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“a woman walks into a bar…” at Buzz Wine Beer Shop for a Beer Tasting

on 07/05/12 at 9:53 am

a woman walks into a bar..., Beer, BoozeBlog

There’s a cool wine/beer shop on the corner of 5th and Spring Street in downtown LA called Buzz Wine Beer Shop in what is called the Historic Core – which may come as a surprise to some persnickety Angelenos (Westsiders) that there a) is a downtown and b) that there’s actually some history there. Be that as it may, Buzz hosted a first ever “Bay Area Brewery Fresh Beer Tasting” in Southern California. There were six beers from what the organizers said were “three of the best and the brightest young Bay Area Brewers… Kel Acala – owner/brewmaster at Dying Vines and Andrew Ritter – lead brewer at Linden Street will be on hand for a few hours to talk about their beers and answer questions”.

Ok, so beer is my veeeery favorite beverage…more than wine, more than spirits, more than chocolate milk. Beer has a delicious, complex flavor profile that is eminently adaptable to any food, anytime, anywhere. It can be argued the same can be said for wine and spirits but, to me, a well-crafted beer soothes my spirit, quenches my thirst and satisfies my palate like no other. I’m a consummate beer lover and beer evangelist that sometimes makes wine lovers question my sanity, but so be it. Back attcha wine lovers!

My love of beer does not make me a beer geek. I’m not into the intricacies of brewing temperatures, fermentation variables or mash times and I don’t home brew – yet – but I know what I like and know enough about beer to make me an educated consumer so I was very interested to try new beers that have not been distributed in Southern California til now.

Before I launch into my personal view of said Bay Area beers, first a word about craft beer. Particularly for those who are stuck on Bud or PBR – hey, I love a PBR when nothing but fizzy water will do…honestly – and for those who are uncertain as to what craft beer really is. What it’s not is something snobby and inaccessible.

Remember your first starter wines? Cheap, sweet, probably sparking. You moved on to, maybe, Two Buck Chuck and then one day, you went to a wine tasting at your local wine shop, and lo and behold, your taste buds had an ‘awakening’ akin to when you found out there was more to sex than the missionary position. WOW. The possibilities! And so it is with craft beer. It’s time to transition, to move on up to the next level. Or to try it for the first time.

And as with wine, just because you’ve moved up to drinking more sophisticated wines, doesn’t mean that every wine you’re going to taste is, oh so delicious, oh so amazing. You become discerning, both recognizing your own palate preferences as well as noting marketing hype. That last one, though, is a bitch to vet as advertisers pitch to our limbic brains. And, the sobriquet,craft beer, does not automatically make the beer in your hand a taste sensation, or even good. It simply designates that it was made by brewers in small, independent operations, not owned by the big boys like Miller-Coors or AnheuserBush-Inbev, and it does not guarantee awesomeness. The best thing about finding those craft beer gems is that you have to drink a lot of it…for research and comparison sake, of course. Eventually, after you’ve tried a prodigious variety of beer styles and beers from different breweries, you will become become a connoisseur, confident in your own palate. You will know what you like.

Here’s a thing that really bugs me when people talk about beer. “Oh my god”, they say, “I would love to drink more beer but it makes me bloated, it’s so filling, I don’t want to get fat.” Well, yeees, if you go home and drink a 6 pack of crap. I’m bloating just thinking about it. Or, if you say you hate beer, and the only thing you ever tried was a Coors or Bud Light, I can’t say I blame you. Craft beer, though, is just that…crafted. It’s like a fine wine. You don’t go home and guzzle an entire bottle at once. Ok, maybe you do but you shouldn’t. Good beer and good wine are for savoring. A pint or a glass, or two, at a time.

Guess what else is fabulous about beer? Cost. You can buy a six pack of fantastic beer for under ten bucks. Yes you can. An okay bottle of wine usually starts around fifteen. A fabulous bottle of wine a lot more. So if your 401K has been depleted, your savings are scraping bottom, crying in your beer is way more cost effective that crying in your wine. Besides, you’d look rather silly. Beer is your friend.

But, I want to go back to the ‘savoring’ a pint part for a quick minute. A pint of craft beer is love in a glass. Lovingly made with quality ingredients by women and men who respect the process, the ingredients, the end product and even you, my friend, the consumer, who is ready to quaff this labor of love. The craft brewers really do care what ends up in that glass, so look at the beautiful color, sniff the delectable hops, sip and savor the waves of liquid gold washing over your tongue. Your palate is alive, awake, energized. So give craft beer a shot…it’s that easy.

