by Kendall Staggs

Have you had any good beers lately? Here are some brief reviews of a few beers from the Golden State (you know, the one south of us). Some are available at Burlingame Grocery. Others were courtesy of beer hunter Scott Leonard, who recently made a California trip. There are some good beers "south of the border." There are some bad ones, too.

Firestone Double Barrel Ale
(Firestone Walker Brewing, Los Olivos, CA):

This amber ale featured a solid malt profile from five different kinds of malts and good hop balance from Saaz and East Kent Goldings. The label claims that the beer's "distinctive complexity" is "brought about through our exclusive, patented, oak barrel fermentation." I don't know how exclusive the process is, but a few oak notes appear on the nose and the palate. This is a nice, drinkable beer and is well worth seeking. (5.0 percent alcohol by volume)

SLO Amber Ale
(SLO Brewing, Paso Robles, CA):

This was a better-than-average amber ale with plenty of hop aromas and flavors. It went well with spicy Korean food. This brewery used to have a mediocre reputation; apparently they have a new brewer and this year they won a silver medal for their Oatmeal Stout at the Great American Beer Festival. The brewpub is in San Luis Opisbo; the brewery is in nearby Paso Robles, near the central California coast. (alcohol unavailable)

Prohibition Ale
(Speakeasy Ales and Lagers, San Francisco):

This was a fairly strong, hoppy ale with some caramel malt notes. Joel Rea reported that the beers were rather mediocre at the brewpub, but Scott and I found this bottled example to be very tasty. (6.1 percent alcohol by volume)

Ragwater Ale
(Lagunitas Brewing, Petaluma, CA):

This beer features the slogan, "Keep it Dark." It did indeed pour dark and a little murky. Fresh hops dominated the aroma. The flavors, unfortunately, were not very appealing. The malt was missing, the hop flavor and bitterness were too assertive, and the beer had a dry, scratchy, cardboard character. Scott and I were unable to finish the 22-ounce bottle. This brewery makes some good beers, but my advice is to stay away from the aptly named Ragwater. (OG 1.056; 47 IBU; alcohol unavailable)

Lagunator Solstice Ale
(Lagunitas Brewing, Petaluma, CA):

This beer features the slogan, "I'll Be Bock," but it is definitely an ale, not a true Bock. It was a good, hoppy, West Coast Ale, with a noticeable alcohol punch. Nevertheless, it was dangerously drinkable. (OG 1.072; 36 IBU; 6.8 percent alcohol by volume)

Double Bastard Ale
(Stone, San Marcos, CA):

This whopper of a beer from the San Diego area is an even stronger version of the notoriously potent Arrogant Bastard Ale. There is lots of malt, even more hops, and even more warm alcohol notes. The label features the warning: "If you can even contemplate, on any level at all, the remotest possibility of consuming a fizzy yellow beer in your miserable future, then DO NOT buy this bottle. Instead, leave it for a worthy soul who has already matriculated to the sublime ecstasy of what those who are in the know lovingly call Liquid Arrogance." This is a relatively expensive brew at $5.25 for a 22-ounce bottle. (10 percent alcohol by volume)

Tahoe Organic Amber Lager
(Truckee, Truckee, CA):

This beer features the slogan, "The way it was in 1862" on its attractive, colorful label. It also says that the beer is "faithfully brewed with certified organic malt and hops, yeast, and clear mountain water, with no preservatives, additives, or pasteurization." After all that, I must dutifully report that neither Scott nor I could drink more than one mouthful of this brew because it had an overpowering diacetyl aroma and flavor. Something went dreadfully wrong somewhere. (alcohol unavailable)


Have you had any good beers lately? Here are some brief reviews of a beers from one of my favorite breweries in the world, the Brasserie Unibroue of Chambly, Quebec, near Montreal. These were courtesy of my very good friend Shawn Murphy, professor of journalism at the University of New York-Plattsburgh. (Shawn, incidentally, started me on the road to ruin by introducing me to the world of homebrewing and later accompanying me to Denver for my first Great American Beer Festival nearly ten years ago.)

