Tag Archives: craft beer

BOM Club Tasting Notes: June 2015

 BOM Blog Post Banner            PlumpJack Wine & Spirits brings you this month’s beer club tasting notes for June. We’re shining a spotlight on the updating of established craft beers. Meet Lagunitas CitruSinensis Pale Ale (a variation of New Dogtown Pale Ale) and Green Flash’s new West Coast IPA. Based on brands that have been brewed for a combined 32 years, these veteran breweries are recalibrating to the ever-shifting, ever-growing craft beer market. It’s fascinating and instructive to witness these beers rebrand and experiment in today’s craft beer scene.

Rich Higgins, Master Cicerone

            Tony Magee, the founder of Lagunitas Brewing Company, likes to quote a professor from the design school he attended in the 1980s: “A product is frozen information.” A product like a single beer is a snapshot within the larger continuum of beer, and breweries use their beer brands to continually broadcast the same information over and over again because the beers’ messages are valuable to the brewery and (they hope) to the consumer. But as some craft beer brands are going on 30-35 years old (and grandaddy Anchor Steam is at 50), these breweries are confronted with the need to keep their information, message, and commentary resonant. Some breweries are now altering core brands to freeze the information into a new snapshot.

Craft beer is booming right now all over the United States. New breweries are opening at an amazing clip of more than one per day, and the craft beer’s share of the American beer market is in double digits. The growth is led by brewers new and old — with both new neighborhood upstarts and established regional brewers building second and third breweries, sometimes in the same town, sometimes across the country (including Lagunitas), and some (like Green Flash) partnering with breweries in Europe. The challenge for established breweries is to keep their core brands perpetually trusted and enjoyed by a market that’s faced with new breweries and new brands at every turn. There are a hundred approaches to this challenge (or opportunity) and no single recipe for surefire success. But a couple recent beers from Lagunitas and Green Flash offer a couple strategies. For Magee, it’s an opportunity to check back in with craft beer’s “community and passion element,” he believes, “because that is the engine behind it . . . that replaces imagery and artifice.”

CitruSinensis Pale Ale Lagunitas Brewing Company, Petaluma, California, USA 7.9% ABV 

Keeping up with the consumer clamor for new one-off beers, in 2015 Lagunitas is brewing and promoting its “One Hitter Series” of beers. Brewed once, sold once, and get ‘em while they’re hot, cause when they’re gone, they’re gone. For June, their One Hitter is “CitruSinensis” Pale Ale, what the brewery calls “a wheatier version of our New Dogtown Pale Ale,” spiked with with blood orange juice. First brewed in 1994, Dogtown Pale Ale struggled to compete with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and so Magee put all his chips into brewing an IPA at a time before IPA was a proven seller. Dogtown Pale Ale has been a core brand that’s played second fiddle to Lagunitas IPA ever since. The brewery rewrote the recipe about 5 years ago, re-releasing it as New Dogtown and infusing it with more dry hops, creating a incredibly delicious pale ale that, nonetheless, still lags in category sales behind stalwarts like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Deschutes Mirror Pond. In the interim, Lagunitas has opened a new brewery in Chicago and has just announced plans to open a third brewery in Los Angeles County, and Magee has kept his incredibly successful IPA’s recipe and message consistent, leaving room to experiment with (New) Dogtown Pale Ale.

The current experiment is a new riff on several craft beer successes, proving that there’s never too much of a good thing. Citrus sinensis is the biological name of the common, sweet orange, including blood orange cultivars. The brewery juiced a Sicilian variety of blood orange known as sanguinello, evaporated the juice’s water content so as not to water down the beer, and added it to a batch of New Dogtown. The ale yeast fermented the juice’s sugars, upping the beer’s ABV to 7.9%. Of course, the blood orange aromatics dovetail beautifully with the hops’ already citrusy, grapefruit aromas, but the pleasant surprise for me is how much the juice’s citric acid contributes to lightening this big beer’s palate, recalling the soft tartness of a gose and making a zesty, refreshing American craft beer version of a German Radler (German bicyclists’ classic post-ride mix of beer and lemonade). The “wheatier” part of the recipe is a move borrowed from Lagunitas’s successful wheaty IPA, Lil’ Sumpin Sumpin — the wheat adds a dash of refreshing acidity and a bready backbone to the beer. Magee is, among other things, craft beer’s visionary and hippie Bard, and to borrow one of his own quotes: “The soul in the brand’s initial incarnation has moved on to other realms.”

CitruSinensis pours a slightly hazy, light orange color, capped by a head of white foam. (Some yeasty, orangey goodness has settled at bottom of the bottle — be sure to pour it all!) Jumping from the glass are aromas of intense orange, with hints of raspberry and marionberry (from the blood orange), along with fresh pine, hempseed, and cannabis from the hops, and a whisper of toasty malt. A sip reveals a tart, bitter-sweet ale with layers of orange and resiny bitterness. The mouthfeel is smooth and wheaty, while the OJ adds a refreshing, lip-smacking kick. Citrusy aromas of American hops are the soul of an American IPA, and CitruSinensis is an exploration of these aromas writ large, but instead of amplifying them with brazen additions of hop flowers, it’s a study in citrus from the genuine article, and it’s some of the best blood orange I’ve tasted. Pair this beer with salty, savory, crispy foods that could use a spritz of citrus — fried calamari with lemon aioli, steamed artichoke with ranch, or grilled swiss cheese sandwich with garlicky, sautéed kale.

