Category Archives: Beer Review

A beer review.

ChurchKey – Upscale Yet Casual in DC

Nestled in the newly gentrified neighborhood of Du Pont Circle is a seemingly nondescript restaurant called Birch and Barkley; directly above it is a brewery/eatery called ChurchKey. At first glance, it looks as if the owner bought an automechanic’s shop and reshaped it into a warm and inviting dining area (the front is a metal garage door with four small windows in the middle). The entrance is a simple wooden door, and once you’re inside, you can see the Birch and Barley immediately to your right and stairs leading up to ChurchKey.

The decor is mostly dark wood … high-set booths with soft leather cushions line the left wall while there are some seperate tables in the rear, and the long bar with its myriad tap selection dominates the right hand wall. All the staff are friendly and very well-versed in the selection of draughts and bottles. Looking for something comparable to your favorite brew? Perhaps your server could suggest three or four of their beers to sample.

The ChurchKey Draught List is extensive and divided by flavor profile. They rotate their tap handles each week, but yet still have some of the standards that stick around for a month or two before an equivalent that is new comes in. Check it out here:

Additionally, the menu at ChurchKey is simple bar fare with a decadent twist. When my partner and I visited this summer, we had the Charcuterie, the Caesar and Waldorf salads, and 8 beer samples between us. Each sample costs $2.50-$3.50 depending on the vessel in which it is served. Normally when I taste beer, I will taste about four and then settle on a glass of something, but that night we just had fun tasting. 🙂

If you happen to be in the DC area, I would highly recommend checking this place out. Birch and Barley, the restaurant that provides ChurchKey’s food, was awarded “Best New Restaurant 2010” for the city of DC and the Executive Chef Kyle Bailey’s bio can be found here:
Also, their full website is updated weekly and has great, full-color photographs of food from the menu.

Look for the next blog post about a few of my other summer beer adventures, coming this week!


Hamilton’s Tavern: A South Park Beacon

This is the place!

The story of Hamilton’s namesake is as follows:

“Our tavern was named after Mr. Herman Hamilton, a South Park resident for over 35 years and an American patriot, having served his country as a member of the storied Montford Point Marines. Although he does not drink, you can find Mr. Hamilton at the Tavern nearly every day and he always has a kind word or classic story to share! Herman is our dear friend and we could not think of a better person as the namesake to our treasured alehouse then this remarkable man.” 🙂

For most craft beer loving San Diegans, Hamilton’s Tavern is that nice little place in South Park at which all the locals can hang out and not have to worry about tourists finding them. As I walked in for the first time, I felt very comfortable; the bar is a nice, antique looking wood with no taps to interrupt eye contact between the bartenders and their customers.

If you raise your eyes to the ceiling, you’ll find twinkle lights and tap handles … at least a hundred, all retired and many from local breweries. To the right, there are two pool tables and booth seating, and the window to order food from the restaurant next door is tucked into the far corner, out of the way of everything.

The bartender was very helpful when I asked questions about the different styles. I noticed that others who didn’t have quite as much of an understanding about craft beer could be educated and helped to find the style that was right for them in a two minute conversation. How’s that for service?

To start off, I ordered an Edgar Ale from Craftsman Brewing Co. in Pasadena. It is a Russian Imperial Stout ringing in at 8.2% ABV and has a nice, heavily malted flavoring with toffee and coffee notes coming through on the front. Mix that together with an overall smokiness and you have yourself a pretty complex brew. A chewy thickness gives the beer a heavy mouthfeel, which matches its black pour. Definitely a good choice! Next, I went with a White Rascal from Avery Brewing Co. which is quite a contrast to the Edgar Ale. If you like Belgian Witbiers, you’ll love this one: very nice and light with barely noticeable citrus and coriander tastes on the finish. The yeast, citrus and spice qualities are all supported by a nice pale malt base. There is lots of character and it is very drinkable.
My final choice of the evening was the Barbar Winterbok Belgian Strong Ale from Brassiere Lefebvre in Belgium. It’s a dark amber pour and a honey aroma is evident, but doesn’t contribute to too much sweetness, with orange there, too, and a nice drizzling of coriander. If you like any belgian strong ale, you will appreciate this 8% ABV winter warmer from our Belgian brothers.

Look for our next post about Irish New Year at The Field Irish Pub in the Gaslamp Quarter!

