Tasting Report: RateBeer Best Festival 2017


2017’s RateBeer Best Festival, benefiting Ales for Autism, recently arrived in Santa Rosa, California for the second year. Brewers from across the globe brought their brews here to compete in both beer and food competitions. Attendees were able to sample them all.

Craft Beerd--vendorThis year’s festival was double the size from the previous year, with the general admission line wrapping around the block. Once everyone was inside, it was shoulder to shoulder. Food vendors — some with beer based offerings — beer app providers, beer tour guides, drawings for beer related cruises, and beer related paraphernalia could be found among the many booths. We came away with a poster of original art used on a label, playing cards featuring the breweries in San Jose, a number of pins, and a really handy guide for rating beer.

Because so many breweries represented were already familiar to us (not to mention it would be a long article to cover all 42 breweries and their 169 brews), we decided to focus on a few brewers outside of the U.S.: Brazil, the UK, Belgium, Canada, and Japan. Some of these beers are retired, though specialty importers may still have some stock.

Yellow Belly SundaeFirst up is Petroleum from Dum Cervejaria out of Brazil. True to its name, the oils from the coffee beans and cacao nibs give this a nice surface shine. This imperial stout has a very dark brown, nearly black body, with a head made up of large bubbles. At first the cocoa is prevalent in both aroma and palate, with a deep chocolate which enriches the beer throughout. Very strong, this is a sturdy beer to savor. 12% abv. B+

Seguin BA Biere Brut from Cloudwater Brew Co. is brewed in Manchester, England. These guys specialize in seasonal beers. Seguin BA Biere Brut is a 2016 light beer with a sunny yellow clarity and a light fizzy head. The champagne notes on the initial nosing are bright; the palate has a slight tang which intensifies for a moment. The brewer told us that’s from the champagne and saison yeasts, and that the beer is aged in white wine barrels. 6% abv. B

Yellow Belly Sundae from Buxton comes out of England as well. They also have a nice porter. From the immediate and recurring long lines, this was a favorite of attendees. It does indeed taste like an ice cream sundae in a glass. The chocolate body is topped with a caramel head and a sweet ice cream scent. Notes of peanut, vanilla, and chocolate come through nicely. Technically, Yellow Belly Sundae is a barrel aged stout, however, the stout steps back to allow the creamy sweet treat to shine through. 12% abv. A+

Ypris (2011) is from De Struise Brouwers in Belgium. This is a sour with a nice, inviting scent and a medium brown body. The sour immediately lightens to a nice tartness on the second sip. 30% of this beer is barrel aged with 70% new beer added. 8% abv. B+

Also from De Struise is Obetis Saison. This saison had a bright taste. The body was golden yellow; the head white and fizzy. It was our favorite of the two beers from this brewer. 8% abv. A

Another saison we tried came from Canada. Assemblage No. 7 is from Brassere Dunham in Quebec. This is also a barrel aged blend of saisons treated with brettanomyces, with a slightly cloudy light yellow body. The white head is bubbly. The hops are bright at first and linger through to the end. 6.6% abv. B

3 DaysPerhaps the most interesting beer in both flavor and history is 3 Days from Japan’s Kuichi Brewery, which has been in business for over 190 years. This beer is called 3 Days because the initial brewing process was started just before the tsunami hit in March of 2011. They were unable to get back to it for three days, in which time a natural souring process had begun. 3 Days is a witbier made from all Japanese ingredients, including the hops. It is an amber ale with a nice, clear ruby body and a caramel frothy head. The hops are light and the maltiness not overdone. We found it very refreshing. 6% abv. A

If you’re interested in knowing the top 100 beers named the Best in the World at the 2017 RateBeer Best Festival, check out RateBeer here.

A Visit to Moonlight Brewery’s Tap Room, Santa Rosa, California

Moonlight Brewery is located in Santa Rosa, California. While it is a small brewer, the brewery is best known for its beer Death and Taxes. We recently visited its tap room, which is on the brewery site.

Unfortunately the brewers were not available to interview. However, the hosts of the tap room were very gracious and friendly, and they offered a look at the boiling tank workroom and the massive, covered brewing kettles. Moonlight may be small, but the size of these boys is impressive.

On tap, six beers were offered, so a sample slat of those was in order. From left to right in the above photo, we tasted:

Toast Burnt Lager – This beer, typically brewed for New Year’s celebrations,  is a light amber body color with a creamy head. At first sip, a nice maltiness is noticeable. The burnt flavor comes through on the back end without being harsh. It is dry and not sweet at all. 6% abv A

Tipple Winter Ale – This dark brown ale is a type of “winter warmer,” brewed for fall and winter. It has a nice, rich, tan head. The first pass under the nose has a citrusy hop note which carries through the first sip. The hoppy overtones are more subtle with the second taste. 6% abv. A

Reality Czeck – A pale yellow pilsner, Reality Czeck is a light and refreshing Czech style beer. It does have the traditional floral hops flavors which are stronger after the first taste, but it reminded me a bit of a Budweiser. 4.8% abv. B

