Tag Archives: IPA

Boxing Bear and Bosque Brewing Albuquerque New Mexico

Boxing Bear

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Boxing Bear recently won some awards for their overall quality and it shows in the beers I tried. They have a nice roomy tasting room with plenty of seating. While they are a bit further out from central Albuquerque, they are worth the trip. Their pilsner was chewy and floral with a good crisp finish, one of the better pilsners of my trip. While it isn’t up to my favorites in San Diego, it is above average and very impressive. Their IPA was balanced and dank with a mild bitter finish. While it didn’t have a ton of aroma, the balance of flavors made it very drinkable.

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I only tried the cider because of a friend’s request and it was quite fantastic, sporting mild apple sweetness and a crisp dry finish. Hopefully one day the brewery will be able to put this in six packs and grab the local college crowd that is now drinking Angry Orchard (owned by AB InBev). The chocolate milk stout was roasty and mildly sweet with notes of coffee. A solid milk stout, true to style. The Vanta Black was creamy and thick, mildly sweet with hints of licorrice and a dry finish. I didn’t much care for the liccorice notes but my husband enjoyed this one a lot. The slap happy double IPA was herbal and strongly bitter with mild fruit notes. I didn’t care for the herbal hops but it was a fairly average double IPA. I would recommend sticking with heir single IPA.

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Top 2:
IPA
Cider

Bosque brewing

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Bosque has a kitchen connected to their tasting room, located in a strip mall. They keep the indoor quite dark with the use of a number of shades, which is great, until someone opens a door and the bright outside light comes in. Their lager was super light body with some mild fruity hops. It was good but could have been better with just a bit more body and more malt character. The scotch ale was strongly boozy with notes of dark fruit. I would have liked it more if it was more restrained or more roasty. As is, it was fairly average.

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The IPA was soft and fruity and not too bitter with some notes of perfumy hops. This was their best of the bunch, a good balanced IPA. The milk stout had notes of caramel and mild lactose sweetness with a creamy body on nitro. A solid milk stout, true to style. The Imperial Stout was intensely bitter, hoppy, and dry. I didn’t enjoy it either as a black IPA or an imperial stout. It didn’t have the aromas necessary to make a good black IPA or the roast character for a good stout. I especially would recommend staying away from this brewery if you don’t like hoppy beers. Their Elephants on Parade fruit beer was a nice mix of cranberry, raspberry, and grapefruit with tasty fruit character and not really tart.

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Bosque had a few solid beers and is worth a stop if you are in the area. I liked the food selection they offered but we went in between meals so I didn’t try anything.

Top 2:
IPA
Milk stout

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Eppig Brewing North Park San Diego

Eppig Brewing is a new brewery that takes advantage of a space that was designed to allow three breweries to open next door to one another. They have a small space just off El Cajon Blvd that can easily get packed. They have a large number of beers on tap so it was impossible to try everything in one visit.

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I started with the lagers because I heard that they were quite good. My first flight consisted of their Schwartz (dark lager), Zwickel (unfiltered pilsner), Festbier (imperial wheat), and Berliner Weisse (tart wheat beer). My second flight consisted of Factory of Dreams IPA, 10:15 to Denver IPA, Double IPA, and their stout with coffee. Of the two I much preferred the first flight.

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The Schwartz was smooth and roasty with mild smoke, a good version of the style and better than most San Diego attempts I have had. The Zwickel had a nice medium body and a mix of fruity and floral hops. Though well made the floral hops were a bit too much for me and not my favorite hop profile. I didn’t really care for the fest beer, which has a dry citrus finish but is also too harsh at the end. It was a popular beer with others while I was there but not for me. The berliner weisse was a good mix of grapefruit and lemon notes with a bitter dry finish while not too tart. They had two fruit options of this as well but I stuck to the regular.

