Sunday, January 27, 2008

Beer-Venture!: Beachwood BBQ, Seal Beach

Beachwood BBQ
131 1/2 Main Street, Seal Beach, CA (map)

Getting There:
After our last epic Beer-venture! that took us on 50 miles of train track and 25 miles of road riding, this was a piece of cake. It also shows that sometimes you don't have to go too far to find good beer. This was a nice quick ride down the road from our place. A ride we're quite familiar with actually, as Laura does it on a daily basis to get to work.

Let me warn you that Beachwood is small (despite the fact that it expanded to the neighboring space in less than a year!). When we got there the place was packed! At 2pm there was a line out the door and wait list. Granted, there happened to be a huge party there that took up most of the restaurant, but from what I understand this is not an uncommon occurence. Be prepared for a wait before your reward of good beer.

There's the list...

Let's get a little closer...

Beachwood BBQ changes out their beer selection regularly, hence the easy-to-change chalkboard listings. In fact, our waitress told us they change out 8-10 kegs each week.

When faced with such an incredible selection, how do you choose? Well, nobody says you can only try one...

Beer Reviews:

Black Flag Imperial Sout

Laura says: The Black Flag was actually the only stout they had on tap, so it was the obvious first choice for me. And I have to say that I was delighted by this beer. Appearance is a dark black, with a thin creamy tan head. The first swig is thick, very creamy. You get a mouthful of toasty malts. Tastes like very dark roast espresso that has been only barely sweetened. This beer is rich and dense in your mouth, yet mellow and very well-balanced. The flavor lingers just enough, with the slightest bitter aftertaste. For me, this is the kind of beer that I look forward to, that I can take a sip and sit back and sink into my chair. Maybe it helped that our weather has been grey and rainy lately and stouts are excellent winter beers, but the Black Flag felt beautifully rich and full and (can I say it?) perfect. I will happily drink this anytime. 5

Craftsman IPA

Russ says: After reading an article on where to get micros in Los Angeles and seeing the name Craftsman come up, I was excited to see it on tap (it replaced the slot for Racer 5 which I had there only a few days ago). It poured a dark golden color with surprisingly little to no head. The nose had some mild fruity notes but not the big hop smell I was expecting. The body is light-medium and not as resiny as I was expecting. In all honesty, I wanted more bite from this beer. I'm not sure if it is because I've been downing lots of big beer lately, but for an IPA this particular pint was really mild. More a pale ale than IPA. That's not to say it wasn't good. It had a good balance and had a dry clean finish, but there was no hoppy pucker that made you salivating for more. Could be that it was near the end of the keg or was just a bad sampling but this particular Craftsman left me unimpressed. Pleasant and drinkable but nothing to write home about. 3.5

Hair of the Dog Barleywine from 2000

When it was time to move on to a second beer, we started wondering if, perhaps, they had another stout hiding somewhere, maybe even in bottle. Gabe, the owner, came over and talked with us for a bit, explaining that he was waiting to get a new refrigerated case for all his bottles before releasing a bottle list. So, he wasn't really sure what all he had, since it wasn't all cold, and wasn't particularly organized. But, then he remembered that he had this barleywine and decided this is what we should try. A few minutes later, two samples arrived for our tasting pleasure.

This is one of the beautiful things about smaller owned restaurants, something that would never happen at a Rockbottom or Hard Rock, the owner going a little out of his way to get us something special. What he brought out was a Hair of the Dog barleywine from 2000. It was a bit of an experiment and he himself admitted sometimes you didn't know how these beers would age, but that this one developed rather nicely.

The barleywine poured a golden amber with a creamy one finger head that stuck around through the whole glass. The smell was raisiny and alcoholic, a bit strong. It was medium-heavy in the mouth. Amazingly, it went down super smooth with an really clean finish. It's hard to describe but there was almost no aftertaste. The major flavors were plum and raisin and a light pineapple (nothing like the Stone Double). They say barleywines mellow with age and this 8 year old sample was definitely mellow. I was expecting more of a kick but this had a nice rounded flavor and was pleasant to drink, as long as you didn't drink too much. We had a tiny taster and it was more than enough to send us a little loopy. We didn't get the ABV but my guess is that it was well into the double digits.

