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's Thoughts: In my very first batch, I included a Vienna Cream Ale which we all liked but agreed that there was a limited ceiling for. I kinda figured that was my one shot with a cream ale that I liked (no disrespect, Genesee!), but then I came across this one. Ballast's description of this as an alternative to a porter is shockingly perfect. The coffee taste and the sweetness from the cream ale style would lead to a really interesting blind taste test. I'd wager that a fair amount of craft beer drinkers would mistake this for a dark beer if they could only taste and not see it. Coffee is not usually something I love in a beer but balanced coffee additives can make for a really elevated taste profile and that is exactly what's going on here.
Pete's Thoughts: I have wanted to try this beer forever. It's basically Victory at Sea, Ballast Point’s amazing Coffee/Vanilla Stout, with the same amount of coffee and vanilla in a cream ale. I have always had a reason to not buy it for some reason. It is as good as I expected. The cream ale base reminds me of vanilla oatmeal with a nice shot of coffee. Really smooth. I could drink this all day. It has the right profile for a breakfast beer and would be perfect to end the night. It is basically the Swiss Army Knife of beer. Ballast Point can make some strange flavor combinations, but this is the perfect combination of flavor and beer style.
Shane's Thoughts: Coffee! That’s the first thing I taste with this beer. The second thing I taste is the vanilla, and it adds a nice, velvety richness to a beer that already starts with a smooth, creamy feel. While cream ales definitely have a low ceiling relative to other beers, one thing that really elevates the style is a genuine attempt to do something a little different. Pete is right--this takes the recipe that worked so well for Ballast Point with their Victory at Sea beer and applies it to a cream ale. I'm always a little bit thrown by tasting coffee in a lighter beer--and that's a good thing. I like a beer that takes my expectations and turns them on their head. When you boil it down, this is an excellent cream ale that doesn't kick you in the teeth with a pilsner-y bite, the way more well known offerings like Genesee Cream do. Ballast Point does well here to elevate a style in which it can be tough to distinguish yourself, and that alone deserves praise. Plus, you know, it's a damn tasty beer.
Pete: This will be on my short list for session ales in the future. 8/10
Shane: High marks within a limited style. I’d drink it again and again, though. 7/10
York: Shane says it best. I'll rarely crave this beer but I'll enjoy it every time I have it. 7/10
York's Thoughts: Supplication is probably the Russian River beer I hear the most about outside of Pliny. It's bold in every way, from a year of aging for a deep sour profile, to the use of Pinot Noir barrels to add an incredible depth of flavor and richness. When I arrived at Russian River, this was the first beer I went for, and remained near the top of my list as I tried everything else on their tap board. This was one of the few specific requests I've gotten from Shane, so it was a no-brainer to include once I tried and liked it. It's hard to quickly describe such a complex beer, but what I can say is that this might be the most deeply flavored beer I've ever had. That's in reference not only to the sour, but to the cherry and grape elements as well.
Shane's Thoughts: This pours really nicely. The cherries come through not just in the flavor, but also in the color. The beer is a nice, rosy brown (although I'll note that the color got a lot cloudier when I poured the bottom 1/6th of the beer into the glass). A really gorgeous, appetizing hue. I'm a big fan of sour browns. It wasn't a style of beer that I would have even guessed existed a couple of years ago, but now it's one of my favorites. It brings the sourness of the beer right to the brink of being vinegar, and when a brewery has a deft enough hand to bring it right to that edge and pull back, I love it. Russian River is one such brewery. The brett comes through as a nice, flavorful element under the cherries, and while I'm not sure I get the Pinot Noir barrel flavor--maybe a little grape on the finish--it probably adds to the color I love so much. All in all I like this beer a lot. There are a lot of flavors playing off each other, and it really underscores why I love this style. With a standard brown, there is only so much you can do, but with a brown sour you can really develop a lot of flavors.
Pete's Thoughts: I really like this beer. It has the perfect balance of cherry, wine barrel, and tartness from the brett. It's really bright out of the bottle. I was a little hesitant about the amount of brett on the nose. The problem with some of these beers is that the brettanomyces and other alternative bacterial strains can really take over the beer. Sometimes you just pop a bottle and it smells vaguely like band-aids. This is the work of an artist. Keeping these pillars of flavor together while still making a delicious, drinkable product is not easy. I really like the cherry notes with the wine aging. This beer is wonderful, and absolutely worth a try for anyone who can manage to get ahold of it.