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On the IPA front, I encountered some of the harshest most overpowering bitter IPAs in all of San Diego. Both the Factory of Dreams IPA and the double IPA were extremely bitter with very little aroma to speak of. According to the brewer, the double IPA is made with tons of simcoe, a hop I don’t care for generally, but rather than being too much pine aroma, they both shared a strong bitterness that lingered at the back of the throat.

While the 10:15 to Denver was more drinkable and had hints of grapefruit it was still too bitter. I didn’t finish either of these beers. I had a chat with the brewer about the harsh bitterness and as usual was told “they are IPAs, they are supposed to be bitter.” I ended with the stout with coffee that I found to be average with tons of roast and a bitterness that lingered on the tongue.

Eppig is a new brewery and I’m glad to see them come out of the gate with solid lagers and fruited berliner weisse style beers. Not every brewery needs to brew IPAs but if you are coming to North Park go elsewhere for your IPAs. The fruited berliner weisse beers were quite popular as well, but I stuck with the base. Hopefully I will be updating this article in a few months to indicate that they have improved the IPAs to something more in line with their neighbors at North Park Brewing.

Top 2:
Zwickel (unfiltered pilsner)
Schwartz (dark lager)

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Fort Lauderdale Breweries – Funky Buddha and LauderAle

Funky Buddha

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There are two locations for Funky Buddha, their large brewery with a traditional tasting room, and their hookah lounge, which is only open in the evenings. I visited the brewery. They have a large indoor space with plenty of tables and a lengthy bar. There is also outdoor seating for those who don’t mind drinking in the heat, though it isn’t the best setting to sit and sip their stouts. I started with their strong stouts, which are some of their most popular.

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The Maple Bacon porter was smooth and creamy with just the right amount of maple and fantastic balance. Often maple beers have far too much maple but this was nice and subtle. I didn’t taste much bacon or coffee though, and the beer was a bit on the sweet side for me but one of the best out of their stouts. The I’m So Excited coffee stout was also super sweet with tons of lactose and some mild coffee and caramel. I’m used to coffee stouts with strong coffee kick and didn’t get that here.

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Nikolai imperial stout had tons of dark cherry notes with a super sweet boozy finish. Jitterbug is their white stout with coffee and it tastes like most of the same style with tons of lactose and strong coffee. I’m not normally a fan of naughty sauce from Noble Aleworks so if you like that style of beer, this one is for you. Though I am well used to stouts being sweet, I found many of the offerings in my first flight at Funky Buddha to be a bit sweeter than my preference.

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For my second flight I went to their lighter stuff. The passion fruit berliner weisse had an intense passion fruit flavor with a mildly tart finish, a fantastic beer. The Hop Gun IPA had floral hop notes over a soft and creamy body that makes it really easy to drink. It finished with a mild lemon character.

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The Double IPA was a similar style but with more fruity hop notes and notes of honey at the finish. I preferred the fruity hops and had a full pour of this after the flight. The Nib Smuggler was a perfectly balanced mix of marshmallow and subtle lactose with a bitter chocolate finish. The more subtle lactose made for a delightful creamy beer.

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Top 3:
Passionfruit Berliner
Double IPA
NIB Smuggler

LauderAle

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After Funky Buddha I went to LauderAle, a location that is about 15 minutes drive south. They have a beautiful outdoor space that was full of people playing games with their beer. Their indoor space gets just the right amount of light from outside and they keep it at a comfortable cool temperature. I had a flight of four beers.

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The blonde with habanero and pineapple was delightful. The pineapple flavor was strong and sweet and backed up by just the lightest heat from the habanero. Even with all that fruit character, it still retained its light body and went down really smooth. I had three pints of this after the flight. The Coffee Porter had some mild roast and subtle vanilla mixed with coffee and spice at the finish. I thought the flavors were all too subtle, though it was easy drinking.

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The Rauch was smooth and smoky though the smoke was mild for the style. There was some light fruit under the smoke but like the porter, it felt a little too mild overall. The barrel aged coffee porter was creamy and had tons of vanilla with a mild bourbon finish. This was an excellent beer and much more flavorful than its base.  Though you probably won’t read much about LauderAle outside of Florida, I found their tasting room to be a great spot to visit with a solid lineup of beer.

