On The Rail: 1856

I am having Block 15’s Ridgeback Red. It has a hearty citrus bite at the end of it but the nose is faint, though steady. What’s weird is the middle. It’s practically flavorless but there’s a density to the mouthfeel; this beer has weight but not a lot of malt flavor. I don’t know what to make of that.

The rail at 1856 is small and feels unwelcoming. This is what happens when you let looks override practicality; the cement bartop is sturdy and fits with the aesthetic (clean, sparse) but has the feel of cement (so there’s a grittiness under my palms as I type) and it’s doesn’t feel very comforting. Bars should feel welcoming.

Now, this is a bottleshop and it tilts towards wine so there may be a quality I’m unappreciative of. I don’t think it’s really meant to be a local bar. I think it’s meant to be a local bottleshop: you walk down here, grab a bottle of decent stuff for your pals, head back home and try the new cool thing.  The bar feels more like a secondary purpose. You can drink here but they don’t really care if you do.

My critique is strictly about the place, though. The bartender was cool and did what he was supposed to do. I don’t fault him for working in an environment that doesn’t care if I stay.

It’s a decent view of the neighborhood, though: looking out I can see the houses that have clearly been getting paint, yards a little more attention. A spot that not too many years ago was a bit grodier is reaching to be a nexus for people to build out from. The clouds plod in like epic starships from the west, turtle-amorphous and white capped, their dark bellies shielding our eyes from the inner workings of the ships. It’s a pretty cool view and it is hard to begrudge that, even if I don’t think the bar is all that welcoming.

More than two-thirds done with my ale, my opinion of it isn’t that changed. I’m starting to pick up a little bit of roastiness underneath it all: that’s the malt quality but the hops are the overriding flavor in this beer. It’s not bad but I’m not excited by it either. It’s OK. They cannot all be winners.  I don’t get a reason to come out to the Northeast part of the city though and for today, that view is its own reward.

Three Random Pulls

Last week I was fortunate enough to be at a friend’s house when they pulled out a large cardboard box full of beer.

“Extras from the Craft Brewing Festival,” they said. “Take whatever you’d like.”

So I reached inside, grabbed three bottles and brought them home. With a friend, we tried all three and I got down my (and some of her) thoughts.

Wild Wolf Brewing: Primal Instinct American IPA
I picked this bottle out because there was a wolf on the cap. Why not, right?

This style usually suggests pine flavors, especially in the bitterness but this beer is far more citrus oriented. There’s a sweetness in the middle to help keep it balanced but neither of us can really put our finger on it. However, this IPA leaves a chewiness on the end and as we drink, we start to get a wet paper quality that really keeps this beer from sticking the landing.

“It gives me a feeling that I’m not really swallowing, like it’s residing in the mouth basin, instead of actually swallowing.”

So there’s that.

This beer’s carbonation is steady but doesn’t allow for any aromas to be released, except a small grassy hint, and the sweetness in the middle gets cloying fast without some real counterweights.

“This feels like a beer I’ve been talked into trying at a surburban sports bar, and you can tell they’re trying but you’re sitting at the bar by yourself with this beer”

So; not so awesome.

Figueroa Mountain Brewing: Davy Brown Ale
Has just a hint of chocolate in the nose and then…

“It’s just good. There’s nothing wrong with it…I’m not going to flash my tits at somebody for this beer but it’s not….the best beer I’ve ever had,but I would drink probably a lot of it.”

This is most likely a brown porter-too alcoholic for standard brown ales at 6% but without the hop character that I’d expect from an American brown ale. It’s damn tasty though and I could see a great many pints of this disappearing from my table.

It’s difficult to write further about brown ales, because they are by design more nondescript. Still, there’s a nice chocolate note without it being too heavy and a nice finish.  It’s delicious, belonging just as easily with a dessert or a slice of pizza. Have some.

