice funky Brett nose to it. I didn’t get much hops but that doesn’t necessarily determine how this beer will turn out. Flavor is just on point. Citra really does well in sour beers because it just works with the yeast to bring out that sourness of citrus peel out of the hop. It is a symbiotic relationship that just makes the beer taste better. This is light and refreshing with a punch to the mouth of grapefruit peel and juice. Really simple when you first taste it but complex when you consider all the work that went into getting you there. Really enjoy that the dry hopped sour is a thing now.
Shane: This was the first beer I tried, and it’ll be tough to top. 9/10
Pete: Great summer sour that is perfect for the beach. 8/10
York: Sometimes a simple approach ensures an objectively good result. 7/10
York's Thoughts: I shocked the whole group (self included) by sending the first cider we reviewed, and this is a similar level or surprise with the first pilsner. I have drank with the creed of “pilsner is pilsner” for almost my entire beer-drinking life, but this one is a true exception. First off, Alvarado Street, as mentioned in the last batch, has exploded onto the West Coast scene with objectively terrific beer. Creature Comforts is a brewery I got to try a few beers from during a DC beer week event and were one of the major standouts. When I saw this collab, it was a no brainer, even though the style wasn’t what I was hoping for. Back to the beer - if more pilsners were like this, it might just be my favorite style. I expected the standard “meh” reaction but am happy to say that this is one of my favorites that I have sent in a while. Gloriously crisp and bright with juuuuust enough of a hop profile to satiate the craft beer fan. The house yeast is clearly at play here and seems to give the beer an almost lime-like flavor. Add that to a hop profile much sexier than most pilsners and you’ve got a tasty brew.
Shane's Thoughts: This is the first pilsner we’ve reviewed, and part of the reason for that is...well, I don’t think any of us can claim to be huge fans of the style. Don’t get me wrong--pilsners absolutely have their place. They’re easy to drink, they’re satisfying, and you can usually drink a boatload of them, which makes them perfect for grabbing a few of while you watch a football game. It just tends to be hard to differentiate one pilsner from another. At least, that’s what I thought. Continental Drift challenges a few of those assumptions. I was shocked to discover almost no discernible aroma when I poured this beer--unusual for a pilsner, which usually features that sharp, barley-heavy smell from the moment you crack the can. Drinking it was just as intriguing. This isn’t a beer with a ton of body. It goes down incredibly smooth--almost like flavored water. I know that sounds like an insult, but it really isn’t: rather than that standard pilsner flavor, you get a nice hint of citrus on the back end from the Mosaic, and that flavor is allowed to shine through. With a pilsner, I don’t need to be smacked in the face with flavor the way I do with an IPA. With a pilsner, you can be a little more subtle. This is definitely one of the more unique beers I’ve tasted, and I kind of wish I had a second one to follow it up with.
Pete's Thoughts: This is a fun beer for our first pilsner. It’s got that malty pilsner note that I always expect from a beer like this. Classic pilsner body, white fluffy head, crisp gold color. But then you get this subtle note of fruit on the nose and you sip it and the beer tastes crisp and clean. But there is an underlying hop presence that is almost juicy (as we call it). It has that slight note of mosaic berries and stone fruit while still maintaining that crisp pilsner dry character. I think this is a beautiful beer that really seems to just sub out the classic hops for the new ones without making an IPA. This would be a great beer to have a session of because the flavor does not overwhelm your palate. You keep tasting the flavors and searching for what you remember from these hops up until the last drop is gone.
Shane: Really struggling with how to rate this. Definitely one of the most interesting pilsners I’ve ever had. 8/10
Pete: Really fun interpretation that didn’t try to be an IPA. 8/10
York: Game changer in the Pilsner style for me. Absolutely loved it. 9/10
Best of the Bunch
Shane: I’m writing this before I even finish tasting the beers: the answer is Frozen Envelope. Just the perfect combination of flavor, richness, and drinkability. I could drink a thousand of these, you guys.
Pete: Stoked on Mosaic. Because I am. I wish I could always have a beer that complex and complete at my disposal.
York: Continental Drift. As the shock continues to build, not only our first Pilsner, but now cracking the BoB. Continental Drift may just be the easiest, most pleasant beer to drink that any of us have included to date.