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Top 2:
Pineapple Habanero Blonde
BBA C Porter

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Miami Breweries – J Wakefield and Wynwood Brewing

J Wakefield Brewing

Both J Wakefield and Wynwood Brewing are in the Wynwood neighborhood known for graffiti and a small distance outside of downtown Miami. If you are staying on Miami Beach it is a bit of a drive to get out to the breweries but worth it if you are serious into beer. J Wakefield had their air conditioning at full blast, making it uncomfortably cold in the tasting room and music to match the urban graffiti look of the brewery complete with pounding bass on most songs. I came for their sours and stouts and was not disappointed, though the tasters were each $3 because of the beer styles. I chose to visit Wynwood Brewing after J Wakefield based on the recommendation of the server at J Wakefield.

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Their gose was clean and crisp with notes of citrus and fruit with mild salt at the finish. One Trick Pony is a bright pink color from the various fruits and I got notes of grapefruit rind, passionfruit and ginger. This was the most tart of the bunch and was very refreshing. Phat Bottom tastes like an apple tart (the pastry) with notes of honey and caramel, though was a bit too sweet for my tastes. Hops 4 Teacher was a bit sweet with a bitter finish that lingers on the tongue. It was fairly average as far as IPAs go.

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For my second flight I went high alcohol, with each beer over 10%. Brush has an intense chocolate marshmallow nose that translates nicely on the taste and a warming finish going down. The chocolate was subtle and everything was wonderfully balanced. Too Sweet was thick and tasty but overpowered by cinnamon and other spices, reminding me of a holiday ale. Gimme S’more was a more artificial tasting version of Brush without the fudge notes and compared to Brush wasn’t as good. I finished with Upper Body Strength, a collaboration triple IPA with Trillium. The beer had a light color and masked the alcohol really well. The hops gave off tons of fruit with lots of mango and citrus notes. It was a perfectly balanced triple IPA, a rarity for the style. I probably would have bought cans if they hadn’t sold out before I got there.

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Known For:
Come for fruited berliner weisse and intense adjunct stouts.

Top 2:
One Trick Pony
Brush

Wynwood Brewing

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In some ways I may be extra harsh because I came here after J Wakefield but I was not too excited by the beers here. They are slightly more established and had a clear draw in the community with people having parties and kids running around. I started with the Magic City pale ale which smelled like overripe fruit but once I got past that it was a solid balanced pale ale with fruity hops and a mild bitterness.

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House IPA was a bit herbal with a bitter finish, very similar style to the pale, probably the same malts. I couldn’t stand the hops they used to I didn’t finish this one. Citranella was their citra hop IPA but it tasted more like a lower alcohol barleywine with its strong malt backbone. Seems like a waste of the citra hops, which were barely detectable. The imperial stout was smooth and mildly sweet with hints of caramel and vanilla and some mild smoke.

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Wynwood seems to know how to make beer but their IPAs are all far too malty and lack the intense hop aromas that make the style enjoyable. If you prefer the modern style of lower malt IPAs then you won’t like their beers all that much. I didn’t try their other styles that people seemed to be drinking a lot of, like the blonde ale.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Alvarado Street Brewing Monterey California

