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Pucker Up Buttercup! SourFest 2014 at Churchill’s Pub & Grille

I like sour beers. Scratch that. I love sour beers!

However that wasn’t always the case. I remember my first time trying a Flanders Red Ale and my tastebuds freaking out! “What the hell is this?” I’m pretty sure I didn’t say that out loud. In fact I’m pretty sure I said something far worse. My palate wasn’t yet ready for the complexity and mouth puckering awesomeness that waited in a tulip glass, with it’s funky nose of brettanomyces, lactobacillus and all the other yeast beasts that could funk up any beer and take it to another level. Nope, at the time all I could think of was, “This tastes like sour patch kids”.

It was a slap in the face to my taste buds. This is one of those moments were getting a slap in the face was a good thing. It woke me up to a whole new world of beer styles that I had been relatively ignorant of for a number of years. That had to change. My quest to continue to evolve my palate and to expand my beer horizons had found something new to absorb, and I relished the opportunity to learn and to taste my way to finding some of the finest beers in the world. It was time well spent.

Fast forward to now.

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to attend Churchill’s Pub & Grille 5th Annual Peter Reeves Memorial Sourfest. The event is an opportunity to not only have some of the finest sour beers from San Diego and around the world, it’s also an opportunity to make a donation to cancer research which is always a worthwhile cause and one that I’m more than happy to drink to.

The bottle and draft list featured over 60 world class concoctions including an impressive array of delights from Almanac, Cascade, Lost Abbey, Russian River and international superstar Cantillon. Impressive is a word that would almost qualify as an understatement when used to describe this list of beers.

My wife and I made the trip to San Marcos with a quick stop on the way in Escondido to grab our North County drinking partners, then we braved the heat and stood in line for twenty or so minutes before making our way inside and grabbing a comfy seat and we quickly got to work on the menu.

What you don't see is us melting in the sun.

What you don’t see is us melting in the sun.

All said we managed to drink right around 25 sours, which was a lot more than expected but once my wife offered to drive us all home, it was something we couldn’t resist. We only experienced a few misses, as the sours weren’t quite tailored to what we like, but they were by no means bad beers. We experienced far more great and amazing beers than we had any right to expect, and rather than list off all the ones I liked I’ll share with you my top 3 of the day, in no particular order;

Lost Abbey Spontaneous Cheer – Spontaneously Fermented Blonde Ale with White Peaches, 6.0% ABV and oh my God is it good! No surprise that the same people who make Duck Duck Gooze also make a bunch of really great sours, but this one was a standout for me.

Societe Highbinder – Sour Ale Aged in Wine Barrels with Raspberries Added, 6.2% ABV and sweet fancy moses is this beer amazing! Everyone knows how I sing the praises of the guys over at Societe and beers like this are the reason why I will continue to do so. I can’t wait to try their next one.

Cantillon Cuvee Saint Gilloise – Lambic Aged for Two Years Dry Hopped with Hallertau Hops, this was a close call because Cantillon’s Lou Pepe Gueuze 2010 was pretty damn kick ass too, but this one just had a certain something that beat it out. Incredible flavors and aged to perfection.

Almanac Dark Pumpkin Sour, Cantillon Lou Pepe Gueuze2010, Societe Highbinder, Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze!

Almanac Dark Pumpkin Sour, Cantillon Lou Pepe Gueuze2010, Societe Highbinder, Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze!

Overall it was another fantastic visit to arguably the best pub in North County San Diego, and I didn’t even get to mention all the amazing eats we had while working our way down the menu. If you’ve not yet had the opportunity to visit Churchill’s, I highly recommend doing so, they have a continually amazing draft beer and bottle list that can make even the most discerning beer drinking happy and a great menu of meals to compliment them all.

So maybe sours aren’t your thing or maybe you’ve not had the opportunity to try very many just yet. I urge you to give them a chance, they are drinks that fit nicely into the beer genre but you should prepare your palate for a completely different adventure with every sip you take.

Cheers,

Tom

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Finding a dark corner to drink in the City of Lights

Paris, France is a city known for dozens of delights in the culinary world. It’s a land of baguettes, croissants, es cargo, and mouthwatering pastries that can stretch your waistline just by looking at them. The cheeses are simply some of the best I’ve ever had and they pair the wide variety of cheese very nicely with any one of a hundred wines that are grown and fermented across the region. It’s impossible to visit and not find something to satisfy the foodie that lives in all of us and usually takes control of us while on vacation. But how does a beer lover satisfy his or her need for biscuit-like malt flavors and some form of hops that we are all in love with?