Seal Beach is a lovely little beach town. And Main Street is something out of a 1950s beach movie. It's this small little area that just doesn't feel like it's ready to greet the 21st century. But, to be quite honest, it's a bit refreshing. It's a great area to walk around, people are very friendly, and there are a lot of bikes.

Bike facilities along Main Street are pretty good, with a fair number of staples dotting the sidewalks. While there are no parking meters, there are also plenty of signposts, should you not be right next to an open staple.

And, less than half a block down the street from Beachwood is the Seal Beach pier, one of the longest in Southern California. If you take the time to walk all the way to the Ruby's at the end and back, you'll probably be alert enough to hop back on your bike and pedal home.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

To Use or Not To Use: The Cold Glass Debate

Personally, I've never really liked drinking beer out of a cold glass. My hands are already always cold, so why would I want to make them colder? Plus, when the glass starts to warm up, the icy walls start to sweat and pretty soon, you're holding a slippery and sopping wet glass. Not particularly appealing. But, it's held up as the gold standard at most US bars, so I learned how to grin and bear it (and wrap a napkin around the glass to keep my hands warm and dry).

So, imagine my thrill upon reading this:

"Never chill your glassware, and decline if served a frosted glass. Why? As the beer hits the frosted glass condensation will occur and dilute your beer, while at the same time alter the serving temperature." (From Beer Advocate)

Did you just do a double-take? Yes, the cold beer glass is one of the great misconceptions. Sure, there are beers that should be drunk at low temperatures, but if you heed the quote above, it should be the beer that's chilled, not the glass.

The other night, at our regular local bar, some of our party kindly requested a room temperature glass over the frosted glass that came automatically with our pitcher. You should have seen the confused look on our waitress' face.

So, it looks like it might be an up-hill battle. But, I finally feel like I've found some vindication. I can come out of the closet and say, "I don't want a cold glass."

Who's with me?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Beer-venture! : Manhattan Beach & Redondo Beach

Redondo Beach Brewery
1814 S. Catalina Ave, Redondo Beach, CA (map)

Manhattan Beach Brewery
124 Manhattan Beach Blvd, Manhattan Beach, CA (map)

Getting There:
This is our first multi-modal beer-venture! Planning the route, we knew we wanted to stay on the trains. There were buses available, but since buses could only carry two bikes and the spaces weren't guaranteed we decided not to use them. The first leg was a short leisurely ride to the transit mall in downtown Long Beach, where we each bought an all day pass ($5) to use the Metro trains.

We took the Blue Line north to the Imperial/Wilmington stop then transferred to the Green Line. This was our first time at the stop and if you ever want to know what it's like to stand in the middle of a freeway, you should go visit. Seriously. The platform is in the middle of the 105 freeway. We got off at the Douglas stop and began the actual biking portion.

We took Rosecrans towards the coast and were surprised by the hills we encountered (they all look so flat on the map). The traffic was fairly light (probably because it was a Saturday) and there were three lanes of traffic. We took up the far right lane and for the most part all the cars played nice. We then took the beach path and some parallel streets down the coast to Redondo Beach.

On the trip back, we took the beach path to Manhattan Beach Blvd. and took that inland. It was surprisingly hilly. Starting off right at the first block with a short little gut buster. The next few blocks were filled with some rollers going up and down. We hit 34mph on one particularly fun downhill. The streets varied from 2 lanes of traffic to 3 at its widest point. The afternoon traffic was thicker but manageable, however, I would definitely not want to ride there during rush hour on a weekday.

Beer Reviews:
The first brewpub we stopped at was Redondo Beach Brewing Co. Laura ordered a pint of the Chocolate Porter and Russ picked a pint of the Rat Beach Red. We were both a bit disappointed by each of the beers. Almost like the owners decided to put a brewery in an otherwise decent restaurant to add value to the dining experience, without taking too much effort to brew some winning beers. We don't want to knock anyone's livelihood, but we sure were hoping for more (or maybe we were just wanting to re-create being in Oregon?).