La Gaillarde:
This orange-hued ale is brewed according to a 16th-century recipe that features a blend of grains, lots of spices and only a small amount of hops. The name means "the strapping woman" and refers to the brewsters who made most of the beer in olden days. It won a gold medal from the Beverage Tasting Institute in 1996. (5.0 percent abv)

This beer is brewed with whiskey malt. It has a subtle character and robust, full-bodied maltiness. I found it to be a good brew, but not exceptional. I thought it would be more smoky. It won a gold medal from the Beverage Tasting Institute in 1995. (5.5 percent abv)

This was a light straw-colored, highly carbonated brew with a very light but satisfying aroma and flavor profile. It was very drinkable yet fairly potent. (6.0 percent abv)

St. Hubert:
This beer is similar to a classic Belgian Tripel. It is very pale and has aromas and flavors dominated by the yeast rather than the malt and hops. The name comes from the name of a street in Montreal where one of Quebec's premiere restaurant chains was born. (6.5 percent abv)

This is a classic Belgian Tripel, somewhat thin on the malt profile but with a light, honey-like sweetness and plenty of alcohol. Its only fault is that the carbonation is a little too high. The beer is named in honor "of past heroes who gave their life for country and freedom in the Battle of St. Eustache." This is some episode in Canadian history that I know nothing about. (7.0 percent abv)

Eau Bénite:
This is an unconventional Belgian Tripel, made with corn in the grain bill. With its huge head and exotic aromas and flavors, you won't confuse this golden brew with Budweiser. It is very fruity, with complex yeast notes from its triple fermentation. The name means "holy water." (7.7 percent abv)

Sans Nom:
This is an even stronger Belgian Tripel. It is also a little darker in color than Eau Bénite, with even spicier yeast notes. The name means "nameless." I call it great. (9.0 percent abv)

Quelque Chose:
This is a wonderful, sweet, spicy cherry beer, intended to be mulled. The recipe for this beer was inspired by one of my all-time favorite brews, Liefmans Glühkriek, but Quelque Chose is even darker, stronger, and fruitier. The brewers soak the cherries in a bitter beer for several months before blending them with another beer made with highly roasted malts. Following the recommended procedure, I served mine warm, in a coffee cup, after 90 seconds in the microwave. The result was delicious. The name means "something." It surely is. (8.0 percent abv)


Have you had any good beers lately? Here are some brief reviews of beers from one of my favorite breweries in the world, the award-winning New Belgium Brewery of Fort Collins, Colorado. Recently, these beers became available here in Corvallis at Shop 'n' Go. I have also seen them at the Oasis Grocery in Eugene; and I have heard reports of Fat Tire appearing on tap around town. I was delighted to learn that New Belgium's beers have made it to Oregon. They are truly special.

Bière de Mars:
This cloudy, orange-hued ale is based on the French Bière de Garde style. It features an extraordinary variety of ingredients, including a special yeast strain, several barley malts, oats, wheat, and lemon verbena, a fragrant South American herb. This beer is refreshing and delicious. The brewer's idea was to brew a March beer that would represent the transition from winter to spring.

1554 Brussels-Style Black Ale:
At a glance, this muddy, dark brown beer seems to be some kind of Porter, but the brewers insist that it has nothing in common with Porters or Stouts. Indeed, it is definitely a Belgian brew, with fruity, phenolic, and slightly acidic properties. The brewers say that they use a lager yeast at warm temperatures. They also admit to using 60 percent specialty malts in the grist, just enough hops for some bitterness, and some "secret spices." I give 1554 a mixed review: the beer in one of my bottles seemed oxidized; another was fresh and tasty.

Fat Tire:
This Pale Ale is New Belgium's flagship beer. It is made with Dutch Laaglander malt and has a the flavor of freshly baked biscuits. It is extremely popular in Colorado and, from what I've overheard from OSU students, it seems to be taking Corvallis by storm. Fat Tire is a very drinkable, very satisfying, everyday beer.