There is a way.
Of course when you are in  Paris, or anywhere in France, you truly owe it to yourself to seek out wine from area and sample it. Just about every local we spoke to was more than happy to point us in the right direction on the extensive wine lists that are found in just about every restaurant, cafe and bistro you walk in. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t beer to be found in France. Craft Beer is a little harder to find, but I’ll get to that later.
Just about all the cafes and restaurants will offer a limited selection of beers, mostly on draft and mostly beers from the InBev family which, if you are like me, you will avoid with every fiber of your being. Luckily with neighbors to the north like Belgium, it isn’t too much strain to find something that isn’t owned by a giant corporation that cares little for quality and craftsmanship of their beers.
Now as much as I would have preferred to spend my time in Paris like the Beer Hunter Michael Jackson, I had to spend much of my days there being a tourist and photographer for the wife. Not that I minded too much. Well, maybe a little if I’m being honest. It was after one of our tourist adventures that I finally managed to do a little beer hunting of my own. After crossing the river Seine back to the left bank we walked the winding roads of the 5th arrondissment (district), not too far from where the Pantheon stands, I found a bastion of craft beer and it was noteworthy.
If a smiling beer face doesn't make you want to drink I don't know what will.

If a smiling beer face doesn’t make you want to drink I don’t know what will.

BREWBERRY – 18, Rue du Pot de Fer 75005 Paris www.brewberry.fr
Brewberry is basically a bottle shop with cold beer on hand that can be consumed on the premises while snacking on a tasty cheese board and other delectable delights. It can also be described as something of a beer cellar, as you walk down the steps and enter you get the feeling that you have entered into the basement of a good friend who knows good beers and hordes them all. If you don’t know what a basement is, I’d recommend meeting someone not from California to help fill you in. The walls are lines with shelf after shelf of fantastic beers, most are organized by style, but it’s easy to find your way around and get what you are looking for. In the center of the room are several tables for you and your friends to sit and enjoy your beverages. This is where craft beer lives in Paris.
There is a little bit of home on these shelves.

There is a little bit of home on these shelves.

Having been open for just about three years, Brewberry has in that time carved out a nice niche for themselves in a city of wine lovers. The staff is very friends as was the mix of locals and ex-pats who were there on the night we stopped by for our visit. Oddly enough, of all the places I went looking for beers made in France, this was the only spot out of an innumerable amount of bars we visited that carried them. Brasserie Fleurac makes a pretty solid tripel and I can only hope that the brewery gets more success in its own country. The selection of bottles on hand is very diverse and I had to admit a fair amount of pride at seeing some of San Diego’s best breweries prominently on display like Green Flash, Alesmith and Lost Abbey.
French beer. Pretty good!

French beer. Pretty good!

Paris has several other highly praised bottle shop spread around the city as well as one or two micro breweries that I wish I had the opportunity to visit. Unfortunately my old enemy, time, prevented me from finding more locations that I could compare to Brewberry. Another reason was that I didn’t want to get too crazy with the beer in Paris because our next destination was Belgium and I needed my liver in top condition.
This is called a "Prelude" of things to come!

This is called a “Prelude” of things to come!

So how did Belgium go? Stay tuned.
Cheers,
Tom


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12 Beers of Christmas pt. 3 – Deck the Halls with Beers aplenty…Beers #9-12

Here we are and Christmas is upon us. I can smell the chestnuts roasting on the open fire but I can’t let that distract me from the visions of great holiday beers that are dancing through my head. Let’s wrap this up like a present to put under the tree.

Picking up where we left off…

9. Lost Abbey – Gift of the Magi – Belgian Golden Ale 9.5%ABV Leave it to the mad geniuses at Lost Abbey to create a beer based on the Three Kings and the gifts they delivered to the baby Jesus; Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. What we get is an ale of golden color that uses the bark of Frankincense to add the bittering component and a dash of the herb known as Myrrh. The beer is delicious! Even if you don’t care for the bible, this beer might cause you to reconsider. Once the big, frothy head on this beer settles down you will find a pleasant spiced aroma waiting for you. First taste will bring a mild sweetness to your palate then the hops will come on the back end. The beer has some crispness to it as well and as it warms there will be a little bit of dryness to the finish. As usual with beers from Lost Abbey, this can be bottled aged which is never a bad idea if you can be patient.

If it's good enough for Jesus...

If it’s good enough for Jesus…

10. Delirium – Noel – Belgian Strong Dark Ale 10.%ABV – In my house there are few rules as simple as the “The pink elephant will never steer you wrong.” OK, so maybe the rules in my house are a little weird. Noel is another fine example of Belgian’s making great beers, especially for the holidays. The pour is a rich mahogany color with a strong nose of holiday spice and fruits. The beer drinks much the same way with a hint of sweetness and bitterness surrounded by strong spices. This beer also finishes with a slight dryness. As it happens, this beer can be aged as well.

Pink Elephant on a sled. Normal Saturday.

Pink Elephant on a sled. Normal Saturday.

11. Brasserie Dubuisson – Scaldis Noel – Belgian Strong Dark Ale 12%ABV – If you go looking for this one, the name on the label that jumps out is simply the ‘Scaldis Noel’. This is a big beer in a little bottle. It pours a rich dark amber color with a big frothy head of a creamy color. The nose is all spice and fruits and you can detect a hint of the strong alcohol that lies waiting for you. It has a sticky sweet quality that mingles well with the spices involved. The beer drinks incredibly well especially as the flavors warm and have a similar effect on your body. This is another beer that came on my radar late as I was formulating my list and came on strong to knock other contenders to the side with relative ease. This beer also cellars well so I might grab a few more to stuff my own stocking with this year.