Chocolate Porter
Laura says: This beer was on draft, served in a pilsner glass. Dark brown with a thin creamy head. Thin body, a bit watery. Mild carbonation. No real discernable chocolate taste, which is odd when chocolate is in the name. Kinda sour with a bitter metallic aftertaste. Really not what a porter should taste like. I was incredibly disappointed. 2

Rat Beach Red
Russ says:This beer was on draft, served in a pilsner glass. It poured a nice dark amber color but with surprisingly little head. The feel was a flat sort of medium bodied under carbonated feel. Rather disappointing to tell you the truth. The beer felt amateur. It had a real malty smell and malty flavor with little hops and no complexity. Combined with the flat appearance and taste this beer was a real bummer. 2.0

Our second brewpub stop was at Manhattan Beach Brewing Co. As soon as we sat down at a table and looked at the beer list, we noticed that all the beer names were exactly the same as the Redondo Beach Brewing Co. Russ was excited to learn that there was an IPA available. Laura wasn't sure what to try. We asked the waitress about the beer name similarities and if they're connected with Redondo Beach Brewing Co. She said that they are, loosely, but that they brew their own beer in-house (as opposed to trucking it between the two restaurants) and that she, personally, felt that their beer and food was better than Redondo Beach. Hmmm... a bit of rivalry, perhaps? Well, Laura's a perpetual optimist, so she took that to mean that it was safe to try the Manhattan Beach version of the Chocolate Porter.

Chocolate Porter
Laura says: I was pleased and hopeful when this beer was served in a pint glass. Dark brown with a thin creamy head. More balanced and a bit fuller in body than the Redondo Beach version. And there wasn't the same sourness. More chocolate flavor, although it was mild and not particularly sweet. I definitely felt this was a better version of the recipe than what I was served in Redondo Beach, but it still felt like a weak version of a porter. 3.3

Russ says:I was a bit skeptical when I saw the same beer menu, but decided to give the IPA a try. It poured a golden yellow with a finger of head that stayed around for a while ( a good sign compared to the brew at Redondo Beach). Light to medium bodied with good carbonation. It had a real pleasant piney aroma. The beer was nicely balanced like a hipster doing a track stand. It was malty up front but there was a nice hoppy after taste that made for highly drinkable beer. I would definitely order this again. This might even be a good IPA for those that don't like IPAs because of the good balance. 4.2

We ate lunch with our beer tasting at Redondo Beach Brewing Co. Laura ordered the smoked turkey sandwich, Russ had the hickory burger. We were both pleased. As far as pub food goes, this was pretty good. Laura rates the turkey sandwich a 4.2. Russ rates the hickory burger a 3.8.

Despite getting honked at and flipped off by a few scattered drivers, and our general disappointment with the beers, this was a pretty great beer-venture. Gorgeous Southern California weather, not too much wind, easy route.

But it's not an adventure unless you find something odd and unexpected. Like these massive pelicans, just hanging out on the Redondo Beach pier, not a care in the world. People stopping to take photos, gasping at their size, feeding them things that pelicans probably shouldn't eat. If you can't tell from the photo, these guys were probably about 3 feet tall.

A few thoughts about riding Metro trains...

Perhaps a folding bike would be a worthwhile investment. Getting on the train at the end of the Blue Line heading north and at the end of the Green Line heading east, it's easy to find an empty car with plenty of space to stash the bikes. Getting onto an already full train at a busy stop when you only have a couple quick minutes is a whole other experience. Having the ability to fold up the bike would be quite handy.

The Vermont stop on the Green Line has to be one of the most ghetto and depressing stops we have ever seen. In the middle of the freeway, under a freeway overpass, you get the dual pleasures of hearing a continuous echoing hum of all the traffic while sucking in clouds of exhaust.

And one last note on bike facilities where we went... Bike parking was pretty easy in Redondo Beach, with some wheel-bender style bike racks and lots of parking meters to lock to. In Manhattan Beach, however, we were reduced to locking our bikes to a park bench, hoping that the whole mess wouldn't slide down the very steep hill. But at least that locking spot provided a stunning view of the sunset.

Beer-venture! : Casa Vino, Long Beach

Location: CasaVino, 51 S Pine Ave, Long Beach, CA

Getting There: Easy 1.5 mile pedal from our place. On a Saturday night, you move down Pine at a lightening speed compared to the cars. Locked the bikes right in front by wrapping a cable around the only thing available - the fire hydrant. Yes, in this popular, increasingly-built-up, touristy part of Long Beach, there wasn't a single bike rack or other sturdy thing to lock the bikes to.