West Coast IPA Green Flash Brewing Company, San Diego, California, USA 8.1% ABV

Green Flash’s portfolio of beers is an ode to IPA. Other than their double stout, their ultra hoppy red ale, and an occasional one-off, you’re hard-pressed to find a beer without IPA on the label, from session IPA all the way up to Triple IPA. (They did just open up Cellar 3, a facility dedicated to barrel aging and blending, so we’re sure to see some new creations bubble up from there in the future.) The brewery first brewed West Coast IPA in 2004 and trademarked the name in 2010. They called the beer an IPA, but with its 95 bitterness units balanced by 7.3% ABV, this was an ascerbically epic IPA/DIPA hybrid masquerading as an IPA. Green Flash has made its name by brewing beers that break a style’s upper limits, even calling its 30th Street Pale “an IPA on any other street.” (It’s dedicated to the main drag that connects the city’s beer-focused North and South Park neighborhoods.) It seems that 2014 brought a spirit of recalibration to Green Flash, and West Coast IPA is labeled a double India pale ale, now officially out of the double IPA closet. The new label for 30th St. Pale Ale upgrades it to an IPA (at 45 IBUs and 6.0% ABV, it’s close to the marks for Lagunitas IPA), while the new Soul Style IPA splits the difference at 75 IBUs and 6.5% ABV.

There’s more to a beer than numbers, and there’s even more to the perception of bitterness than IBUs. Brewmaster Chuck Silva has beefed up West Coast IPA a bit with more alcohol, from 7.3% to the current 8.1%, courtesy of about 10% more malt. He introduced a fifth hop into the recipe, adding Citra to the line-up of Simcoe, Columbus, Centennial, and Cascade, creating an even more robust cocktail of hops. You can ignore the language on the label that lists the hops’ roles as convenient and tidy. The language on the label isn’t insincere, it’s just necessarily oversimplified. The fact is all five of these hops share cross-over aromas of citrus, pine, and flowers, and any of them can be pungent if you boil them long enough. The aromas of each hop are different in different applications: Simcoe are undoubtedly tropical, as are Citra, and Centennials usually smell to me like white flowers, but with a steely, metallic edge. Columbus are prized for their grapefruity, piney, resinous quality, but they often bring garlicky, oniony hints, too, which Silva, a master of hops, deftly avoids.

West Coast IPA, the double India pale ale, pours a rich copper color beneath a lasting white head. The bouquet shows what this beer is all about: heady aromas of pine, orange blossom, grapefruit, pineapple, melon, mint, and cannabis, with just a whiff of malty bread crumbs. Drinking it brings a tide of bitterness that’s only partially tempered by the lush fruity flavors. Visions of pink grapefruit Jelly Bellies and candied orange peel duke it out with masochistic nibbles of pine cone and lemongrass soap. Malts provide slight almondy, bread crust flavors, while providing the backbone to deliver a fountain of hops. This beer is more than just an overly exuberant hop bomb, and the subtlety of its malt lends the beer the cleanness and leanness of a San-Diego-style IPA, while its towering hoppiness shows some elegance by avoiding hops’ less appealing garlicky, oniony, and leafy vegetal flavors. This double IPA pulls no punches, focusing on the task at hand: delivering tons of citrusy hop bitterness. For food pairing, go for rich foods that can handle a lot of aromatics (herbs, spices, citrus, etc.). Chinese orange chicken, duck tacos, scallop ceviche, hominy-studded posole, or Moroccan tagine would all be great. For dessert, make an orange-creamsicle-inspired beer float by adding scoop of vanilla ice cream to a glass of this beer (trust me — it’s dirty, wrong, and delicious).


Conversations with Hilary: Rich Higgins, Master Cicerone

Rich Higgins Photo 1 (2)

Rich Higgins, Master Cicerone

For this edition of Conversations with Hilary, I was able to connect with Rich Higgins, one of seven Master Cicerones in the world. Rich has been curating our beer program in partnership with at PlumpJack Wine & Spirits in Noe Valley and has attracted a cult following to our store and our Beer Clubs. I was able to get Rich to participate in my Conversations with Hilary series and he obliged with some thoughtful and inspiring responses. Enjoy!

What do you believe to be your greatest accomplishment?
Turning my passions and hobbies — studying and sharing the intersections of beer, food, and culture — into my profession, while applying a little humor and humility into what I do.

Do you have a prized possession? What?
Since most of my possessions are edible or drinkable, they don’t tend to stick around for very long. I care more about experiences than possessions, but I’ll admit I get extremely excited when I have a kitchen counter full of perfect, in-season, ripe peaches, tomatoes, and figs.