Sunshine Wheat:
This very light Ale is something of a cross between a Belgian Witbier and an American Wheat. It is golden in color, not pale and cloudy like an authentic Witbier. Also, the coriander and Curaćao orange peel aromas are very subtle. But it is much more flavorful than a typical American Wheat. This finely crafted brew makes an excellent summer thirst quencher.

Blue Paddle Pilsener:
This is a European Pils, with a clean malt profile and the nice blend of floral Saaz hops. The brewers point out that it is an all-malt beer, and in that respect it is superior to most of Belgium's rather mediocre Pilsners. Blue Paddle has won several awards, and it ranks among my favorite American interpretations of the classic Czech lager.

This is arguably the best American version of the Belgian Dubbel style. Dark, reddish brown in color, it features a thick white head, just like its Belgian cousins. The aromas and flavors are also true to form, with fruity notes ranging from bananas and figs to coffee beans, caramel, and cloves. It is slightly sweet, with a touch of smoky phenolics. New Belgium Abbey is strong and delicious.

This version of a Belgian Tripel rivals some of the best examples from Belgium. Hazy, light gold in color, it pours with a chunky white head. Spicy Saaz hops dominate the nose, which also reveals a genuine Belgian yeast strain. The flavor is dominated by lightly sweet malt, some woody overtones, and a bit of a citrus bite. New Belgium Trippel is a delightfully tasty beer that packs a punch.

Have you had any good beers lately? Here are some brief reviews of American Brown Ales, the hoppier cousins of Newcastle Brown Ale and its English cousins.

Moose Drool Brown Ale:
This is a solid example of the style, with a slightly roasted character and plenty of Northwest hops for balance. Moose Drool is brewed by the Big Sky Brewing Company of Missoula, Montana, but bottled by the Portland Brewing Company.

Pyramid Best Brown Ale:
This is certainly not the best version. Its dark enough to be a Brown Ale, but it lacks the chocolate and roasted malt character that I like. It is thin, slightly grainy, and rather lifeless. The Pyramid Brewery is in Seattle.

Downtown Brown Ale:
This is my favorite. It has a solid malt profile, with lots of chocolate and roasted malt aroma and flavor and the right amount of hops for a balance of flavor and bitterness. Nutty and slightly sweet, it is very drinkable on its own, but goes well with soups and sandwiches. The artwork on the label is also a delight. Downtown Brown is from the Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, California.

Wolaver's Brown Ale:
This "Certified Organic" beer has lots of promise, but honesty compels me to report that I was able to drink only half a bottle before pouring it out. The beer had no real aroma or flavor notes except for alcohol. It was as if someone had poured Everclear in a huge vat of brown-dyed Coors Lite, and then bottled the result. Wolaver's is brewed and bottled by the Panorama Brewing Company of Ukiah, California.

Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar:
This is one of my favorite dessert beers. It really belongs in a class by itself. It is a well-made American Brown Ale, made slightly sweet and very distinctive by the addition of hazelnut extract. It reminds me of German chocolate cake in a bottle. Hazelnut Brown Nectar comes only in 22-ounce bottles and is brewed by the Rogue Brewing Company of Newport, Oregon.


New to Shop 'n' Go in Corvallis are three beers from the highly regarded Elysian Brewing Company in Seattle. They are sold in 22-ounce bottles.

The Wise ESB:
This is a solid, amber ale, similar in profile to another American version of an Extra Special Bitter, Anderson Valley's Belk's ESB. It features a fruity, full, malt profile. The hop aroma is slight but the hop flavor comes through at the end of the taste. The hop bitterness is actually moderate, which is actually the way it should be with this somewhat confusingly named style. For lots and lots of hop aroma, flavor, and bitterness, think India Pale Ale. Chinook, Cascade, and Centennial hops are present. The original gravity is 1.058; alcohol strength is 6.1 percent by volume.