In the quaint beach town of Monterey about an hour south of Santa Cruz and a nice place to stop after driving up the Pacific Coast Highway from Paso Robles you can find Alvarado Street Brewing, a spot that has been getting a lot of hype lately. After my visit, I can  say it was quite well deserved. They have a large space with a spacious restaurant, some outdoor seating in front, and a beer garden in the back where you can enjoy some beers outdoors or walk up through the back to pick up some cans or crowlers to go. I didn’t do a flight of tasters while I was there because they were only doing full pours in the beer garden so I didn’t try everything on their expansive tap list. But I quite enjoyed what I tried.
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I started with the Wharf Rat IPA, a balanced IPA with notes of pine and tropical fruit. The beer had a nice orange haze while not super cloudy. This was also the favorite of a friend who met us there. The Vengeful Barbarian hazy IPA pours a super cloudy yellow haze with notes of mango and pineapple and a mildly acidic finish. My mom really enjoyed this one.
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Yes that one in the center is an IPA.
My sister ordered the cherry vanilla kettle sour, a tasty mix of strong cherry flavors and mild vanilla in the back, mildly tart and very nicely done. The minesweeper IPA was my favorite, a great mix of fruit, mango, and pine with a medium bitter finish and similar orange haze to the Wharf Rat. I left with a four pack of this one though I should have gotten two because I gave two of the cans to other people and after my second can I really wanted more.
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If you are already in the area of Santa Cruz for breweries, taking the trip down to Alvarado Street is worth it. Or you can sometimes find their cans around the bay area. They had a bunch of different styles inside but we decided to eat outside instead. If you are vegetarian or vegan, their vegan double double burger (modeled after In N Out) was really good and tasted almost like the real thing.
Top 2: 
Minesweeper IPA
Wharf Rat IPA

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Faction Brewing, Alameda, Bay Area California

The Bay Area is large and can often take quite a while to get from one area to another. So while there are some amazing breweries elsewhere, there is a benefit to knowing what you can visit without going too far. My husband’s cousin and her family are in Alameda and we often stay with them while we are in the Bay Area so I visited the brewery on a lazy Sunday during my last trip. If you can’t make it out to Berkeley for Fieldwork or San Francisco for Cellarmaker, the IPAs at Faction are excellent and will satisfy most enthusiasts.

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There were so many beers on the board that there was no way I was going to try them all at $2.50 a taster (fairly standard these days). But most of what I tried was quite impressive. I started with the Southern Aroma pilsner, SAPA (pale ale with South African hops), Penske File pale, Norcal Beer Geek IPA, and Cafe Latte. I then got tasters of NZ IIPA, Blitzen IIIPA, Hop Soup IIPA, and the Oatmeal Stout.

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The Southern Aroma was an excellent pilsner with a clean dry finish and mild citrus kick. The SAPA had tons of pine and resin with a bitter finish and hints of orange peel. The Penske File had a strong bitter grapefruit kick with hints of pineapple behind that. Norcal Beer Geeks IPA was my favorite of the day. Super smooth and balanced it has notes of pine and resin with some citrus and a mellow bitterness. This is a more classic style IPA but done very nicely.

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Cafe Late was a bit strange tasting because it was an older batch but it is also made with cold brew coffee rather than adding coffee beans to the beer. I would recommend trying a splash before ordering a full pint. The oatmeal stout was excellent with a medium body and tons of roast with a smooth mouthfeel. The NZ IIPA was thick and dry without being overly bitter or sweet and tons of fruit notes from the hops. Other double and triple IPAs were similarly well-crafted. The hop soup had more resin and pine notes with a hint of grapefruit and floral notes behind it. Blitzen was a dangerously easy drinking beer for the alcohol and had nice notes of citrus and pine.

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While they aren’t yet doing the juicy hazy IPAs you can get at Cellarmaker and Fieldwork, the beers at Faction I tasted were all nicely done and would be plenty to satisfy most hop heads. They have a very unique location out on an old navy hard with high ceilings and a large outdoor seating area and a separately large indoor seating area behind the large tasting room. It has quite an echo and the tasting room gets loud with only a few loud people. I brought a growler of the Norcal Beer Geek IPA to share when I left and my husband’s cousin’s husband really enjoyed it. Hopefully he will return regularly now that he knows what to order.