Twist of Fate Bitter Ale – Moonlight calls this English style ale ESB-ish, which means it as a touch of the extra special bittering hops that are noticeable in the taste and scent. I agree this is true to its name. Its hoppiness comes through, but it’s not overpowering. 5.6% abv. A

Lunatic Lager – This lager has a bright yellow body (slightly darker than the Reality Czeck) with a light scent revealing a touch of yeast. It is refreshing with a slight lingering aftertaste which was ever so slightly soapy in texture. 5% abv. B

Death and Taxes – It is a San Francisco style black lager–a common style of lager. The dark, chocolate brown body and thick, creamy, tan head are very welcoming. There are chocolaty notes but more of a dark roast coffee taste than anything. This one remains a favorite. 5% abv. A+

All of these are approximately $7 per 16 oz. draft, depending upon where you buy them.

moonlightbrewing.com

Review: Bear Republic Barrel 188 This Little Figgie Ale

Barrel 188: This Little Figgie Ale

Just as there are dessert wines, I definitely classify Barrel 188 This Little Figgie from Bear Republic as a dessert ale. The initial sweetness is light and certainly that of figs, though they are not overpowering. The head is a nice tan color and also light. The body is a darker gold, almost the shade of dark brown sugar with a slight red tinge when held up to the light. It is pleasantly inviting.

At first sip, there is a bright effervescence bubbling on the tip of the tongue. As the ale warms, the effervescence bursts remain to tantalize your taste buds similar to those of a fine champagne. At this point, the richly sweet black Mission figs (California organic) warm up and step forward. Sip it, hold it on your tongue a moment, and enjoy all of the rich flavors for as long as you can.

The bottle comes with a re-sealable flip top cap which includes a rubber seal. While I appreciate the opportunity to save some for later, I doubt most folks will ever use it. One sip and you’ll want to finish the whole thing, particularly if shared with friends.

I cannot say if pairing This Little Figgie with a dessert with figs in it or snacks like fig-filled cookie bars is a bad thing, though I can recommend it with a German chocolate cake or a cheesecake. A brandy-soaked fruitcake could be delightful because the brandy from the barrels and the fruitcake would mingle in a nice way.

This rare, vintage 2016, brandy barrel aged golden ale is 10% abv per 750ml bottle. It is only available through Bear Republic’s Wild Club.

A+ / $30 / bearrepublic.com

Review: Three Holiday Ales for 2016 – Bear Republic, The Bruery, St. Bernardus

Holidays always bring out the specialty brews to the delight of many beer and ale aficionados, including me. Most of these beers and ales are good for any fall holiday and work well into New Year’s Eve. Here are three ales are sure to please you as much as they did me. I recommend them all as nice sipping beverages.

First up is ‘Twas the Beer Before Christmas, a December 2016 release from Bear Republic. It is extremely rare, with only 384 bottles produced, and it is only available through Bear’s Wild Club. Its description: “Peanut butter roast malt character, dried apricot dustiness, clean tartness, cognac from Old Baba Yaga.”

This ale is barrel aged up to eighteen months. It consists of a combination of Bear Republic’s Old Baba Yaga, Tartare Noir, Tartare Apricot, and Epic. It is a light sour, though it has a thick, chocolaty head and dark brown body. When held up to light, a nice red sheen shines through.

The sour comes over lightly on the nose, bringing tart cherries to mind. However, it is not an overpowering sour but does make the mouth water with each sip. As the beer warms to room temperature, the sourness lightens to a nice tartness. The peanut is not immediately prevalent, but there are also hints of oak throughout. 8.7 % abv. B / $30 per 750ml bottle

Next we have 9 Ladies Dancing from The Bruery. It is a Belgian strong dark ale. Its description: “Inspired by flavors and ingredients found in tiramisu, including lady fingers, 9 Ladies Dancing mimics the Italian dessert by whipping together flavor combinations and layers of its own. This includes notes of vanilla, chocolate, and coffee.”

This ale has a dark, nutty brown body with a nice, creamy, ivory head. The scent has a light chocolate overtone. The taste is smooth with the cocoa nibs and vanilla flavors coming through, followed by soft spices. I left a glass in the refrigerator, exposed to air, for a half hour which brought out the chocolate and coffee notes with stronger clarity. This is a beverage to sip, with friends, in front of a warm fire on a cold night. 11.3% abv. A / $11 per 25.4 oz. bottle

My personal favorite is a Belgian Abbey from St. Bernardus: St. Bernardus Christmas Ale. Its description: “St. Bernardus Christmas Ale offers a spicy, mint-like flavor profile exuding the tastes of warming alcohol, fermented molasses, apricots, licorice, and marzipan that are highlighted by the perfect balance of brewing sugars.”

This ale is bottle conditioned. It has a rich brown body with a red overtones. The sparkling ivory head is velvety and large.

Initially the sweet scent of malt come forth and warms as the ale gets to room temperature. Overtones of crisp apple intensify with the warming as well. There are no notes of wood or citrus. I noticed a light zing on the tip of my tongue at the back end of each sip. However, there are no lingering aftertastes.

This ale brings to mind pleasant images of watching holiday carolers. 10% abv. A / $11 per 25.4 oz. bottle