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Posts Tagged ‘beer

The year in beer.

with 10 comments

‘Tis the season to make lists. So, apropos of my love for beer, a quick list of some of the best I have had in 2011. Also includes best pub, and other oddities.

[Note: Since I tend to drink most of my beers from local breweries (unless travelling) the list is somewhat San Diego-centric. (This is not a disadvantage at all for me given the large number and variety of breweries in the area and the fact that the number seems to be growing by a few every year. But unfortunately, you may not find many of these beers at your local grocery or liquor store. All the more reason to visit or better yet, move to America’s Finest City.)]

Lager/Pilsner: Not my favorite style and hence I tend not to drink a great variety of these. Among those I have tried, Lightning Brewery’s Elemental Pilsner easily wins top spot for its full-bodied malty, yet crisp and abundantly hoppy taste. Without doubt the best beer for the San Diego fall season (when it actually *does* gets hot here).

For lagers, I have to immodestly declare that my home-brewed Oktoberfest Lager beat out many of the commercial beers out there in this category. A hint of diacetyl taste – which I have to admit, was accidental – really put it over the top.

(don’t worry, that’s the only one of my home-brews I’ll praise myself)

Saison: 2011 seems to have been the breakout year for this usually spicy, but refreshing style of beer with origins in the Belgian farmhouse (these beers were brewed in spring for readiness to drink in fall after the harvest). Almost all local breweries produced a version (most of which I tried), and I brewed a few of my own in summer. However the Saison I most enjoyed was the New York-based Ommegang Brewery’s Hennepin Saison. It is also possibly the best beer I’ve had all year.  The only downside is that it packs a whopping 7% ABV,  so not quite a session beer.

Pale Ale: Found Bell’s Two Hearted Ale late this year – actually just this month on tap at a very nice pub in DC – and loved the intense hop aromas combined with the resinous characteristics of the Centennial hops used in the brew.

Also, though not new for this year, but Alesmith’s X (an Extra Pale Ale) continues to be a regular favorite.  Karl Strauss’ Pintail Pale Ale is great as well, especially when it is fresh on the tap during spring – love the strong citrusy aroma of this one.

IPA: Finally had a chance to enjoy Pliny the Elder this year and have to agree with the general assessments of it being the best (American-style) IPA in all of the country. Malt sweetness is brilliantly balanced with hop bitterness and lingering aromas.

A very, very close second would be Swan’s (a brewery based in Vancouver) Dry-hopped Casked IPA, which I had at the Alibi Room (see below). Yet another runner-up, again by just a thin margin, is Alpine Brewery’s Nelson, an IPA made with Nelson Sauvigon hops and small amounts of rye. The Nelson hops, which grow only in New Zealand and are hence pretty rare on this side of the Pacific, possess characteristics of the Sauvigon grapes that add a distinctive characteristic to the beer.

Apart from these, Ballast Point’s Sculping IPA remains a local favorite.

Stouts/Porters: Lightning Brewery’s Bourbon Barrel Black Lightning Porter – loved the vanilla flavor (extracted from the barrels) in this one. Flying Dog’s Gonzo Imperial Porter, served on nitrogen, was another favorite.

Cask Ale: 2011 was also the breakthrough year for cask ales, i.e. beer aged and carbonated naturally in a cask. Just like Saisons, almost every brewery was jumping on the bandwagon and producing special versions of their ales in casks (some going to interesting extents such as adding sumac to the beer while casking). Apart from the Swan cask-IPA mentioned, the casked version of Alesmith’s Anvil  ESB was quite good.

Barley Wine: Actually this was the only Barley Wine I had all year, but Alesmith’s barrel-aged Old Numbskull is a brilliantly complex beer and deserves a mention.

Honorable Mentions: Unibroue’s (a Quebc-based brewery) Blanche de Chambly – a Belgian White with subtle spice and citrusy freshness. Also, a red ale made with Thai rice that I had at a brewery in Singapore called Brewerkz (run by an American). Can’t remember the name of that beer though.

Green, healthy beer.

Most Absurd Beer: A Green Lager at the Red Dot Brewery in Singapore. It was made green by the addition of spirulina, a dietary supplement made from cyanobacteria. The description of the beer claimed it had health benefits, noting that spirulina is supposed to help in ‘regression & elimination of AIDS virus’! Taste was only a small step above the locally available Tiger lager.

Best Beer Name: The Polygamy Porter from the Wasatch Brew Pub in – where else? – Utah.

Ashamed to Admit I Drank it Beer of the Year: Kingfisher Lager. Choices in India were limited.

Pub: The Abili Room in Vancouver. I would have loved this place just for its location right next to a railway yard, allowing you views of the locomotives shunting as you sip a cold one. The fact that they have over 30 beers, many local, and served some awesome food made it even better. Tucked in at the edge of Vancouver’s downtown, I also loved the quaint indoor décor – often designed with a sense of humor (a stacked bunch of non-working antique TVs in one corner instead of the usual big LCDs showing sports).