What do you love about yourself? What do you think others love about you?
I value my curiosity, and I think it makes for good conversations and experiences with others. I’m convinced that there’s always more to learn in life, and I think other people — from experts and elders to novices and kids — have things to teach and share. I’ll never know all I can about beer, food, or neurosurgery, and learning more about them from others is mutually rewarding.


Beer Selection at PlumpJack Wine & Spirits – Noe

If you could be anything other than what you currently are, what would it be?

I really like working with my hands,

working with nature, and producing food, so I think it’d be rewarding and satisfying to be a farmer. The work would break my back, but at least I’d finally learn to wake up early.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
Look at the clock, think about

how I’m probably not ready to be a farmer yet, and go back to sleep.

What’s your favorite thing to do on a Friday night?
Have friends over to my apartment, cook a big, usually over-ambitious meal, and share beer pairings with each course.

What do you like most about what you do for a living/career?
I love playing matchmaker. Part of my consulting business is built on knowing great brewers, farmers, chefs, sommeliers, and bartenders, and then knowing when one’s products showcase and elevate another’s skills. It sounds lofty, I guess. But it’s really fun to hang out with a brewer, drink a delicious beer straight from the fermenter, then talk with a chef about a dish, and to know that that new beer is the perfect complement to the dish that the chef is coming up with. Then, when I bring that beer onto a restaurant’s beer menu, the chef is blown away by the pairing, and a week later the brewer gets in touch to say that he or

she stopped by the restaurant and was also amazed by the pairing. The brewer’s beer looks good, the chef’s food looks good, and the guests have a delicious experience. Everybody wins.

What were you passionate about when you were a kid?
Chronologically, my life has gone through hobbies and phases with Lego, guitar, improv comedy, city planning, and cooking and brewing. I guess the common theme is that I like to create and put things together that are greater than the sum of their parts.

What are you passionate about now?
Broadening and deepening my knowledge about food and beverage. With English and French (mostly) under my linguistic belt, I’m learning German. Flemish (Dutch) is next. I’m also planning to start my Sommelier accreditation process. I look forward to the first-level class and test, and in the meantime, I’m trying to taste both great and terrible wine and food pairings to learn about them.

What’s your favorite season? Why?
Though the San Francisco weather is a little tiresome during the summer, you just can’t beat the seasonal produce. When the weather’s the foggiest, the farmers markets are bursting with tasty reminders of sunny, summer weather. White truffles make autumn a favorite, too, but my wallet thinks otherwise.

If you were a cocktail or drink what would it be?
Since I’m curious and into agriculture, I’d probably be a classic Belgian Lambic. I say classic because some of the newer, more heavily-marketed ones are Kool-Aid-sweet with back-sweetening. The classic gueuzes, krieks, and framboises are incredibly complex and spontaneously-fermented in oak, and they get dry, tart, and barnyardy the way sherry and orange wine can get. Like me, they’re beers that are very curious, and they love to be paired with stinky cheese and white truffles.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you want?
My wife, a Full Belly Farms CSA delivery subscription, and a little farmhouse brewery.

If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?
I’d head to the homes of people in Belgium, Germany, and England and observe, unnoticed, how they incorporate traditional, local beer and cuisine into their daily life. Beer is such a big part of culture in those places, and I’d love to see, outside of the pubs and festivals, how cuisine à la bière complements celebration, salves sorrow, and elevates real life.

What’s the #1 most played song on your iPod?
Honestly, I just checked and it’s “I Want You,” by Bob Dylan. Who knew I listened to that much Bob Dylan? I would have guessed some Zeppelin, Otis Redding, or Jurassic 5.

If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Michael Jackson (nope, not that one). The other Michael Jackson: the English beer and whisky writer, who had a TV show in the ‘80s called “The Beer Hunter.” He passed away in 2007. To the beer and whisky worlds, he was a legend in his own time, such a talented, insightful observer of culture and a great writer.

If your life was made into a movie, what would it be called?
The Fermentalist: Rich Higgins’ Incredibly Amazing and Ridiculously Interesting Explorations and Explanations of Beer

Do you have any regrets?
When I was a professional brewer, I let a batch of beer get past its prime right when a big craft brewers convention came to town. It was a bummer. I had to take my biggest seller off line when I wanted to be able to share it with my fellow brewers and industry.

Define Freedom.
Freedom is the ability to create a perfect, satisfying experience whenever you want to, without it harming others.

What are your personal core values?
Humility, cooperation, hospitality, compassion, altruism are all big ones for me.

Rich is one of seven Master Cicerones in the world. He curates the beer programs at San Francisco restaurants like Lolinda, Delarosa, and Starbelly, and has orchestrated beer events in San Francisco, New York, Washington, DC, Denver, Columbus, and Indianapolis. In addition to working with restaurant, brewery, and distributor clients, he teaches beer and food education classes and Cicerone training courses, curates the Beer of the Month Club at Plumpjack Wine & Spirits – Noe Valley, runs corporate team-building seminars, and develops private, in-home events. Now a full-time Beer Consultant, he spent eight years as a professional brewer and brewmaster, in addition to three years as the President of the San Francisco Brewers Guild and the Event Director of SF Beer Week. Contact him at richhiggins.com