I've been doing plenty of research for this column lately, meaning I've had the pleasure of tasting some very fine beers, along with a few clunkers. I've been to brewfests, breweries, pubs and restaurants. I've stocked up at bottle shops. I've gazed at labels and brewery names until I had trouble keeping my Moose Drools from my Dogfish Heads. Here are just a few of my recent beer experiences.
Loakal Red by The Bruery
I'd highly recommend that you go out and buy this amber ale. But there's just one problem – you can't. After enjoying a Loakal Red at LowBrau, marveling at the complex flavors and how the beer engaged my senses, I decided to call The Bruery and ask a simple question: Why is this beer so darn good?
The Bruery's Benjamin Weiss told me that Loakal Red, a barrel-aged beer, is exactly as the name suggests – it's brewed for consumption in its native Orange County. The Bruery sent out Loakal Red to select accounts, including LowBrau, to mark the company's fifth anniversary.
"It's a little bit more complicated than other beers in that style," Weiss said. "We actually make the same beer twice to create one bottle."
That's right. While one version is aging in oak barrels for a month, establishing depth and gathering all kinds of nuanced flavors, they brew another batch and add dry hops to it toward the end of brewing. This hoppy batch is then blended with the barrel-aged brew. What you get is a little bit of magic that dances and then settles on your palate.
While you won't find it at local bottle shops, you can order it online from the website www.thebruery.com.
Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA
I had this harmonious West Coast India Pale Ale at Magpie, and in this instance the food pairing was sublime. The pleasant citrusy notes and the bitterness of the hops cut into a wonderfully rich pork belly salad I had ordered. One way to pair is to offset richness in the food with a beer that is dry or crisp or bitter. For my palate, pork belly and this robust, balanced IPA was just right.
Le Freak by Green Flash Brewing
This time, at a visit to an excellent restaurant (I can't tell you which one, but watch for it in an upcoming restaurant review), the beer didn't work with the food. This highly regarded and challenging beer out of San Diego is a mix of two styles – a Belgian trippel and an IPA. Sounds great on paper, but I erred in attempting to enjoy it with complex, exquisitely prepared food. The yeasty elements of the beer not only overwhelmed my palate but also gave me a slightly queasy feeling.
Bee Line Blonde by Track Seven
This is a refreshing, very drinkable honey blond ale, featuring a deft blending of hops and local wildflower honey. But it's no one-dimensional beer. It has a nice degree of ease and elegance, and a very clean finish. I had this one at Broderick Restaurant & Bar, where it pairs nicely with the excellent mac and cheese.
Ruhstaller Gilt Edge lager
Locally sourced honey at Track Seven, and now local hops and barley in this lager. Ruhstaller is leading the charge in the beer version of "farm to fork." How about "farm to foam"? This is a nicely crafted beer, with a flavor that whispers hops without any jarring bitterness.
I'm also a big fan of Ruhstaller's Captain California black IPA – very smooth, almost silky body, gentle citrus notes with a toasty, chocolaty finish.
When Nick Leonti, the bon vivant at the Sacramento Visitors & Convention Bureau, asked if I wanted to taste this beer he had purchased straight from the famed Trappist Abbey of St. Sixtus of Westvleteren in Belgium, I jumped at the offer.
Many consider it the best beer in the world. There's no label on the bottle – only the cap tells you it's Westvleteren 12, which is a quadrupel (or quad) style ale with a hefty 10.2 percent alcohol by volume. This was a beautiful beer, with rich flavor notes of caramel and malt and just the right touch of sweetness. Practically a religious experience, and the high alcohol didn't make the beer run hot.
Parabola Imperial Stout by Firestone Walker
I tasted this highly anticipated beer at de Vere's on a recent Thursday. Super-dark, aggressive flavors of bourbon, maple syrup and a smokiness that could have been a fine cigar. The first sip was fantastic – so much going on, so much to process, with the extreme 13 percent ABV clearly asserting itself.
And yet, this one left me reeling after several sips. I found it to be overly alcoholic and overwhelming. This definitely needed food companionship, like a rich and hearty shepherd's pie to temper its aggression.
What's brewingUp next: Meet Daniel Barnes and Darcey Self- Barnes, authors of the blog His and Hers Beer Notes (hisandhersbeernotes.com). We'll talk about their excellent blog, their great beer adventures, and whether craft beer makes a marriage stronger.
Where we're headed: We'll stop in at area bottle shops to talk about how to build your own beer list.
Call The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.