The surprise performance!

The surprise performance!

12. St. Bernardus – Christmas Ale – Belgian Quadrupel 10%ABV – While it was not initially my intention, I did save the best for last. This beer ranks right up there with actually witnessing the birth of Christ, minus seeing placenta and all that nasty stuff. This beer is worth turning into Ebeneezer Scrooge and hoarding for your self. It’s that damn good! It pours super dark and with a wonderful cream colored head and a sensual nose of dark fruit, candied sugars and mulled spices. The taste is complex and understated with notes of caramel and Belgian hops on the backend. It refrains from overwhelming the palate and it masks its high alcohol content superbly. The Christmas ale goes down silky smooth and can do nothing but remind you of all the comforts of the holiday. If I had need of a fireplace in Southern California I would sit in front of it with this beer and think of Christmases long, long ago. As it happens, this beer is also prime for ageing and it may be the first beer that I attempt to cellar. I can’t recommend St. Bernardus’s Christmas Ale enough, it’s it alive with the spirit of the season.

If it's good enough for Snoopy...

If it’s good enough for Snoopy…

 

So that wraps up the list of my twelve favorite beers of the Christmas season. Belgium made its presence felt on these final four didn’t they? With any luck, next year, I’ll find twelve all news ones to rave about and as always, I’d love to hear any recommendations that you might find.

Cheers and Merry Christmas,

Tom


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12 Beers of Christmas pt. 2 : I’ll have a Brew Christmas (with or without you) Beers 5-8

Here we are, Christmas is less than a week away and you know what that means, I need to get the rest of this list out fast! So let’s cut the chit-chat and get right down to the brass tacks.

The 12 beers of Christmas numbers 5-8.

A holiday tradition

A holiday tradition

5. Alesmith – Yulesmith (Winter) – Imperial Red Ale 8.5%ABV. This beer is a long standing tradition for me, the beer presents a rosy amber color with an aroma of sweet malts balanced by a nice combination of pine and citrus hops. The strong malt backbone is what makes itself known first on your palate. You get a little sweetness almost like caramel notes, just as the bittering hops kick in and make all the flavors pop together in your mouth like a symphony. While this Yulesmith is slightly less enjoyable than its summertime counter part it is no less an essential of the holiday season.

Lost Abbey's 1st ever IPA

Lost Abbey’s 1st ever IPA – Not my best photo

6. Lost Abbey Merry Taj – Imperial IPA 8.0%ABV – When setting out to write this series of Christmas blogs I had put together a pretty good list of beers to drink that I then would then narrow down to twelve. This beer wasn’t even on the list, partially because I had somehow never heard of it and Lost Abbey has NEVER made an IPA. So you can understand my surprise when I was drinking at Stone World Bistro in Liberty Station and saw this on the menu. I even asked if it was a mistake. Luckily for me, and the rest of the beer drinkers lucky enough to find this draft only beer from the brew masters at Lost Abby it wasn’t. Lovers of IPA will find a lot to like from this beer as soon as you catch a whiff of the aroma on this one. Piney hop notes will lure you in and coat your tongue with holiday cheer. The malts are subtle but bring a light, crisp quality to the beer. Easy to drink and very tasty, I only wish Stone had offered up a bigger pour, 8oz just wasn’t enough. Lost Abbey’s first IPA is a delight and that fact it’s a holiday beer is just a bonus for me to include it in this post.

So damn good!

So damn good!

7. Affligem – Noel -Belgian Strong Dark Ale 9.0%ABV. Finally a Belgium beer makes its presence known on this list and this one does so with authority. My serving was on draft at Stone Brewing and the glass presented with a lovely dark gold color and a nice frothy head on top. The nose on this beer is distinctly of dark fruits – raisins, dates, maybe some fig as well as spiced holidays flavors. The beer drinks incredibly well as the candied sugars used in most Belgians help to obscure the high level of alcohol. This one also has a nice warming effect and as is the case with most of the best beers from Belgium, this beers flavors really start to come alive as the glass warms. This is a fantastic Christmas treat.

Santa might be a drunk.

Santa might be a drunk.

8. Rogue – Santa’s Private Reserve Ale – Amber Ale 6.0%ABV – This is the second red ale to make the list, but this one is something of a craft beer holiday classic. Rogue brews this up annually and it’s always a treat. My favorite thing about ales from Rogue is the rich creamy head that shows up in most of their brews. Santa pours a deep red, kind of like his suit. You will notice a sweet malty aroma. When I took my first sip what jumped out at me was the strong malt base of the beer. It’s the back end is where the hops make their presence shown. Chinook hops give the beer a very tasty pine quality that helps to further the idea of this as the beer of choice for Saint Nicholas. I can’t emphasize enough just how impressive the creamy foam head on this beer is.

So that’s beers 1-8 for Christmas 2013. I still have four to go and a few surprises might be waiting underneath the Christmas tree.

Cheers,

Tom