Faction Brewing 02

Known for:
Come for their wide selection of IPAs. Try the Norcal Beer Geek, my favorite of the bunch.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Two new Breweries in Carlsbad – Culver and Burgeon

Culver Beer Company

Culver Beer Company has a fairly large tap list and a few solid beers though I felt they missed the mark on the IPAs. Thankfully, some other beers they had were solid. I had six tasters in total during my visit. They have a good sized tasting room with plenty of areas to sit. When I read that they were in Carlsbad I assumed they would be right off the 5 freeway but they are actually a bit more inland. Still, they are not too difficult to get to from the freeway. Another thing to keep in mind for both Culver and Burgeon is that the cell signal is quite weak at both. Burgeon had issues with their wi-fi when I visited but Culver had a solid wi-fi.

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The Pilsner was fruity and floral with a mild bitterness though I found the bitter finish was a little too strong for the style. The amber lager had some nice fruit notes including some cherry and an herbal/pepper finish from the hops. It had a nice clean finish and was a solid start for a beer of this style. The hoppy saison was a nice balance of fruity hops and spices with a medium body and mild bitterness.

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The vanilla stout smelled nice with an intense vanilla on the nose but when I actually tasted it, it tasted a bit off, with a strange bitter finish. I am not sure what was up with this but it didn’t taste like a stout. The Street Walker IPA was floral and intensely bitter with a fruity finish including some banana. It is a decent IPA if you don’t mind intense floral hops. The True Hero IIPA was grassy with hints of pine but was a bit off on the finish. I asked the brewer about it and they said they had a power outage during brewing that prevented it from finishing properly. I hope that is all that happened.

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Culver isn’t making bad beer such that I would say you shouldn’t ever visit them, but they are not making anything that is worth seeking out if you don’t live nearby or crave a well-done lager.

Top 2:
Amber Lager
Hoppy Saison

Burgeon Beer Company

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I went to Burgeon Beer Company directly after Culver Beer Company. They are pretty close by and have an even larger tasting room. The tap list was smaller at Burgeon and so I only ordered four tasters. The milk stout was tasty and presented a nice roast character with a creamy finish. The pale ale is a nice balance of crisp pine and grapefruit with a medium bitterness and an overall good balance.

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The IPA was a nice hazy orange color and had excellent fruit character with notes of tangerine and tropical fruit. The double IPA was lighter in color but similarly hazy with hints of pineapple, vanilla, and grapefruit. Both the single and double IPA had a nice acidic finish. I was quite impressed by everything at Burgeon and if I lived in the area I would be there regularly for their hazy IPAs.

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Top 2:
IPA
Double IPA

Out of the two, I would recommend Burgeon for those who are into hoppy beers especially hazy IPAs though Culver is doing some solid lagers and has an interesting variety of beer styles to choose from. I expect Burgeon will do great things in the coming year.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Riip Beer Company – Huntington Beach California

Riip is located in Huntington Beach, south of Long Beach, and fills an area where I hadn’t previously visited for breweries. Though Beachwood also has a location in the area it is nice to add some new breweries there too. I visited Riip on the same day as Mumford and found Riip to be far superior and closer to what I expect from Southern California IPAs. I tried four IPAs at Riip because I had already visited a number of breweries earlier that day.

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The Dank IPA was smooth and balanced with a good citra kick and not too bitter. The Riipalicious IPA was tasty for nelson hops and not too bitter, exhibiting grapefruit and citrus notes. The Hop Citrage juicy IPA had a nice citrus kick and some orange peal notes and was nice and mildly bitter. I was ready to take a small growler of this home with me but they weren’t filling growlers. The Super Cali, their award winning IPA, was mildly bitter and nicely balanced with citrus and herbal hops. This was my least favorite mostly because of the herbal hops but it wasn’t a bad beer.

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Riip is a great brewery to stop at on your way through Huntington Beach and even better for locals in the area looking for an alternative to the classic style IPAs from Beachwood. I didn’t try any of their non-hoppy beers but they seem to have a good handle on brewing. Their spot did get a bit loud quite easily with an echo from people and music so that also contributed to me having only one flight.