Great Rhythm: Resonation Pale
Piney, but not super intense. The beer itself isn’t too intense and tries to finish crisply but there a dirty flavor that comes back to haunt the Resonation that I’m trying to scrape off the top of my mouth.

“I thought I would stop drinking this but I’m still drinking it. I feel like it’s one of those beer like PBR. I can drink it but I don’t know if I like it.”

Something grassy at the end, before the dirty finish. It isn’t really helping but I think they were trying to get some hop character in there.

“I don’t feel like we should be friends, but I will drink this beer.”

That’s pretty good for the last word.

On The Rail: Baileys (Ft George Edition)

I’m showing Bailey’s off to a friend visiting town and have recommended Trinity’s Chocolate River, based on my enjoyment of their Swingline ale a few weeks ago. She takes a sip of it and then cuddles it to her breast, looking out over the glass like a wolf ready to defend her prey.

I’m drinking the Fort George Optimist because I’ve had a few IPAs lately that have called into question what I like about IPAs. As in: do I really know what the hell they’re supposed to taste like? So I’m trying to recalibrate everything with another IPA.

In an attempt to get a scent of the Optimist I stick my nose in too far and snort IPA up my nostrils.

I do not advise this method of flavor testing.

Fresh grassy, pine notes though come through when I’ve wipe my proboscis and the bitterness on the finish reflects these flavors and not anything skunked. This sets my mind at ease: I’m not crazy, something is wrong with the beers I’ve been having!

Because I am just confident enough to feel like I have some authority about beers and styles but that’s not the same as knowing. After two other pale/IPA styles that were just not right, I started to wonder if I was just incorrect about what those beers should represent.

The Optimist helps set my palate upright again.

Common Ales: Redhook Long Hammer IPA

This beer is problematic and may also be a starting point to illustrate how difficult brewing can be.

The Long Hammer smells skunked. It’s right there in the nose and even worse, the beer finished with that same flavor: skunky.

Typically, a skunked flavor means that the beer is light struck and this is a very, very odd condition to meet with a craft beer, because bottling and packaging are constructed to prevent this circumstance from happening. Yet I cannot deny: This is the case. Now, is this beer a victim of big box store care? Is this just bad luck? Is it problematic because of the brewery?

In any case, it has become difficult to focus on the middle of the Long Hammer, where the balance of this beer would rest. I don’t get the sense that that middle is bad or off center but the flaw in this beer overwrites everything else.

What I’m recalling is that I had similar issues with Deschutes’ Mirror Pond ale. There must be some good pale/ipas on the mass market, right?

Stuck In Amber

This beer has a good malt nose; reminds me of opening up the buckets of liquid malt extract that I add to wort.

There’s a hit of bitterness at the end, which I’m pretty sure is from the hops but it’s followed by a touch of chocolate. It’s not bad but it’s not really a pale, which is what my notes are trying to insist I was attempting to make.

Of course, as soon as I look at my notes, I have to ask: what was I thinking? Three pounds of C120 malt is NOT going to give me a pale ale, ever. It’s too dark! I’d call it a pretty solid amber ale, though. The head doesn’t always pour that foamy, either, this bottle was just showing off for the camera. So it’s actually a drinkable beer on top of everything else.

Brew date: 12.21.14

Steeping grains: 3 lb C120

Fermentables: 7 lb LME

1 oz Eldorado @ 60
1 oz Magnum @ 60

Yeast: 1084 Wyeast Irish, 2nd use

OG: Forgot to get b/c writing

FG: 1.02

Bottled 1.18.15

Ordinary Brews: Redhook ESB

The fine people at Redhook told me that the Long Hammer IPA was their best seller outside of the Seattle region but in the Seattle region, their ESB sold better. So let’s take a look at what those Seattlites apparently know that we don’t.

Redhook’s ESB has a pretty malty nose, with some uncooked bread scents there. There is a little bitterness in the finish but nothing too strong.

