Tag Archives: California

Sierra Nevada Riegele Oktoberfest. 

Sierra Nevada

Chico, CA

In collaboration with

Brauhaus Riegele

Augsburg, Germany

Get excited about this one. Sierra Nevada and Riegele have teamed up for an Oktoberfest beer which they’ve been touting for a while. Sierra has never made a bad beer and Riegele is one of the best German houses that is not often seen Stateside. 

The color is surprisingly light, straw with more honey than copper. A crystalline white head appears but sinks quickly. Steady fine carbonation maintains a nice lace though. 

The nose is more Riegele than Sierra, but as a fest beer, that’s a good thing. Some sweet biscuit notes and not a lot of hop to start. However, a faint Noble grassiness lurks in there somewhere. 

The mouthfeel is as expected – full with no cloying. That delicate effervescence is perfect, exciting the palate without overwhelming the senses; it carries the flavor gently. A touch of honey and lemon hit first but even out with some chewy bagel breadiness that turns crispy before rounding out with a flicker of cut grass that finishes with that lemon that kicked things off. 

You won’t find a better fest beer made here. Coinciding with the start of football season, this beer makes the departure of summer bearable. 


Lagunitas Kill Ugly Radio

Lagunitas Brewing Co.
Petaluma, CA
Kill Ugly Radio Double IPA

This sucker has been rattling around in my collection for years. I probably should have cracked it open a couple of years ago, but there’s no time like the present, so no sense in waiting any longer.

The pour starts without much head, but a slightly yellowed froth flexes a bit before settling to a lace. The clarity is initially impeccable, though the latter half of the bottle has sediment, with sparse carbonation (probably due to some slow seepage or cap decay). The color is burnished copper in the middle – a real shiny penny glow – with some soft caramel orange around the sides.

The nose is a surprisingly malty, with rich molasses coming forward, but soon giving way to overripe apricot and dried pineapple aromas. The mouthfeel is surprisingly light and not at all cloying or burly, as the ABV might indicate. A very even grassy twang hits, before pine and tobacco cross the middle of the palate. The finish rolls into dry apple skins and there is a breath of alcohol, but no wallop despite expectations.

This bottle has been cellared for at least four years, and it’s pretty mellow for what I was expecting to be a pretty bold brew. Certainly, a maximum of three years in the dark would have been better than the 50 months I unintentionally gave it, but it goes to show that Lags constructs hardy beers.

Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Chico, CA
Ruthless Rye IPA

Much-maligned rye has made a serious comeback and I am a huge proponent of its revival. It’s most commonly added to IPAs to impart some peppery spice to the bitterness already present. So, in the hands of Sierra, this is an exciting addition to an already strong seasonal line.

Pour carefully: a billowing, crackling, faintly tan head explodes over the top of the beer. As it descends slowly, it sticks to the inside of the glass. Extremely fine carbonation can just be seen – the clarity is excellent, but the beer is dark. The color is a clear toffee brown, like burnished oak.

The aroma is initially a bit like wet socks. There is pine sap, faint lemon, and the contradictory aromas of damp wood and burnt pumpkin seeds. The mouthfeel is very good, starting off with a creaminess that coats the mouth, but which is instantly stripped away by an intense woody bitterness, like a dortmunder. That drifts backwards with the swallow, giving way to a combination of intense citrus bite and the nuttiness of those toasted pepitas from the aroma.

This is a fascinating beer – it is neither pure hop bomb, nor just a peppery rye ale. It has the lager-like qualities of a German pilsner, but the piney tartness of an IPA. Certainly, it’s one of the most interesting beers I’ve had in a while, and it’ll wreck your palate for anything milder to follow, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t badass. I’m biased: I love Sierra, but this really is a sick brew.

Mendocino Blue Heron Pale Ale

Mendocino Brewing Co.
Ukiah, CA
Blue Heron Pale Ale

Mendocino was one of the first small breweries I tried when I was first getting immersed in the wonderful world of beer, so I have a soft spot in my heart for them. However, I will try to remain a disinterested and unbiased sampler.

A billowing pure white head immediately puffs up and sits at a half inch while fine carbonation swirls up the glass. There is a bit of haze, but light passes through, showing of a burnished golden blond hue.