The Immortal IPA:
Speaking of India Pale Ales, here is one that manages to be reasonably well-balanced without compromising on the hop intensity that many microbrew lovers in the Pacific Northwest have come to adore. The original gravity is 1.063; alcohol strength is 6.6 percent by volume.

Perseus Porter:
This is fine example of a Robust Porter, with a Black Patent malt aroma, sweet chocolate malt notes, and a lots of roasted flavor. It's not a Stout, however, and there are no burnt qualities. A modest amount of bittering hops are evident, but they are not overdone. This well-balanced and very drinkable beer won a Gold Medal in the 1999 Great American Beer Festival. The original gravity is 1.058 and the alcohol content is 5.7 percent by volume.


Recently, in a magazine article, Michael Jackson listed his favorite five beers for summer. Inspired, I endeavored to list my favorite five summer beers this year, all of which are currently available in Oregon:

Hoegaarden Witbier:
The original and still champion of the Belgian White Beer Style, "who-gar-ten" has the perfect combination of light spiciness to go with a dry finish. A perfect substitute for iced tea, this beer goes well with summer snacks and salads, or by itself. A great beer to sip in the shade.

Blue Paddle Pilsener:
How about a Czech-style Pils from a brewery called New Belgium that is located in Colorado? This one's a winner. Few beer styles are more refreshing on a hot summer day than an authentic Pils, and they beat American macro beers by a mile when one has worked up a thirst, either from mowing the lawn or biking across town.

Eau Bénite Tripel:
Care for something stronger, but still light in color and body? Try this "holy water" from Unibroue, Canada's fabulous producer of Belgian-style ales. It's a non-traditional Tripel, with a little corn in the grist, but it's none the worst for it. All the right notes are present, from the fluffy white head to the fruity, authentic Belgian yeast aromas and flavors. This dangerously drinkable concoction finishes at 7.3 percent alcohol by volume.

Wiesen Edel Weisse:
This mouthful of beer name means "meadow royal white." It is a stronger-than-average Bavarian Wheat Beer from the Schneider Brewery, the makers of the famous Aventinus Weizenbock. Hazy dark gold in color, this full-bodied version has subtle banana esters and lots of spicy notes. It finishes at 6.2 percent alcohol by volume.

Rodenbach Alexander:
Ah, Rodenbach. This exquisite version of the famous Flemish Red Beer is flavored with cherries and just may be the ultimate dessert beer. Its tartness threatens to pucker one's cheeks together but there is just enough malty sweetness and carbonation to keep that from happening. Musty, oaky notes come through as well. It may not be to everyone's liking, but for those with slightly sophisticated palates, Rodenbach Alexander is, as the songwriter Cole Porter would say, "delightful, delicious, de-wonderful."


Here are some brief reviews of beers which I recently obtained from fearless beer hunters. The first two, imported from Colorado, were courtesy of Ingeborg Reed. The second two, from California and Massachusetts, respectively, were donated by Scott Leonard. Thanks beer hunters!

Scarab Red Ale
(Oasis Brewing Company, Boulder, CO)

This is a solid beer from one of Colorado's best microbreweries. It won a gold medal in the Red Ale category in the 1999 Great American Beer Festival. It is bright copper-colored, and makes a nice crackling sound in the glass (Fred Eckhardt tells us to listen to our beer). The nose was reminiscent of freshly baked bread. The flavor is rich, with lots of toasted malt notes. There is very moderate hop flavor and significant hop bitterness on the finish. Yes, there is such a thing as Red Ale; it is the native beer style of Ireland. I also recommend from Oasis the Capstone ESB, Tut Brown Ale, and Zoser Oatmeal Stout. In addition, Oasis brews a Scotch Ale, an Imperial Stout, Nileator Doppelbock, and Snoasis, a spicy winter brew. If you are ever in Boulder, check out the brewpub. It features a cool Egyptian motif, a 50-foot green marble bar, great food, and views of the Rockies.