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Known for: 
Come for IPAs, especially their hazy offering.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Mumford Brewing – Downtown Los Angeles

Mumford is located in the heart of downtown LA in between Little Tokyo and Skid Row. I found out about them because of a can that was shared with me from someone up in LA. While they have drawn crowds for beer releases in the past, I expect the can of Un-Presidential IPA was a fluke because none of the other beers were anywhere near that quality. Still, they are able to draw a good crowd with their decent hazy IPA which is enough to satisfy those who aren’t familiar with what it could taste like.

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The Pant Suit saison was super fruity with a bitter finish that overpowered it. It was quite unbalanced and I didn’t finish the taster. The Ghostwriter pale ale had some nice citrus notes with pineapple and tropical fruit but again a bitter finish that overpowered the rest of it, making it average at best. The LA Like, hazy IPA, had notes of orange and grapefruit and a cloudy orange color with mild notes of vanilla. I thought this was the best of the bunch but at the end it seemed a bit soapy. I want to hope this was just a glass that wasn’t properly rinsed. Assuming the soap was not in the beer it is a solid average hazy IPA.

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Skidrokyo Cafe on nitro is their coffee porter with vanilla. It had some intense coffee and mild roast with some sweet caramel and vanilla on the finish. It is probably the best beer on the menu and for the low alcohol range it is slightly above average for the area. It would certainly satisfy the stout fans who tag along while you enjoy the IPAs. The DTLA IPA had strong hop flavors of pine and also mildly herbal taste with a strong bitter finish. Like others it was too bitter for the hops.

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The All Caps was a solid mix of pine and citrus with a dry finish and not too bitter. I got some notes of green tea on the finish that were unexpected. After the LA Like, this is the other IPA I could drink. The East Enders double IPA was sticky sweet and fruity with notes of over ripe fruit and onion. It was both too sweet and missed the mark for the hop flavors, so I couldn’t finish the taster.

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I hope in 6 months Mumford will be able to more consistently brew solid IPAs because they had great results with the Un-Presidential IPA. Sadly, most of the IPAs I had when I visited had an off-putting bitter after-taste. I expect it was present in the hazy IPA as well just masked by the haze. For now I think most of their hype is overblown and I wouldn’t go out of my way for another visit anytime soon. For the hardcore beer fan there are better breweries in the LA area. But if you are new to IPAs their hazy IPAs should be more than good for you.
Top 2: 
LA Like
SkidRokyo on Nitro

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Breweries in Western Michigan – Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and other areas

There are many breweries in Western Michigan. I could never visit all of them in a span of two days, nor can I give sufficient time to all the breweries I did visit. I stuck to those breweries most recommended on Beer Advocate message boards. In this post I will cover Brewery Vivant, Founders, New Holland, Arclight, Transient, and Bell’s. I didn’t try anything on tap at Arclight though so I will be posting based on the bottles of sour beer I picked up recently on my way to Transient. I also didn’t taste anything but stouts at Bell’s because I happened to visit on their All Stout’s Day.

Brewery Vivant

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Vivant is known for its Belgian style beers and the few that I tried were quite well done even if some were not to my tastes. Vivant is located inside an old funeral church and they have a gorgeous space with two large stained-glass windows. They have tons of seating and a full menu of food. I stopped in quickly for a flight. Keep in mind the tasters are on the expensive side, with prices ranging from $3 to $4. I’m not sure that I understand why they have such pricing. Thankfully, the bottles are more reasonably priced and they have cans of most of their core beers.

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Their farmhouse ale was dry with notes of white wine and some mild peach with minimal spice character. It is a very well-done saison. The maelstrom stout is bitter and smoky with some mild roast and hints of burnt caramel. It has a creamy finish and if you give it some time to warm up and for your palate to adjust to the initial shock it is a fantastic beer. The Verdun Biere de Garde has notes of dark fruit with a mildly sweet finish. It wasn’t as dry as I expected but I enjoyed it enough and the beer was nicely balanced. The Liquid Crystal Belgian IPA was intensely floral with a fruity base malt similar to the Verdun. I wasn’t a fan of the mix of flavors and it was not my hop profile but it is a well-made beer.