York: I'm really not sure how to sum up the style of this batch. I finally made it out to Russian River and couldn't resist picking multiple brews from them for the guys. That already makes for two sours in one batch, and add to that a coffee cream ale from Ballast, our first cider exchange, and a couple other fresh hoppy beers. It's all over the map for damn sure, which speaks to the luxury I've got as far as the accessibility of really fun craft brews. I'm beyond excited to see if the fellas are nearly as into the Russian River sours as I am. Lagunitas is a brewery that I know at least Shane and I have been very hit or miss on, and I think the Born Yesterday might put that to rest. Never thought I'd be the first to send a cider, but go ahead and read about it below and tell me how I could possibly not give it a shot. I went from an all-IPA batch to a shotgun approach here, so let's see how it lands!
Shane: When York reached out to let us know that he was headed to Russian River, I could not have been more excited. Pliny the Elder is probably the most famous West Coast IPA (California's answer to Heady Topper), but we already had the chance to try that one. No, I was more excited for the opportunity to sample some of their other brews. Much like those on the West Coast may have heard of Heady Topper but are less likely to have heard of Focal Banger, everyone on the East Coast knows about Pliny the Elder, but not so many know about, say Supplication. As the craft beer scene expands throughout the country, sours have quickly become en vogue, and (although it took a brief adjustment period) I couldn't be happier about it. The chance to try not one, but two sours from arguably the most famous brewery on the West Coast? Well, that's too good to pass up. Needless to say, I'm pumped...and I haven't even mentioned how thrilled I am to finally get my hands on more Pizza Port beer!
Pete: This is one of the more diverse batches that any of us has managed to gather. I also like that it's more on the pale ale side of the spectrum, which is where I prefer. The Pizza Port beer seems like a fun find, and the Born Yesterday beer was something I wanted to try last year. This one is fresh, so it has to be good. Both Pizza Port and Born Yesterday have Mosaic, so one can naturally assume that I am going to drink that. Calm Before the Storm has been on my radar for awhile, and I am glad that York was able to get some, because I have wanted to try it. I don't know why, but I just have not had it. Both of the Russian River beers sounded amazing when Brian told us about them while he was at the brewery (jealous). The only one that I am a little gun shy on is the Grumpy Bear. I have had a good number of ciders with different ingredients that might have seemed "off" (maple syrup and cocoa nibs for example). I just don’t know about coffee because it is so bitter, I don’t know if it will mix with the sweet cider or overpower it. Overall, cheers to Brian for an interesting group.
York: Every year, Pete, Shane, and I meet up in Ocean City, MD to catch up, drink beer, and put a nice cap on the summer. That means this set of beer is traveling from the sea cliffs of San Francisco, to the boardwalk in Maryland; the very epitome of coast to coast.
My last batch was riddled with IPAs of all styles. It was a lot of fun going through that batch with they guys and trying to really hone in on what it is that makes us each identify with particular IPA styles. For this batch, I went the complete opposite direction. Of course, coming from the Land of IPA's, I had to include one, but I chose a really interesting summer style IPA and then followed it up with a dark sour, a HUGE stout, and capped it all with an in your face Rye with tons of complex flavor notes.
Shane: Looks like York and I had a similar thought process going into this batch of beers: all over the map, and as creative as possible. I’m very excited to try these beers because, with the exception of Almanac, they are all entirely new breweries to me. York has hyped the Vanilla Cherry Dogpatch to an outrageous level, so I really can’t wait to get a taste of that one. He has also boasted that the Fides in Fermento belongs in the same conversation as Mott the Lesser--and to say that I am skeptical would be an extreme understatement. Still, if the quality of these beers is even HALF of what York promises, we are in for a HUGE treat.
Pete: I was completely focused on this Vanilla Cherry beer from Almanac. The rest of the stuff was all window dressing to that beer for me. I was pleasantly surprised by the stout the York brought as well as the collection of IPAs that he was able to bring. This became a very stylistically eclectic collection of beers that steered away from the traditional onslaught of IPAs that we have been doing.
York's Thoughts: This may be my new go-to summer brew this year. This beer is extremely fresh and crisp with huge fruity notes of citrus in the nose and a nice full palate of hops in the drink. It’s got a bit of an amber complexion and you can definitely tell that it’s a touch on the roasty malt side, but that certainly doesn’t interfere with the lightness this drinks with. I like this sort of beer extremely cold to really come through as crisp as possible. Great art and an incredible lineup of beers makes this brewer a no brainer to keep on reaching for. This is my first experience with Hop Valley and I can’t wait to get my hands on a few of their flagship IPAs.