Blackjack Porter
(Left Hand Brewing Company, Longmont, CO)

This, simply put, is one of Colorado's best beers (sorry Coors). It won the gold medal in the Brown Porter category at the 2000 GABF. It is a beautiful, deep brown with reddish hues, and has a tan head. Wonderfully complex, it features caramel, fruity, chocolaty, and smoky aromas and a rich, roasted but not harsh malt flavor. This Brown Porter is not as hoppy as our Black Butte Porter, but that suits me just fine. I love the chocolate malt. The brewery is named for the Southern Arapaho Indian chief Niwot, or Left Hand. Its other beers of note include Sawtooth Pale Ale, Deep Cover Brown Ale, Imperial Stout, and the fascinating Juju Ginger Ale. (6.4 abv)

Sudwerk Pilsner
(Sudwerk Privatbrauerei Hübsch, Davis, CA)

Here's a good American version of the German Pils style, with plenty of Hallertauer hops in the aroma and a dry, crisp finish. Smooth and very refreshing, it smells and tastes very authentic (the brewery uses yeasts from Weihenstephan, Germany.) This beer won the gold medal in the European Pilsner category in the 1995 GABF. I sure wish we could buy the Sudwerk beers in Oregon. Sudwerk makes excellent versions of Hefeweizen, Helles, Märzen, Maibock, and Doppelbock. And the brewpub is also worth visiting: it has seating for 250 people inside and another 250 in the Biergarten, with copper brewing equipment inside the circular bar.

Ipswich Original Ale
(Ipswich, MA)

This beer is a cloudy gold with orange tints, and there was lots of sediment from the pour. Fresh, fruity hop aromas dominate the nose. It features a fruity, citrusy, malty flavor, with a fruity hop background. It finishes rather tart with an assertive English (Kent Goldings) hop bitterness. This has recently been released in 12-ounce bottles; formerly it was available in half gallon "growler" jugs. Ipswich is an old New England town just north of Boston.



Groot Voorst Signature Ale 1999
What happens when the Dutch brew a Belgian Monastic Ale? In this case, the result is very good. This beer has plenty of the aromas and flavors one would expect from a class Trappist Ale, and I loved it. For starters, the package is something special: a 750 ml bottle, snugly corked and caged, with a little wooden shoe on a string draped around its neck. The beer is dark, murky brown with chestnut hues, and pours with a huge, crackling head (Fred Eckhardt tells us to listen to our beer). The aromas are similar to the best monastic brews-fruity, phenolic, and reminiscent of exotic cheeses. The flavors are even more intense. They remind one of bittersweet dark chocolate, anise (black licorice), and sweet malt. There is only a little hop bitterness in this medium-bodied beer. The alcohol is obvious and its warming effects linger after each sip. Rich and potent (11 percent alcohol by volume), Groot Voorst is a great dessert beer. For more information, see

Young's Double Chocolate Stout
For a few weeks Young's Double Chocolate Stout was available at Shop 'n' Go in Corvallis. My only regret is that I did not buy more bottles, because it is out of stock and may not be back for awhile. This beer, from the famous Young's Ram Brewery in London (makers of Ram Rod and Old Nick Barley Wine), was first released as an Easter specialty in the spring of 1997. It is brewed with Mars Otter and Chocolate malt, Fuggles, East Kent Goldings, and Styrian Goldings hops, and extract of cacao. At five percent alcohol by volume, it is very drinkable. The aroma is chocolate and licorice, the palate is sweet chocolate malt, with very little roasted or bitter flavor. The finish is slightly woody and dry, like Young's other beers, but the dominant flavor is chocolate fudge. This beer is extremely delicious and worth seeking.

New Belgium Frambozen
New Belgium Frambozen is still available at Shop 'n' Go. This beer is based roughly on Liefman's Frambozenbier, a tart, Flemish Brown Ale flavored with raspberries. This version is not as sour as the one from Belgium, nor does it have authentic lactobacillus character of the original. But it is a very well made beer, and the raspberries are subtly sweet, not cloying like many American fruit beers. This is a good winter specialty brew.


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