Shane: Just reminds me why I like sour browns so much. Add in the cherries, and I love it. 9/10
Pete: Really impressive balanced sour beer. The best, from the best. 9/10
York: Amazing to try next to the Consecration. Excellent on so many levels 9/10
York's Thoughts: I've been waiting for an excuse to share another Pizza Port beer with the guys and this is it. I feared that I peaked early with the double IPA Kook, but the Graveyard's is a contender in its own right. A pale ale brewed with Mosaic and those uniquely fruity-yet-floral Australian hops makes for an especially crisp beer with a fun transition between nose, body, and finish. I'd say the finish is my favorite part of this beer, crisp but hoppy and aggressive without much stick. The drink sneaks up on you, going from an ordinary pale ale to a more layered brew. The layers don't take away from the blissful simplicity of this beer, and instead make it that much more of a beer I'd go to regularly.
Pete's Thoughts: I really like this beer. This is the perfect session ale for me: fruity, a little bitter, crisp, and refreshing. Sometimes we get a beer and say, "I could crush a bunch of these." But some beers just don't have enough dimension to keep your palate interested. This beer has enough of the parts that I love in good beer that I can keep finding flavors that make me want more. I get the Mosaic's dank, juicy fruit character. Is there a little pine reminiscent of a West Coast IPA? Citrus notes here, berry flavor, crisp, some bitterness. I could really keep drinking this all day. If you can find a six pack of this, it is definitely a good beer to sit and have a few of.
Shane's Thoughts: This is an absolutely GORGEOUS beer. It pours a beautiful golden orange, just translucent enough for the light shining through to really make it glow. I almost don't want to drink it. York and Pete both said it, but I'll reiterate: this is a beer with a lot of layers to it. The crisp, citrus notes hit the tip of your tongue, and are immediately followed by a wonderfully dank body. The hint of pine on the finish is perfectly welcome, and really gives it that "West Coast" feel to me. York hit the nail on the head: despite the layers of flavor, this beer just feels simple and drinkable. This is the second beer I've had from Pizza Port, and I continue to be impressed by what they're doing.
Pete: This is a fascinating beer that keeps me wanting more, great session ale. 8/10
Shane: Layers of flavor while maintaining a simple, straightforward feel. 8/10
York: A very close second to a true favorite in the Kook. 8/10
York's Thoughts: I really debated whether I wanted to be the first to include a cider in our beer exchange, but this was too interesting not to. As someone who is only mildly interested in ciders, and even less interested in coffee-flavored brews, this was a random pickup for me trying to fill up a BYO six pack. Damn am I glad I picked it up. It's mostly sweet with a touch of tartness, and layered with coffee. The nitro gives it a really smooth component, and there's a whole lot of fall weather feel captured here. As if this wasn't already an anomaly to all of my preferences, I actually think this is a bit tastier when it's NOT super cold. Great as a breakfast brew or with a good cold weather dessert. Very tough to explain, very fun to drink.
Shane's Thoughts: One of my favorite drinks has always been Guinness and cider. Fill a glass with half-Guinness, half-cider, and you get a boozy concoction that is half rich, heavy, and creamy and half light, sweet, and fruity. It's a fantastic combination, and it always makes me think of fall. With that in mind, I was very excited to see York include Grumpy Bear in this batch of beers, and it absolutely lived up to my expectations. I absolutely, unabashedly love this concoction. The profile lives up to my "Guinness and cider" expectations. In fact, it's almost the exact same flavor. And since I already called that one of my very favorite drinks, it should be no surprise that I was a huge fan.
Pete's Thoughts: Okay, this was just not my cup of tea. I can admit it. This seems to be a good time to spell out that not every beer is for every person. I like beers and ciders that push the envelope, but sometimes I can get burned. Everyone has picked up a beer, given it a taste and just said that it's not for them. This would be that beer for me. The combination just doesn't work for me at all. I don't want to give it a really low rating, but this did not sit well for me. The cider component was good, I let it come up to temperature because I wanted to get the most out of the nitrogen. But, whoa, the coffee is just weirdly bitter and did not sit well for me.
Shane: Rich, creamy, cidery. Color of red wine. I love it. 9/10
Pete: I don't want to not rate this, so I will give it a 4/10.
York: Yikes, this is perhaps the toughest rating so far for me. In the spirit of giving credit to aggressive styles, I'm pretty high on this. Never had anything quite like it. 8/10
York's Thoughts: Consecration was the natural next beer to follow Supplication on my visit. Shane had requested (and many others had recommended) Supplication, however I found Consecration to be an even more impressive brew. It shares the deep, rich flavors derived from the sour and wine barrels, but with a bit more fun. There are flavor elements all over the map in this beer. Part of a sip will taste like a chocolatey-malty porter, others of spicy notes from the currants, a moment of big, bold red wine, and, of course, the sour element. Add all that to a 10% ABV and you might just have one of my all-time favorite beers.