Shane's Thoughts: I dig this beer. Big citrus flavor right from the get-go, but it also has the maltiness that I expect from more West Coast-style IPAs. It definitely boasts a pretty complex hop combination, and I wish I could put my finger on exactly what hops they used, because it’s a really refreshing combination. There is also a good amount of bitterness to this beer, although it comes through in a very “grapefruit rind” sort of way, which is entirely welcome. All in all I would say that this beer is a pretty nice blending of styles, with East Coast fruit-forwardness and West Coast maltiness and clarity. I would definitely love to try more from Hop Valley.
Pete's Thoughts: Sadly I do not want to jump to conclusions on this beer because I fear the hops have faded. When a beer fades, you get this sensation that it is very malty and you get more of the bittering hops so it gives you a flavor that I equate with iced tea. That was definitely present here as well as a faded nose. What I did detect was a nice bright citrusy juice base which I am sure is very lovely when fresh, I just don’t feel right giving this a full rating.
Shane: Beach beer for sure. 8/10
Pete: Has potential and would definitely seek this out again. 7/10
York: So perfect for a summer beer. Excellently balanced hops and malt. 8/10
York's Thoughts: Almanac just does not miss. Yet another brew style with their sour tint that has lots of components reminiscent of a red ale. It’s got that perfect level of pucker that the other Almanac’s we’ve reviewed have and comes with a present but not overbearing sweetness from the cherry and vanilla. I love cherry in beer and am thankful that I get a bit more cherry than I do vanilla here - it’s balanced extremely effectively to bring the flavors out very well without making you forget that it’s a beer after all. This one is high on my list and I know Pete is a fiend for all good vanilla brews so I’m looking forward to that assessment.
Shane's Thoughts: My relationship with sours has taken time to develop. I still remember the very first sour I ever had: we were sitting in Washington DC’s Smoke and Barrel (a beer and BBQ bar that DC residents should absolutely make it a priority to check out), and we decided to order every beer on the menu. What we didn’t count on was sour beers, which none of us were familiar with. When the final beer arrived, it took four of us working together to finish it. Our brains were just not prepared to comprehend what it was we were drinking. Well, I’m happy to say that those days are long gone, and (largely thanks to York’s concerted efforts) I am FULLY on board the sour train. When York first introduced us to Almanac’s Wakatu Sour a few months back, that really set the bar in my mind for how good sours could be. Well, this is better. There is an amazing amount of cherry pucker on the nose, and a huge blast of smooth, rich vanilla flavor at the end. Both of those elements are wildly successful, but I have to say that the most impressive aspect of the beer for me is the transition. I don’t know how Almanac managed to make the transition between sharp pucker and smooth vanilla seamless, but they did. Magic. This beer is magic.
Pete's Thoughts: I spotted this beer on Instagram going into barrels and IMMEDIATELY told York that he had to track this down. York is also 10000% correct that I am Team Vanilla all day as well as Team Cherry. If you have a beer with vanilla in it, I absolutely must try it. And most of the time the same thing goes for cherry. This has been a "thing" ever since the old staple beer bar the Brickskeller listed the Breckenridge Vanilla Porter on their menu. In classic fashion, they never actually HAD 60% of what was on that list, but that never stopped me from always asking for this beer every time I went into that bar. This beer is awesome. Cherry juice, really great vanilla presence. You almost get a floral sensation in your mouth from the vanilla. This is just loaded with fruit on top of a world-class sour base. Absolutely A+ beer. I need more of this in my life.
Shane: Unbelievable flavor combination that sets a new bar for sours. 10/10
Pete: If sour beer tried to make cherry vanilla ice cream. 10/10
York: Full credit all day. Aces on flavor--wish I could give extra for uniqueness too! 10/10
York's Thoughts: I’m going to go ahead and make a really bold comparison here (cue gasps from Shane and Pete). I think this beer deserves mention in the same conversation as Mott the Lesser. It’s not quite the same start to finish style, but shares a lot of similar notes. I describe this beer as a liquid macaroon that can be drank for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert. It is INSANELY complex and well crafted on multiple levels. First, it comes in at a massive 10.4 ABV and drinks with just a touch of booziness. That booze is completely cut on the finish though and you’re left with no trace at all of that bite often associated with a brew like this. Also, and perhaps even more impressively, this is a bold, robust stout… that is aggressively hopped! I’ve never experienced a beer quite like this with such a combo of the dark, malty, rich flavor that also has a hop presence and an IBU that comes in significantly higher than I’d have ever guessed. Such flavor and complexity here, it’s a true treat to me.
