May 15, 2014

California Alcholiday -- Part 1

My wife and I are packing in some serious alcoholidays this year but we have had some great opportunities come up that we couldn't pass up. Our California trip was centered around The Bruery's anniversary event, Sucreversary. We joined the Reserve Society this year and since we're not sure we'll get back in next year, we wanted to hit it. Sucreversary was a five hour beer fest with unlimited pours of twenty-one Bruery beers plus a stable of other California brewers that brought some tasty beers. It was pricey to get into but the lineup was so incredible it was worth it. Sucreversary was by far the best beer fest I have been to. After rolling through Orange County for the Sucreversary and a post-fest stop at The Bruery, we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to Firestone Walker's Barrelworks location, followed by the main Firestone Walker location in Paso Robles and up into San Francisco where we drank at Russian River. We did some touristy things in Los Angeles and San Francisco but let's get into the breweries and talking about beer.

The Bruery/Sucreversary

If you know anything about The Bruery then you probably know that they are best known for making a collection of expensive barrel aged beers that generally center around high gravity styles and sour beer. That mostly explains The Bruery's line up. These beers include a multitude of stouts and barleywines that reach the high teens in alcohol, such as Black Tuesday and Chocolate Rain, and some of the beers are highly sought after on the trading market because they are only released to the Reserve Society or even the invite-only Hoarders Society.

The Bruery tap room

The Bruery is highly regarded by most but like any brewery they have their detractors. There are those who dislike the pricing and sales methods of The Bruery (and they are expensive beers). A growing number of people are bemoaning the occasional infection among the beers. (A recent collaboration with Three Floyds produced two infected beers.) These are legitimate critiques. I would be more than a little offended to spend $30 on a bottle of infected mess. I have been fortunate to have avoided an infected bottle so far but I understand where people are coming from. I have mixed feelings about the rising costs of beer but as homebrewers we at least have that opportunity to brew some of these exotic beers at considerably lower costs so often I buy one bottle and incorporate it as research into my own projects where I can make five gallons of a beer in the general vicinity of the $30 bottle.

Between the beers at Sucreversary and our post-fest debriefing at The Bruery proper, here are the beers that won the most love:

  • Motherfunker: We split a bottle of this rare beer with some friends we made at the beer fest and I was really glad we nabbed this one. It's a sour blonde ale aged in chardonnay barrels. Although I am not much for chardonnay by itself I really enjoy it in sour beers. This beer is intensely sour and the subtle chardonnay character adds a fruity almost sweetness that helps round it out.
  • Pure Oreo Black Tuesday (cask): Black Tuesday is a beast of an imperial stout and one of The Bruery's best known offerings due to its impressive ABV. It is a huge beer with incredible depth of flavor. I had a hard time not loving it on cask but with the addition of oreos in the cask, well, how could you not love it? The cask pour seemed to help mellow to alcohol and the oreos added an interesting cream and chocolate aspect to it.
  • Grey Monday: Grey Monday is Black Tuesday aged on hazelnuts. It's everything Black Tuesday is, which is everything you could shove into a stout, plus the smooth nutty flavor of hazelnut. If they had put this on cask I probably would have loved it even more than the Pure Oreo Black Tuesday.
  • Sour in the Rye with Nectarines: I love Sour in the Rye to begin with. It's a light sour beer mixed with spicy rye. It's two of my favorite things in beer put together. The addition of nectarines gives this beer a peach-like flavor that blends well across the acidity and spicy rye that made it a very smooth sour beer.
  • Griffon Bruxellois: This is a sour brown ale with cherries aged in barrels. The cherry flavor was dominant but not in a sticky, artificial way; it was a big version of the cherry pie funk people aim for with sour beer. This beer contains more roast malt than is usually used in sour browns (which often include little or no roasted malt) so it was short on the caramel notes usually present in this style in favor of toast, toffee and chocolate. 
  • Rum Barrel Aged Mrs. Stoutfire: The base beer is an imperial stout using malt smoked over three types of wood: apple, pecan and white oak. Then it was aged on the same three types of wood. Then this variant was shoved in rum barrels. The beer is about a year old and the smoke had mellowed into the background, creating a beer with an interesting smoky, woody flavor. The rum brought out some molasses and toffee flavors, creating something that overall tasted like a smoked dessert. 
  • Oui Oui/Rueze blend: This doesn't exist as an actual beer, it was just something I convinced one of The Bruery employees to pour for me. Rueze is their gueuze, itself already a blended beer with lots of funk and moderate acidity. Oui Oui is a sour blonde ale with chardonnay grapes and aged in chardonnay barrels. It is strongly acidic with an obvious chardonnay character. The blend together punched up the acidity on Rueze but brought more funk complexity to Oui Oui, creating a beer with a very assertive profile with the chardonnay character in the background adding more fruit into the flavor profile.
In addition to the delicious beers from The Bruery at Sucreversary, there were a few standouts to call out:

  • Monkish Brewing Seme Della Vita: A Belgian tripel with vanilla beans and pistachios. It sounded like a really weird combination but really delicious and unusual. The combination of flavors was similar to an Italian cream cake but without the coconut. It tastes a lot sweeter than it actually is. I'm not sure whether I could kill off multiple pints in one sitting because of the sweetness but it's definitely one I would happily drink again.
  •  Rare Barrel Fields Forever: A flemmish red with strawberries from one of the new "it" brewers from the west coast. The base beer was bright and complex and surprisingly the strawberries were noticeable. Strawberries usually don't fair well in beer without a lot of residual sugar but they managed to capture a gentle but obvious strawberry aroma and flavor.
  • Rare Barrel Egregious: A sour blonde ale dry hopped at least with Amarillo. I only got one sip of the pour we snagged (wife drank it all) so I didn't have a chance to roll through it and figure out what other hops might be in there. I'm a sucker for dry hopped sours but this one deserves mention on this list. The hops come through with a fresh flavor and aroma and are bold enough that they don't get lost among the base beer.
That's a good starting point. I'll pick back up with our Firestone Walker adventures and Russian River in a second part. If you're getting tired of these I apologize. This will be the end of our beer travels for a while and I already have another brew scheduled for Sunday so I'll get back on the brewing posts shortly.

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