The nose is mostly powder-soft malt, with tart tangerine following close behind. The mouthfeel is full, if a bit metallic – the overall sensation is more tart than expected from a pale that’s not an IPA, but it’s not unpleasant. Crackery malt start off smoothly, evening out the palate like a bedspread, only to have the lemon-tart hops jump all over the mattress. Chewy woodiness follows up at the end and, while this brew isn’t exactly even, there is enough going on to maintain interest and prompt another sip. At a shade over 6%, this beer perhaps gets overpowered by the alcohol.

Ballast Point Sculpin

Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits
San Diego, CA
Sculpin IPA

A double-deuce of a West Coast IPA usually gets me pretty fired up anyway, but this comes highly recommended by (and courtesy of) a friend and fellow homebrewer.

Sculpin IPA

From the get-go, it’s clear this beer is a bit different than many WCIPAs. It’s far lighter and less red than I expected. A pure white, crackling head builds quickly, settles, and sits comfortably at a quarter-inch or so. Fine, busy carbonation flies up the glass – the clarity is impeccable and only some faintly fulvous tinges keep this brew from resembling a pilsner or other light lager.


The aroma is sticky sweet with hops: bright orange and grapefruit with a background of pineapple, mango, and passion fruit.

The mouthfeel is very good and the fine carbonation dances across the palate with a cleansing step that preps a creamy wash of barely perceptible malt. The hops are slightly resinous and oily, but don’t strip the inside of your cheeks like some really sere IPAs. In fact, the harmony between the peal of the bittersweet citrus hops and the continuous tintinnabulation of effervescence is nothing short of masterly. The finish is ultimately crisp and dry, like a martini with a twist, but not puckering.

This is a hop-forward brew, to be sure, but it is not one of those huge saliva-sapping brews. This is a dangerously smooth and balanced 7% beer that is worth seeking out.

Coney Island Freaktoberfest

Schmaltz Brewing Company
San Francisco, CA/New York, NY
Coney Island Freaktoberfest

Pouring this beer is a bit of a shock and takes the “red” designation to a new level – it is really red. Like cherry cough medicine with a syrupy, lambic-like density and some blood-orange tones when held to the light. There is virtually no head to speak of, though a wispy white lace eddies across the surface.

Take a peek at this freak

The nose is mostly sweet malt – very Viennese, and appropriately Oktoberfest-ish (terrible adjective, sorry) – but it is not without some syrupy tones. There are warm alcohol aromas – molasses, stone fruit – with just a touch of faintly lemony Noble hops. Really, this smells very little like a lager though.

The mouthfeel is excellent. There is a fullness and an unexpected effervescence that dances back across the palate as this brew opens up into what is actually quite interesting. An initial shot of warm grain hits the tongue but changes almost instantly into a bitter, crispy tang that I initially thought would turn cloying. It doesn’t. Faint wafts of alcohol arrive, introducing themselves with a metallic wave that recedes in a mild wash of under-ripe cherries.

This would probably fare better if served a bit warmer than I had it and the color is a bit off-putting, but this is an impressively sessionable 6.6% brew. A loveable freak.

Lagunitas IPA

Lagunitas Brewing Co.
Petaluma, CA

Another fine guest review courtesy of Max, IPA-lover but skeptical hophead.

Back from a couple of weeks of high island living and busy days ahead I thought I’d go back to what I am good at (drinking IPAs) and give yet another guest review.

The first impressions of Petulama, CA, Lagunitas IPA is that of another in a plethora of trendy-named West Coast pale ales – underwhelming and over hyped!
But alas, after the weakish head, the tart citrus aroma and a color that is ho-hum at best, Lagunitas gets down to what the Sierra Nevadas and Harpoon IPAs of the world are all about: a magnificently well-balanced and constantly improving-as-you-drink-it personality.  Lagunitas is the real deal, its shortcomings out of the bottle are blown away by the explosion of orange, lime, and even mocha flavor that dart up and down each pull.

Lagunitas IPA is easily a top tier example of the style, it is unpretentious yet uncompromising. Its simplicity is solely in its appearance. After that, watch out!