Shane's Thoughts: Look--it’s not Mott the Lesser. And that’s not even a knock. Mott is just that far above any other stout I’ve ever had. But York is right: this is a beer that definitely deserves to be discussed with the upper echelon of stouts. Never in my life would I have guessed that this beer was clocking in at a hefty 10.4%, because it drinks shockingly smoothly and with a lightness that I wouldn’t have expected. It’s ridiculously smooth and rich, almost to the point that I would call this a dessert beer. There’s just the right amount of bready maltiness to this. So many high gravity stouts fall into the trap where they become cloyingly rich and sweet, almost like drinking melted fudge. Not so here. This is more like an ice cream sandwich. York calls it a "liquid macaroon" and I think I could get on board with that, too. Whatever you want to call it, however you want to describe it, this is an awesome beer.
Pete's Thoughts: I am not getting involved in any of the "what this beer is or isn’t." This is a really good rich imperial stout. Great night cap, it has some nice burnt sugar, nuttiness, and general chocolate roast. A lot of what we have gotten from York has been IPA-based, but this shows that you can still find a great, rich imperial stout on the west coast.
Shane: Fantastic stout that’s a lot stronger than it tastes. 9/10
Pete: Solid stout, would absolutely seek this out to age for the winter. 9/10
York: Elite dark beer. Bonuses for complexity and layered flavor. 10/10
York's Thoughts: This is the first beer I’ve included in our exchange that I didn’t vet before giving it to the guys. Marin makes tons of bottled beers so it’s a bit overwhelming to pick one. The 3 Flowers was a recommendation from one of the Marin brewers I ran into at a local beer bar and boy did it not disappoint. 3 Flowers has a big label on the side that says “LIVE ALE” as if it will jump out of the bottle. As one might expect, this led to a hazy, unfiltered body which as I’ve sufficiently complained about at this point, is not my style. This was quickly forgotten once I started drinking and got the waves of complexity it has to offer. The aggressive hopping works really well with the combination of rye elements they use. It all ties in really well and comes off as super fresh and crisp without sacrificing and of the bold flavors in the nose and drink.
Shane's Thoughts: Certainly an interesting beer. I don’t know that I’ve ever had anything described as a "live ale" before, and I'm still not 100% clear on what that means. I found this beer to strike a really nice balance between citrus and floral, with a little bit of toastiness on the back end that was very inviting. I also taste a little hint of honey in the body, and while I don’t usually love honey beers, I thought it worked well with the complex arrangement of flavors that Marin has created here. This beer was clearly brewed with a deft hand, and while it finishes a little drier than I usually prefer, I would definitely drink it again.
Pete's Thoughts: I cannot put my finger on what this beer is. The rye is spicy and there are some spicy resinous hops in this blend. Maybe I was expecting the Citra and Cascade to dominate this beer more than they did, or maybe this one feels faded. I am not sure. But this is decent if you are into a nice rich spicy bitter IPA with some solid citrus undertones.
Shane: Floral, citrus, and honey all wrapped up tight with a crisp, dry finish. 7/10
Pete: Still confused by this beer, but it is very well made. 6/10
York: Really enjoyed the fresh finish and complexity beginning to end. 8/10
Best of the Bunch
York: I never thought something could beat out an Almanac within one of my batches, but I’ve got to give this one to the Fides in Fermento. One of the top two or three dark beers I’ve ever enjoyed!
Shane: I definitely didn’t expect to be the one choosing a sour instead of York, but the Vanilla Cherry Dogpatch is astonishingly good.
Pete: Vanilla Cherry Dogpatch. Vanilla Cherry Dogpatch. Vanilla Cherry Dogpatch. That is all.