Alright, on to the beer tasting. My overview of the beers presented from the Bay Area were that they were a little thin, lacking in depth, more of a one-note. Now that might have been due more to style than substance as the beers were English style ales and lagers which can be lighter, less hoppy beers, lower in alcohol but that doesn’t mean they have to be blah. I admit that I’m a big, West Coast (different from East Coast style) IPA fan and love hops, but I still want a balanced beer, not one that hits you over the head with hoppy bitterness (altho’ there is a place for that too!). For me, lighter styles are best for breakfast. So, if these beers were the best and brightest from up north, I wouldn’t put them in a beer decathlon with our beers from down here in SoCal. They would be brutally whupped and sent back home to study up.

For instance, Dying Vines’ Hop Candi’ is described as an IPA that “smells like Pliny the Elder and finishes clean with basically no bittering coming from the hops.” The description was spot on. Smelled a bit like Pliney and NO hops. Whether they wanted a little stardust to rub off on Hop Candi being compared to Pliny the Elder, um, well, not so much. What was the point of taking all the bitterness out of the hops? I mean, bitter is part of the hops experience and it gives a well-balanced beer its character. I asked the very nice owner/brewmaster, Kel Acala, what his reason was for creating this beer. He said he comes from a Latin American culinary background and pairing beer with food was important to him. He wanted a balanced easy drinking beer that you would drink at the beginning of a meal and then drink more complex beers as the meal progressed. I can see that but, to me, ‘debittering’ hops is like rinsing an oyster before you serve it. All the salty sea deliciousness is down the drain.

And so it went. Whatever the outcome, though, whether one likes the beer or not, it’s always enlightening to taste what’s out there. After all, it’s all about research. Herewith, the Line-Up from the tasting.

Tasting notes are by Buzz organizers:

Linden Street Brewery Oakland CA

“Buring Oak” Black Lager: “Burning Oak” is the chic local beer to have on tap in the Bay Area.  Bone dry, very dark and entirely savory. Great pairing for salty cured meat and dry crumbly cheese.
Style: Black Lager/Steam Beer / 5.2% ABV / 19 IBUs – All Northern Brewer Hops

“Urban Peoples” Common Lager: This is the everyman’s beer in the catalog.  Think real, locally produced and owned, un-pasteurized Anchor Steam Beer.  Pale, Hoppy and ultra-fresh/alive tasting
Style: Steam Beer/California Common / 5.5% ABV / 39 IBUs – All Northern Brewer Hops
Dying Vines Oakland CA
Hop Candi: This is a totally unique beer: An 8 IBU India Pale Ale! And while it needs to be tasted to be truly understood/appreciated, I’ll say that it smells like Pliny the Elder and finishes clean with basically no bittering coming from the hops.  It’s an impressive tightrope act to pull off, and Kel has succeeded masterfully.
Style: Contemporary Session Beer / ABV: 4.5%

Ol’ Brick Bitter: In my opinion this is the best beer being brewed in the Bay Area today.  It is a drinkable essay on the toll that pasteurization and time take on Southern English imports like London Pride and Martson’s Pedigree.  Served at the proper temp, “Ol’ Brick becomes incredibly nuanced.  As it warms there is an alluring white peach aroma.  On the palette it is the signature “jam on toast” flavor of classic English Ale.  The finish is crystal clean with just a linger touch of grain and floral hops.
Style: British Style Best Bitter / ABV: 4.5%

Pacific Brewing Labs San Francisco CA  

“Squid Ink” Black IPA:  This is much more easy to knock back than most of the other CDA/Black IPA/EDA beers that people have been turning out lately.  It has some subtle chocolate, and plenty of lemon-rind like hoppy bitterness.  A really surprising, refreshing crowd-pleaser.
Style: Strong Dark Ale / 7.0% ABV / 54 IBUs

“Nautilus” Saison w/Hibiscus: This beer is bright pink.  Think rose wine.  It is brewed with orange peel, coriander and hibiscus flowers.  Aroma is a combo or orange and floral potpourri.  Finish is remarkably clean.
Style: Saison / 5.1% ABV / 18 IBUs

460 South Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013