Close second: Tiger Tiger – the newly opened pub in San Diego. Love the big open space inside and their selection, and their wide range of choice for lower-alcoholic session beers.

A special mention to St Augustine’sin Vancouver for their innovative use of the space in front the urinals in men’s restroom: LCD screens displaying live status of remaining beer in all the kegs served.

St Augustine's in Vancouver. Keeping you informed of beer supplies while you pee.

Beer Epiphany of the Year: That I do enjoy sour beers, especially the low-alcoholic, highly carbonated Berliner Weisse, called the ‘champagne of the north’ by the Napoleonic army invading Germany. The Lightning Brewery version of this beer, Sauerstrom Ale, was the best, and I did not even require the traditional syrup which is often mixed in to counter the sourness, to enjoy this.

Serendipitous Beer Discovery of the Year: The Central Coast Brewing Company at San Luis Obispo, CA. We were walking towards downtown SLO for dinner and found this brewery just a few blocks from our hotel. Enjoyed their Topless Blonde Ale – a mild pale ale, but was really blown away by the Catch-23 Rye IPA. These guys are generous with their rye addition, which provides an additional malty spiciness to the beer.

Beer Disappointment of the Year: Dog Fish Head 90min IPA. Supposedly one of the best IPAs made in the USA, I just could not enjoy its overtly fruity, and sweet taste. Perhaps it tastes better on tap, so my judgement could change.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

December 30, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Posted in Food

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Weekend cocktail blogging: Beer Margaritas

with 2 comments

Yeah, you heard it right. Just in time before the weekend slips away, treat yourself to this awesome summer refresher.

(Yes, as a self-proclaimed cocktail snob I should be ashamed, but what can I say: I was hit on the head today, and this could be the internal hemorrhage talking.)

The basic idea is to mashup two alcoholic beverages that are very refreshing on their own for a uber-refreshing drink.

Before you start, a word of caution: there are quite a few recipes out there if you google ‘beer margarita‘; but please, please and please, do not follow them. Most of the recipes ask you to use limeade (ugh!), and give you wrong advices like avoid micro-brews to prevent overpowering your margaritas, calling instead for (gasp) Corona!

For those who use limeade (or any of those ready-made margarita mixes), to paraphrase the immortal Mr T , ‘we pity the fools’!

As for micro-brews, yes avoid  the over-hopped Stone/Doghead etc, but there are many micro-brewers and homebrewers (such as moi) who make lagers and light ales that actually taste something other than lightly diluted water. So don’t be shy of using some craft/home-brewed or imported lager/ale that is on the sweeter, but less malty and certainly not hoppy side (however, for the sake of experimentation, a well-hopped ale could be tried). However, German lager, which are heavy on the malt, may not work very well.

I used my home-made California Cream Ale, which is light (~4.5% ABV) and has a very light  sweetness to it and is neither very malty or hoppy.

Also, in my opinion, to really balance the beer and the tequila, I would recommend a Reposado tequila (tequila aged 2 months to a year in oak barrels). Reposados are mellower than the ‘gold’ (the lowest end of tequilas that have caramel etc added to give color, and IMO should never be used expect for college kids  and poor grad students to get drunk quickly) or ‘blanco’ (un-aged tequila, that is 100% agave and quite strong consequently). They are also less expensive than the aged tequilas that are a waste in cocktails anyway. Plus, with this drink, it’s not worthwhile wasting your high-end tequilas like Patron.

This was my recipe:

  • 2 parts Tequila (I used Hornitos)
  • 1 part Triple-sec (again, not worth using Cointreau or anything expensive, the regular stuff will do)
  • 1 part freshly squeezed juice of lime
  • Home-brewed California Cream Ale to top off.

Pour everything into a shaker with lots of ice and shake. Pour into a glass that has been rimmed with margarita salt. It is better to put some fresh ice in the glass and strain the shaken mix over the ice. Carefully top off with beer.


A word of caution: this will get you drunk very fast. I assume no liabilities.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

August 22, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Posted in Food, Martinis

Tagged with , , ,


with 3 comments

There are lots of negative things to be said about Sydney: the  multitude of dodgy characters, the  incredible rents, the hole-in-the-wall that purports to be a place of residence for the next few months (hopefully a longer post about the city etc in a while).

However, they are all balanced by the fact that right opposite the said hole-in-the wall is a pub. And not just the run of the mill, typical Aussie pub that satisfies itself by pouring weak lagers, but a true-blue alehouse that serves at any time, about 15 different beers covering ales, lagers and stouts on tap (not to mention the multitudes available on bottle). Apart from style, they cover different countries as well including US (the good ones), German, Czech, New Zealand and of course Australia (the good ones). And they keep changing the beers weekly/monthly.