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Their stone fruit sour was excellent with some intense brett on the nose and a puckering tart at the finish that gives way to sweet peach and nectarine. I left with two bottles of this for myself and another for a friend. It is worth checking ahead to see if the brewery has any sours because they are excellent. The barrel aged stout on raspberries was a shock at first with a mix of flavors I haven’t experienced before. I’m not sure I like the blend of bourbon and raspberry. To me this is almost a sour and not something I would recommend for someone who is mostly into sweeter stouts. The raspberry comes on as mildly tart and overpowers the bourbon. If you like sweeter stouts you should go to Founders or New Holland instead.

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Top 2:
Farm House Saison
Stone Fruit Sour

Founders

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Compared to the spacious area of Vivant, which is already a good size as breweries go, Founders is massive. While they do have some people taking orders from the tables, you can also line up and order beer or food directly from the counter, which is faster. They also have a water bottle filling station near the restrooms to make it easy to hydrate. Because of the huge space, Founders has live music and we were blessed by some bluegrass during our time there. I’m not sure why the groups seemed to only play one song and then switch but I wasn’t complaining because despite being bluegrass they had a ton of bass in the music. Come with ear plugs if you like a quiet brewery experience, especially on weekends.

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I tried a couple of their IPAs and a couple of stouts but we didn’t have a ton of tasters because they didn’t have many stouts on tap and I wasn’t a huge fan of the IPAs. The harvest IPA was a fantastic mix of resin and grapefruit and nicely balanced with a mild sweetness and bitterness. I got some notes of fresh grapes at the back. The Beer City IPA was quite old school with a prominent bitterness and tons of pine. It was well-made but not my favorite hop profile.

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The Rubaeus was a tasty raspberry ale, jammy and not too sweet with the right blend of amber malts to support the berries while giving it some additional fruit notes. The watermelon gose was sweet and mildly tart with a great balance of flavors. It wasn’t too salty and is probably the first really good watermelon beer I’ve had. My husband went up to order the nitro breakfast stout and backwoods bastard tasters but the server heard him to order a pint of breakfast stout. Though he hadn’t been in love with breakfast stout before, he really loved it on nitro. I got an intense nutty coffee with a smooth mild chocolate. The nitro made it extra special.

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I had tried the regular dirty bastard before and really liked the flavors of the base beer. The backwoods bastard has a ton of caramel and bourbon and is super smooth. I passed this up in the stores before based on the price of a four pack but now I might consider buying some because it is so good. It is quite easy to spend a full day at Founders if you are staying in town longer. How long you want to stay depends on what sorts of beers they have and your preference. I would recommend Founders more for their stouts though the Harvest IPA was excellent too.

Top 3:
Breakfast stout on nitro
Watermelon gose
Harvest IPA

New Holland

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I almost skipped visiting New Holland because we already got their new coconut rum dragon’s milk in San Diego. It was worth a stop to try a few other variants of their beer. The Down Dogger, a hoppy wild Belgian golden was fruity with lots of spice from the Belgian yeast and super dry but it wasn’t sour, funky, or hoppy. It was a fairly standard beer. The Harvest 2, a fresh hop pale, was bitter and malt forward with some notes of grape. It didn’t stick out at all or suggest from the flavors that the hops were fresh. The Vanilla Chai Dragon’s Milk had tons of cinnamon and clove with mild vanilla. To me the spice overpowered the rest of the beer too much. I didn’t really care for it. The Brewer’s Select Dragon’s Milk, a slightly stronger version of the regular, was smooth with notes of vanilla but the alcohol came out a little too hot on the finish.