Atypical Brewery Is Claremont’s Main Event

It has been awhile since we’ve posted, and Marisa was in Claremont on a day trip this weekend, so she decided to pay a visit to the Back Abbey Brewery on Oberlin Avenue. The Back Abbey is a unique pub located in the Village Expansion area of Claremont. The pub, which opened in the summer of 2008, is located in a small California mission style building next to the Hotel Casa 425. When you first walk up to the brewery, it doesn’t look like much, but this place is packed almost every night of the week, according to the locals. The interior exudes warmth with natural dark wood flooring, reconditioned leather bar stools and matching bench-style seats that line the sides of the bar. Outdoors, you’ll find a more casual setting that consists of low couches and coffee tables, retro automobile chairs, and soft lantern lighting. Many of the patrons are faculty and students from the Claremont Colleges swinging by for a study break or an after class night cap with friends. If you’re planning on going Saturday night, get there before 6pm, otherwise you’ll be waiting for at least 30 mins, and you don’t want to delay on sampling this tap list!

From what I can remember, here it is:

St. Bernardus Abt 12, St. Bernardus Wit, Saison Dupont, Moinette Brune, Moinette Blond, Foret, Glazen Toren Saison, Glazen Toren Tripel, Scaldis, La Chouffe Golden Ale (delicious!), Leffe Brune, Delirium Tremens, Tripel Karmeliet, Lindeman’s Framboise, Chimay tripel, Stella Artois, Kwak, Piraat, Augustijn, Spaten Pils, Ayinger Celebrator, Unibroue Maudite and Trois Pistoles, Aventinus Weizenbock, and Fuller’s London Pride.
The Back Abbey’s website link doesn’t work, so we can’t direct you there for a menu, but Marisa had the most delicious burger there called the Winter Banana (incidentally, no banana is present) with her La Chouffe Golden Ale. On the Winter Banana were havarti cheese, bacon, sauteed apples, and field greens all nestled between two halves of a warm brioche bun. Be sure to try the pommes frites as well, which are double fried in duck fat, crunchy on the outside but warm and soft on the inside; the perfect combination.

Parking for the Back Abbey is on the street outside, which is metered, or in the free parking garage across the street in the square. As we mentioned earlier, the place fills up by 6pm on the weekends, so if you want to park for free, get there early. Whether you’re in Claremont for business or pleasure, this little place is worth the trip, and you’d better believe I’ll be returning! 🙂

Iron Fist Brewing Grand Opening

The Babes had to split up this weekend due to work obligations – so Marisa headed to Lake Havasu (and visited Mudshark Brewery) and I (CJ) headed to Vista for the grand opening of Iron Fist Brewing. Scot, the Beer Bud, was happy to fill in and go with me. I worked at the Vista Irrigation District, which is across the street from this new brewery on Sycamore, for 8 years back in the late 90’s and early 00’s. In 2001, when VID was building the new office, there was very little in the Industrial Park area – but now, the whole area is populated and bustling with businesses, restaurants, and now  – a new brewery. There still is an industrial park feel here – the brewery is built with stand-up concrete and large industrial doors that overlook the street. It is a large warehouse, but the bar area in front is small and right now, the only food offered inside is pretzels. (Plus, there is only one bathroom!) Still, it is the beer that is the reason for its existence, so that is what we were there to experience. I only had my iPhone with me, but I captured some of the images and talked with two interesting people about their tasting experience. Taylor Shaw (@theartofbeer) is a friend of the owners and does the marketing for them and made sure we knew about the opening via Twitter. Eve Sieminski (@EveSieminski) is one of the owners and her son, Brandon, is the Brewmaster. On opening night, everyone behind the bar was either a relative or friend helping out – and they did a great job of answering questions and keeping the beer flowing at the same time.

I also met Greg, from Premier Stainless Systems, who was standing in the back admiring his shiny silver contribution to the brewery’s success. This firm installs these kinds of industrial tanks for various businesses and craft breweries around the world, but are located just down the freeway in Escondido, so this was a really fun and convenient installation for them. The tanks are fabricated in China to customer specifications and then shipped through Long Beach and delivered to Escondido for testing and customization. I never thought about it, but Greg explained that they have to build the tanks to fit into the facilities depending on what space is available. So, if they have to get the tanks through a double door into a basement, they will be smaller. These tanks were on the larger side since there was plenty of room to bring them in and set them up. There is one brewing tank and four storage/fermenting tanks currently at the location. I was surprised to see the small bottling area – four hoses and one small tray. Better Beer Blog did a story on Firehouse and included photos of the mobile bottling operations they use on their premises – and seeing both processes convinced me that bottling is very labor intensive.