Overall, some interesting beer-drinking experiences ahead.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

April 9, 2009 at 9:22 pm

Posted in Australia, Martinis, Personal

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Brief comment on Aussie brews….

with 5 comments

…..and praise of two micro-breweries.

I am sure that quite a few people, when they think of Australia – along with the sunny beaches, croc-infested outbacks, cute marsupials etc. – think of beer. But the generic beer down here really means pale lagers, with each state producing its own version: Carlton Draught, Victoria Bitter, Tooheys, XXXX, Swan Draught etc. That is not to say Aussie lagers are bad, they are actually much superior tasting, and indeed quite refreshing at the end of a hot day as compared to the slightly flavored water piss passed of as beer in the US [1](German expats on the other hand, possibly for good reasons, have an entirely different opinion on how a lager should be, but that is another matter). Even some of the low-carb stuff here, like the imaginatively named and cheekily marketed Pure Blonde, have a clean crispiness to them not found in say, (shudder!) Michelob Light. Additionally, there are some really good ales made by small breweries like Cascade (the oldest brewery still in operation) and Boags – incidentally both located in Tasmania – that do more than wash down those barbied snags.

/Brief Rant Mode/

However, in some bizarre twist of irony, at most bars and restaurants there is a seemingly endless demand for Corona Extra (with the insufferable lime wedges) !! Aussies, both male and female, don’t seem to get enough of it. Makes me cringe and fear for the future of these people.

/End Rant/

One unfortunate aspect within the Aussies beer world is the market dominance by mainly two players, Fosters (although you will be hard-pressed to find Foster’s Lager out here) and Nathan Lion, which means that you are often forced to consume the marketing hype launched by these two (this could possibly explain the Corona craze, the beer being distributed by Fosters down here). Even the small breweries like Cascade and Boags mentioned above are owned by one or the other. Coopers is possibly the only independent brewery that operates on the large-scale.

Additionally, at least in the Brisbane are, I have not found any micro-brewers, which was something quite common in the US. Thankfully, on a recent visit to Perth, I got an opportunity to taste beers from two great micro-breweries in Western Australia, Matilda Bay (which again is owned by Fosters!) and Little Creatures. Both breweries make a variety of lagers and ales and although their Pilsners were kind of disappointing, the Pale Ales rock. I have had the Little Creatures Pale Ale in a bottle in Brisbane itself and it is without doubt, still the best beer I have tasted in a long while. But drinking from the tap at the pub located within the brewery made it extra special. The Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale is not easily available in bottles (at least in Brisbane) and it was refreshing to have it while watching live cricket at one of Perth’s landmark breweries, The Brass Monkey. Additionally, Matilda Bay makes a honey-flavored amber wheat beer, Beez Neez, which IMO is a fine indoor/evening beer, and a German-inspired red lager, Rooftop.


Among other beer varieties, I have noticed that the India Pale Ale, which used to be my favorite in the US, is not very popular down under, in spite of the British connections. It is much harder to find than other beers, and the only one I tried so far, James Squire, failed to impress. The Germans mentioned before have an apparent distaste for ale and usually drink Becks (More out of patriotism than real taste, I suspect). Thankfully, most Aussie cities seem to have a few Irish pubs around, so the old reliable stout, Guinness is always at hand. The other readily available non-Australian ale I have been really impressed with is the Old Speckled Hen. An English bitter, it is best tasted served from the tap, at the right temperature (around 16C) and served in an Imperial Pint (bears the royal insignia no less) glass. Also best enjoyed late in the evening at the pub whilst watching a EPL match surrounded by rowdy English fans !

In short, regular Aussie lagers seem to do the job in keeping with the outdoorsy nature of this country and yet there is a bit of variety in the form of exciting ales from micro-brewers and imports to keep the connoisseurs happy. In the coming months I will get to visit Tasmania and New South Whales and will to keep any beer-lovers lurking around updated if any decent new micro-brews are discovered.

Final disclaimer: Note that these perspectives are from a non-regular beer drinker [2]. I still prefer cocktails when I have the chance. But the quality of cocktails they make at the bars here is abysmal, not to mention the struggle involved in making the barmen/women comprehend even the simplest of recipes. So I stick to beer now (when in Rome…..) [3]. Besides, beer is very refreshing after long outdoor activities, or after the day at the beach, or when attending to the barbie. And there is plenty of that happening in sunny down under.



[1]: Read that as Coors, Millers, Bud and suchlike. Sam Adams does produce a decent lager, as does Labatt up north.

[2]: And yes – in spite of its proletariat background – just like wine, there are subtleties that need to be recognized while tasting beer – color, head, aroma, taste of hops etc all go into distinguishing a beer. Personally, I use a simple yardstick: tastes good at the moment versus not good 🙂

[3]: To be fair, Australian do drink fair bit of wine as well, and Aussie wines, especially reds like Shiraz, are exceptionally a great value.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

November 23, 2007 at 1:40 am