Beer Reviews:

Stone IPA
Russ says:The beer was poured from a 12 oz bottle. The color was a nice golden yellow with little to no head. It smelled citrusy and piney. The mouthfeel was light to medium. Not exactly thin, but not a whole lot of body either. The beer has a mild malt flavor, but what really sticks out is the hops. Lots of bitter hops that make for a real clean dry aftertaste. There were some light fruit notes. Orange, perhaps? 3.7

Stone Smoked Porter
Laura says: This beer was poured from a 22 oz bottle. Deep dark brown color with a thin-ish dark cream head, good lacing. Mild aroma. Mild, well-balanced mouthfeel. Light carbonation. Smoky rich flavor with a light sweetness, no noticeable hops. Served a bit too cold, body grew as it started to warm. Overall, good flavor, fairly mild, very drinkable. 4

Old Rasputin Imperial Stout
Laura says: This beer was poured from a 22 oz bottle. Complex aroma. Rich, dense, creamy at first, then bitterness grows. Complex and intriguing. Tastes of very dark coffee, not very sweet. Has a bit of a bitter aftertaste, kinda dry. Overall, very enjoyable to drink. This is what a good imperial stout should taste like. 4.5

Russ says: Poured from a 22 oz bottle. Nice and dark with a lacey tan head. The mouthfeel had a medium/heavy body. There were strong coffee and dark chocolate flavors. The beer had a nice overall deep, dark and rich character with a clean finish. There was a hint of fruit up front but was quickly overpowered by the dark malts. 4.3

Avocado & Serrano Ham Crostini: Four pieces of toasted bread with walnut parmesian goat cheese, serrano ham and avocado. Unexpectedly rich combination of flavors, kinda spicy, good mix of different textures. Small portion, but we liked this a lot. 4.3

Rustica Pizza: Artichoke hearts, serrano ham and sun-dried tomato stuffed green olives, topped with three cheeses and a zesty sauce. Good combination of ingredients and flavors. Sauce is a bit reminiscent of chili. 4.2

Beer Review: Stone Double Bastard Ale

Russ says: After drinking some regular Arrogant Bastard Ale and really liking it, I decided to try the double. Has to be twice as good, right? Nice deep amber with a tan head. Amazingly, you can smell this thing from about three feet away (ok, maybe a bit of an exaggeration). But seriously, the smell is powerful and it smells like pineapple. Imagine boring a hole in a pineapple and sticking your nose in it. Like that. This beer is all about big in a big way. Sweet. Bitter. Pineapple. Thick. There is nothing subtle about this beer, which is ultimately a real weak point. It was too big. So big in fact I couldn't even finish my pint. If Michael Bay made beer, this would be the beer he would make. 2.7

Laura says: Ditto the above. I guess I'm not one for "extreme" beers, because I felt like I was drinking a pina colada milkshake. Hard for me to review because I was so disturbed by the flavor. But, I can see how people who really like hops would love this beer, because they definitely sing. 2

P.S. What's an "extreme" beer? Take a quick read through this recent NY Times article.

Beer Review: Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout

Laura says: Dark color, thin head. Strong carbonation, thin-medium body. Very mild, with mild hops. Very pleasant and drinkable. But, where's the cappuccino? There's a mild coffee flavor and aroma, but this beer isn't nearly as thick and creamy as I would expect from something called a Cappuccino Stout. 3.8

Russ says: Poured dark and thick but with little head. Actually smelled more fruity and piney than it did coffeey (is that a word?). Medium-bodied and pretty light tasting for what I was expecting. Not overly sweet, good balance, clean finish. Surprisingly, very little coffee taste. For a drink called a Cappuccino Stout you'd expect something with a real espresso punch. Not so. I think I would like it better if it were called a something-porter and not a cappuccino stout. 3.5

Beer Review: Old Viscosity

Laura says: Subtle aroma with a whiff of wet cereal. Thick and creamy mouthfeel. Very deep and dark. Tastes of burnt coffee and licorice. Very powerful, I can feel the alcohol (which, by the way, is 10%). Soggy, slightly musty aftertaste. I feel like I would like this beer if only the alcohol wasn't so overpowering. 3.8

Russ says:Dark and glugs out of the bottle, probably a lot like real motor oil. Sweet malty aroma. Has a nice medium/heavy body, worthy of the name. For me, it had a bitter first taste that eventually mellows out exposing coffee and caramel flavors, also a heavy dose of molasses. The high ABV and strong alcohol flavor make this a hard one to drink. 3.5