Shane's Thoughts: This is almost wine. York isn't wrong--there is a chocolate/malt element here that is hard to nail down. It's like trying to look directly at a star. You can see it perfectly out of your peripheral vision, but the second you try to pinpoint it, it's gone. That's how I feel about this beer. Sometimes I get the richness on the tip of my tongue. Sometimes I get it as an aftertaste, coating my tongue. I'll admit--I have no idea what currants are. But I've had 'em in jelly. I’ve had 'em in beer. And I'm pretty sure I like 'em. There is a really nice fruit flavor here that complements the wine in the grape well. I don’t think I like it quite as much as the Supplication, but I would definitely go out of my way to try another batch of this beer.
Pete's Thoughts: Wow, this is really on the more tart side. I have not had currents before, but this beer is way more about sensing the interplay between the barrel and the bacterial culture. This is a little bit on the intense side, with a lot more dark fruit undertones from the malt. A little disclaimer for these beers is that you have to understand that wild bacterial cultures take careful management. Wineries hate them. They are very difficult to get out of the winery because these culture can infect so many beers. This difficulty can lead to spoiled batches and just take more time and care in general to produce. While this was not my favorite of the two, I can really appreciate what the beer was trying to achieve.
Shane: A lot of flavor elements. A little sweet for me, but a TON of depth. 8/10
Pete: A lot more tartness going on here, but still a damn impressive beer. 8/10
York: This is one of those beers at the pinnacle of my preferences. Incredibly layered, lots of sour, and a double digit ABV. 10/10
York's Thoughts: What a wonderful surprise in this bottle! I'm always hesitant on the unfiltered/unpasteurized/otherwise hazy brews, and while I appreciate Lagunitas as a dominator of craft beer in California, many of their brews are outside of my preferred style. This one, though, is the type of beer that any IPA-lover will dig. It's extremely reminiscent of a lot of the New England beers we tried, so I'm very curious to see how it the others feel about this one. Whole-cone hopping with power players like Citra, Simcoe, and crowd favorite Mosaic make for an amazing hoppy experience with a juice bomb-like appearance and body. Lagunitas describes this brew as "Ridiculously Limited" so I couldn't resist getting some to the guys!
Shane's Thoughts: Back when we were in college, we used to have poker nights every so often. Typically, everyone would bring a couple of six packs of cool and interesting beers, and we would swap them around until everyone had 12 different beers to try (by beer 10 or so, the quality of play was always noticeably lower for some reason). My introduction to Lagunitas was during one of these games, when I tried their Brown Shugga ale. I thought it was overpoweringly sweet, and, to be honest, it put me off of Lagunitas for a while. Thank goodness I didn't let that color my perception of them forever, though, because Lagunitas puts out some high quality beers. Case in point, this excellent pale ale. Although I tend to love my New England fruit bombs, Born Yesterday captures the grassy, earthy element that makes for a nice change of pace to me. What's more, it does that without sacrificing the fresh hoppiness that you expect in a pale ale, and layers in some nice fruit undertones. There's a great depth of flavor in this beer, and it might be my favorite Lagunitas brew I've had to date.
Pete's Thoughts: Wow, I missed this beer last year, and by the time I found it...I saw the label and decided it was probably too old to be good. This is fresh, vibrant, citrus, tropical notes, dank, slight bitter finish. Amazing. AMAZING. It has that dank, rich, juicy, flavor bomb feel that I love in a pale ale. Hazy with a soapy head. I can’t say enough good about this beer. The one thing I will say, this beer will deteriorate VERY quickly. This beer has that dankness that is wonderful while fresh but turns into this muted flavor that is almost a little musty on the back end. So I will reserve part of the rating because I can see this beer dropping off quickly. But when fresh, it is a delightful tropical fruit bomb with all the hoppiness you could ask for in a pale ale.
Shane: Grassy. Earthy. Fresh. Great depth of flavor. Reminds me a bit of Peak Organic’s Fresh Cut IPA. 8/10
Pete: This really blew me away with how wonderful it was. 9/10
York: One of my favorite Lagunitas brews to-date. Amazingly clean and crisp! 8/10
Best of the Bunch
Shane: I know it's sacrilege to pass over the Russian River beers, but I really respect what Schilling has with Grumpy Bear, so I'm going to choose that.
Pete: Born Yesterday. Great to try it fresh and it was a really fun beer that I would like to rundown next year.
York: Consecration for damn sure. This alone is a good reason to venture up to RR.
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