York: I've been referring to California and the rest of the coastal states as the Land of IPAs since I got here. Before moving to San Francisco, my primary go-to's for beer were mostly on the dark end of the spectrum. Since landing in the Land of IPAs, I have become completely obsessed with BIG hops and strong IPAs. A lot of these types of beers that I've shared with the guys so far have been the prototypical West Coast IPA with huge floral hops, a very light and clear color, and the crisp finish I love in any beer. While I think it’s pretty clear that this is the best style of IPA, Shane and Pete seem to opt for other styles instead, whether it be the hazy New England Style, or the darker hop brews with a bit of a toastier finish. I designed this set of beers to run the gamut of styles. Caldera Brewing from Oregon has their very own interpretation of IPA that they refer to as American instead of West Coast. They come a bit darker, but still pack a lot of hoppy freshness. The Boo Koo from Mother Earth and the Wolf Pup from Golden Road are both very hop forward but smooth as you go through the drink and finish, and the Booming Rollers offers the classic Citra hop and malt balancing act. The two beers from Local Brewing are personal favorites of mine and bring us back to the more typical West Coast IPA in all it’s high ABV, super hoppy, assertive goodness. For those not already having trouble deciding, I included a collaboration beer from Eagle Rock (CA) and Flagship Brewing (NY) that is possibly the best interpretation of an East-meets-West version of the IPA. Cheers to hops!
Pete: It is summer, I am in DC, it is perilously hot…so, York was good to get us all some nice refreshing IPAs. What I liked about this batch looking at it from afar was that it had a nice variety of IPAs. It wasn’t just West Coast IPAs or doubles or sessions, it was everything. And it is nice to have some crisp refreshing IPAs to drink in the summer, because for some reason I want that bitterness when it's really humid out. I also like how York is shaking up the breweries, but also providing a nice consistency with beers from Golden Road. We are getting a nice mix of new and unusual with some nice familiarity to fall back on.
Shane: I think this is the first group of beers we’ve reviewed that have shared a common theme, and I have to say I love the idea. So many different styles of IPA from up and down the West Coast--how could I not get excited? This batch contains a few breweries I’ve already come to appreciate (looking at you, Modern Times), as well as a few that I’m excited to try, like Local and Caldera. West Coast IPAs have been somewhat hit or miss for me, and I suspect that’s because I’ve become so accustomed to the New England style. With that in mind, looking at a huge spread like this has me pretty excited and ready to get a fresh new perspective!
York: We all like beer. We all drink quite a bit of it, and, above all else, we all have a tendency to try as many different types as our palates and bodies will allow. When we planned out our first Beercation in the New England area and started listing all the breweries and beers to pack into the trip, we agreed that it was ambitious to start. Then, naturally, we all decided that we wanted to add some extra regional beers to the event, since we were meeting up (and why not?). Thus, we wound up with three especially unique beers from California, two more from the DMV, and a sixth from middle America that came to us through a friend who has been keeping up with our escapades. I've already had the Swirly from King Harbor and tried the Cellarmaker Mt. Nelson on tap, but I'm really excited to see what the others think of those. Beyond that, I've been waiting patiently to try some Tired Hands, so I'm pumped that one is in our arsenal too!
Pete: I was really nervous about this round, because the last time I went to New England I carried way too many beers around with me. This wasn’t a bad thing…once I got where I needed to go. But it really made it hard to get around, so I wanted to get stuff that I knew was going to be good. Otherwise, why bring it? Our friend Dan Alt supplied us with the Brew Kettle White Rajah, which recently got some positive press as a good west coast style IPA. Then I was able to snag a really limited edition batch of Hardywood beer. And, luckily, I got to visit Tired Hands a couple days before the trip and picked up one of their strange but awesome beers. Really happy with what I brought, because I expect it all to be good beers.
Shane: I'm excited to try these beers. We went into this Beercation prepared to try an awful lot of amazing beers, but the beers we brought with us might just be the best of the bunch. I'm thrilled to have the chance to sample some Tired Hands, and the White Rajah is a beer that I never thought any of us would be able to get our hands on. The Hammerland DIPA and Mt. Nelson beers are also exciting, since they represent some small-batch west coast beers that I might never have heard of without York, let alone been able to drink. I'm hugely pumped to be able to try every beer on this list.
Drink With Us
Three friends. Three corners of the country. One passion for beer.
Heady Topper. Focal Banger. What Could Be Better than a Trip to The Alchemist?
The Hills Are Alive (with Incredible Beer) at von Trapp Brewing
Get Out of the City and Into Woods Beer Co.