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Comparatively, the coconut rum version, released this year, is much better. It has tons of coconut flavor and a mild rum note at the back. I’ve been enjoying these bottles for a couple of weeks at home prior to visiting. I’ve also had the regular Dragon’s Milk in the past and thought the standard was more balanced than the Brewer’s Select version. The few beers I tasted at New Holland tell me that it is worth sticking to variations of Dragon’s Milk and having other beer styles at other breweries in the area. Since you can find Dragon’s Milk in four packs as far out as the West Coast (we started receiving them in San Diego) I would recommend grabbing some bottles to enjoy at home instead.

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New Holland’s various locations are restaurants and they tend to get crowded quickly. The location in Grand Rapids had such an insane wait that we decided to stop in Holland on our way south to visit the original brewery. Since we already ate at Founders, we only had a little dessert at New Holland to go with the stouts.

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Known for:
Known mostly for their popular barrel aged imperial stout called Dragon’s Milk and the different variations.

Transient Artisan Ales

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Transient is a very young brewery but has developed a ravenous following from the nearby areas for its release of juicy North East style IPAs in cans as well as the different variations of sours. It is quite a drive to get to Transient either from Grand Rapids or Chicago, and will likely take you over an hour either way. Coming from Grand Rapids or Kalamazoo you can stop by another brewery along the way called Arclight. I stopped there briefly for a few sours they were releasing but they had plenty of other beers available on tap. Considering all the fantastic stouts at Founder’s and Bell’s I might still recommend coming out to Transient for their Buckley light chocolate stout.

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I started with the Cromulent pale ale. It was juicy with notes of orange peel and peach with tons of hops and not a lot of bitterness. It is a very respectable juicy pale. I had a small growler of this beer at home the next day and it was still quite good. The pineapple salarium is tasty pineapple, not too acidic, mildly tart, and a dry finish. It reminded me of the Beatitude series of beers from San Diego’s Council Brewing. Bottles were already sold out when I got there. The Indoorsman brett pale ale had a strong woody bite with an herbal finish and some mild bready malts and peaches at the finish. I couldn’t get over the lingering bitterness at the finish and did not finish the taster.

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The Henry porter was smooth and smoky with a ton of burnt caramel. Though this one was a bit shocking at first once I adjusted and it warmed up the beer had more caramel and I enjoyed it better. The Double Barrel Obelus was super smooth with notes of honey, peaches, and a mild buttery finish from the American oak. It is a fantastic complex beer that I enjoyed so much I left with two bottles. The Buckley light is pure liquid dark chocolate and creamy smooth. This is an excellent chocolate stout and worth seeking out.

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Top 2:
Double Barrel Obelus oak aged saison
Buckley Light chocolate imperial stout

Bell’s Brewing

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Despite Google showing multiple locations for this brewery, they have only one location that is split into a general store and a cafe. The brewery itself is not open to visit or drink in a tasting room. I visited on the day when they had All Stout’s Day, which meant all but two of the taps at the brewery were replaced by stouts. Thus, I won’t be including any commentary on how good their IPAs or other styles are.

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I started with the java stout. It has mild smoke and tons of coffee roast, a very easy-drinking beer. I had two varieties of their expedition stout, one of their flagship brews. The 2014 and 2015 were not all that different but both were fantastic. The beer has tons of caramel and roast and a nice thick body.

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The whiskey aged expedition stout was super smooth with a creamy mouthfeel and a strong but not overpowering or hot whiskey. The black note on tap had some nice notes of chocolate and fudge when compared to the whiskey expedition. The whiskey aged 30th anniversary had tons of fudge and cinnamon with some mild vanilla on the finish. The barrel aged dagger stout had tons of vanilla and espresso with a super smooth finish. All of the barrel aged stouts on tap were fantastic but the barrel aged 30th anniversary and barrel aged dagger stout were my two standouts. With such strong beers it gets difficult to give more detailed descriptions after a while.

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Known for:
Intense stouts and barrel aged variants, also some old school IPAs that are quite popular.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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