Nothing too strong might be a good throughline for this entire beverage. It’s got a sweetness in the back third of the drink but nothing really before that. The effervescence plays cleanup to most of the flavors and all in all, this feels like a good picnic beer. The kind I’d bring to some outdoor event, have something barbequed, wash it down with this ESB.

In this respect, I have to praise this beer for that quality. It’s a decent ‘intro to craft beer’ ale, with nothing overpowering going on to intimidate the neophyte but enough of something going on that they know they aren’t drinking a macro lager. And because I can see this in a more social setting, it’s the kind of beer that I can envision handing off to someone who might feel a bit of trepidation about beers that aren’t fizzy and yellow.

I, personally, would like just a little more malt there. This ESB isn’t soda light in the mouthfeel but a little more ooomph there and I’d probably dig it more. As it is, I still feel like I’ve got a solid little beer to bring with me to the next picnic.

On The Rail: Ranger Station

I wandered by the Ranger Station twice last night; once on my way to see Doomtree, once on my way back and nobody was inside. Sure, it was a Tuesday but seeing a place that’s deserted is still very strange.

“I gotta check this place out.” Because that is how I think, so a day later I’m off to check it out.

On my way there I saw a kid in a Machine Head shirt, walking next to his dad.

“I’m jealous I’m going to miss that show,” I say to the kid and his dad and I start talking. Apparently they’ve been waiting to see the band for two years and tonight, it’s just Machine Head for two hours. No opening acts, no filler. I can only imagine how excited they must be, getting to see one of their favorite bands play for so long. It actually makes me wish I wasn’t out writing.

However, we make our choices. I’m reminded of something a lawyer friend told me, about how laws are enforced by the people who choose to enforce them or whom they will prosecute and who will be allowed to go their way. (For just a moment, I’ll set aside the hideous injustice that often comes with this so I can make my point). We make choices about how to spend our time and it is possibly the worst expenditure of that time to regret.

They’re having a great time at the show. I’m going to have a fine evening myself, it just won’t be there. Everything is OK.

At the Ranger Station I am sipping a Buoy oatmeal stout, wondering what’s next. This location has changed hands so frequently in the past ten years that I wonder what it’s going to take to give this the magic spark to be a neighborhood bar that people take up residence in. I’ve even written here at least once before when it was another place.

This beer is not bad at all. Reading up on oatmeal stouts, I can sense that this is pretty close to style, though I don’t get much oatmeal flavor, there is a slightly richer mouthfeel happening that I attribute to the addition of oatmeal. Overall, it’s sweeter, with the more roasted qualities showing up in the finish to provide a bit of complexity. It makes a good first impression for the brewery.

On The Rail: The Big Legrowlski

I’m at the Big Legrowlski because the owner of Glyph told me about it.  A growler station downtown? I wouldn’t’ve thought of that but it makes sense (people do live down here) and as a pub the Legrowlski handles itself quite nicely.

It’s conspiratorially dark, ceiling lights turned down to prevent overpowering the many candles, and the rail area is small. Tables are tiny encouraging people to create nuggets of privacy. Somehow, the man next to me is rapidly pawing through a document: I am stunned at his ability to read. I can only type because of the glow of my iPad.

There’s an event tonight; I’ve wandered into a party that doesn’t want me. People are dressed up and from what I can tell, there is a silent auction going on. I’m out of place but that’s more circumstance than anything else; the bartenders have been nothing but friendly and helpful. I just need to be here on an evening that isn’t centered around an event and is more about bar life.

I get Backwoods Big Cedar IRA. It’s got a woody note running through it but it’s a nice beer. A hint of chocolate malt in there and an element of hop bitterness on the finish all nicely tempered by the effervescence. It’s the kind of beer I’d like to try and make myself sometime. India Red Ales offer an opportunity for balance that is inherent to the beer: the darker malt offers the opportunity to keep the hops in check in a way that many IPAs fail to remember.