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.
York: I cannot wait to hear the write ups for these beers from the other guys! I couldn't get away from the idea of including a lot of different types of beers, but I did include 2 really solid Double IPAs. The rest run a huge range of the spectrum--a sparkling ale that I bet will be something completely new for all of us, one of my favorite sours from one of my favorite brewers, a local honey brew, and an amazingly refreshing wheat to round it out. Pliny the Elder has the reputation of king of IPAs in a land completely dominated by hoppy brews, and I had to make sure it made it into an early set. It's a bit soon for repeat breweries with so many good options around, but we all liked the Almanac and Golden Road beers from the first set of beers so much that I stuck with the winners and included another from each. I like every beer on this entry a ton, and even the lower rated ones come from really exciting breweries that I can't wait to get more from.
Shane: I see you, York, with your talk of "repeat breweries." I doubt Bissell Brothers and Garrison City will be missing from many of my posts in the near future though, so repeat away! York has hyped this group of beers pretty hard, so I'm excited to dive into them. I’m eager to try Pliny the Elder in particular, since I feel like that's a glaring gap on my beer résumé. York, I feel like your love of sours is a little stronger than mine, so I’m very curious to give the Wakatu Sour a try. Your extremely high rating has me really intrigued, and I wonder if it will translate to someone a little less enthusiastic about the style itself. There's a really great blend of beer types in this group, which I also appreciate. Drinking in New England can get you bogged down in IPAs, so seeing a wide variety of styles is exciting.
Pete: Pliny, pliny pliny pliny. Pliny. Pliny? Pliny. Ok, now that that's out of my system, this is a really cool collection of beers that I was really excited to try. Pliny is of course a must try, a legendary beer in its own respect. I am also happy the Brian’s batch had another Almanac beer because I have only heard really good things about them. More west coast hops and IPAs can’t be a bad thing, and it isn’t. It is also nice that we were able to try some California wine grapes in beer form and a fun sparkling ale.
Drink With Us
Three friends. Three corners of the country. One passion for beer.
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