For my part, I really liked the Golden Age Belgian Style Golden Strong Ale. The website says this about the Golden Age:  “The mesmerizing march of perfect champagne-like bubbles to the foam front draws you in. Hints of lemon, grape, and apple keep you coming back.” I am beginning to see a pattern of the beers that I do like: the hint of fruit or spices seems to be part of each one.

The website says this about the Spice of Life: “Forsaking traditional ideas of subtlety and cowardly “Pinch of This, Pinch of That” brewing techniques, we embrace the flavors and launch them into a full frontal assault of delicious bitter orange peel and grains of paradise. Beautifully smooth coriander compliments and orange peel perfectly.” Another guy I met at the bar swore that he tasted cloves in this beer – so that must have been the coriander. I loved this beer and bought a bottle for Marisa to drink and review later.

I only sample I did not like was the Renegade Blonde because it tasted hollow and had a bad aftertaste – but I hear from Marisa that it should taste light because it is a Kolsch beer. Not sure if the aftertaste comes with this style, but still wouldn’t buy it again.

We ended the night with dinner from Tabe BBQ, which is always delicious. Some of the people at the opening had never heard of Korean BBQ, so they were a little reticent to give it a try. Too bad for them. It’s one of the best food trucks in town. According to Marisa, Eagle Rock Brewery in LA does business the same way: they host different food trucks each week, and Eagle Rock simply pairs its beer with the visiting truck owner’s fare. Quite a growing trend among breweries that don’t have the cash to build their own restaurant while they are getting off the ground.

As we were leaving, another guy who had been sampling for a while wanted to tell us his opinion about the other breweries in North County (his geography was a little loose) that he called “The Holy Four.” These included Green Flash, Lost Abbey, Alesmith, and Alpine. He did not say whether or not he was adding Iron Fist to his list, and I was not waiting around to find out. It was time for this babe to head home – a 40 mile drive in the rain – and we know how Southern California drivers are in the rain!

Fall is here!

Firestone Double Barrel Ale

The temperature in San Diego has dipped below 70, so fall is officially here. Marisa made some white bean and chicken chili to celebrate, so of course, we had to find a nice fall brew to accompany it. Firestone Double Barrel Ale was first, with its warm amber hue and hoppy, full bodied taste … a perfect accompaniment to a chili main course. The first sip is reminiscent of an IPA; a little bitter and the hops really come through, but the finish is smooth and malty like a traditional english ale. The next bottle for sampling was Lagunitas IPA , and like Firestone, it’s from California. Unfortunately, CJ couldn’t taste the difference between the two – she thought they both started out bitter but she drank them quickly and she liked them both. Marisa would like to note that, while this is most definitely an IPA, it lacks the strong floral bouquet that you would find with most others. The flavors that come through the most are the pine and orange rind, which make for a more bitter start and finish, which discourages those without an appreciation for craft beer. So to those who have tried IPA as their first craft beer: persevere!! There are many other styles that will delight your taste buds, and chances are, we’ll tell you about them here. 🙂

La Mesa Octoberfest – Oct. 2

The inadequate selection of 3 beers in the beer garden

If this event were a beer, it would be a Bud Light in a very small glass for $6. It was Marisa’s first Octoberfest and she was expecting a celebration of beer. Instead she got cheap street vendors and a large fenced parking lot with one beer provider – Karl Strauss. We made the best of it and had fun with 3,000 of our new best friends in what became a very crowded space as the night wore on. In the spirit of trying something new for our fans, we both ordered different selections from the lone vendor. CJ tried the Oktoberfest and Marisa had the Tower IPA. Typical to the IPA stereotype – it was bitter at the start and the finish. Atypical of us, it was so bad, we actually exchanged it for a Endless Summer Light. This was a standard wit beer – but with a lot less flavor. Our group thought that Red Trolley Ale would have been a better selection for Strauss to serve, but alas, that was not one of our options.

After leaving the confines of the “beer” garden, we stopped off at the Regal because it boasted Hanger 24, Stone Ruination, Anchor Steam, Ballast Point and Lagunitas IPA. Navigating through the crowded outside smoking area, we arrived to find a bar with 20 glorious taps of microbrew. Marisa smiled and ordered a pitcher of Newcastle Brown Ale for our table. This bar is worth a separate trip when you are in La Mesa.

If you are going to go, understand that this festival is not about beer, but about getting drunk in public and so, start early and avoid the lines. The porta potties were one highlight because there was a hand washing station and a general state of cleanliness. Woo-hoo. CJ says she would have enjoyed seeing some of the German folk dancing, but we only made it to the beer garden and street fair, so maybe another year. Or not.