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Social Kitchen & Brewery West Side IPA 

Stopped into Social Kitchen & Brewery for a happy hour pint recently, and to give their beers another try since they're conveniently located a few blocks from my home.  They tend to brew unique styles with a different kind of approach than you normally see on the West Coast, but this time I thought I'd give their IPA a try to see how they do with a standard.  

It pours a cloudy orange without any real head and is shockingly not aromatic at all for an IPA, especially one brewed on the West Coast.  Starting with the first sip, and continuing through the drink, you get a dull tongue coating bitterness and none of the sharp hoppy floral notes that you expect in a proper IPA.  It weighs in at a respectable 6.9% abv which is perfect for this style as far as I'm concerned, but outside of that I don't see much to like here.  I've had some really interesting beers that have been brewed at Social Kitchen & Brewery, but if you're looking for a good hoppy beer I'd stay away from their West Coast IPA.


Russian River Damnation

The ever so popular Belgian from the always great Russian River here in Northern California. Aroma is all classic Belgian and the head doesn't stick around long. Flavors include apricot, apple, the sweetness that you'd expect in a Belgian, a bit of yeasty funk, and a little more bitterness in the finish than I'd like to see in this style. The mouthfeel is also a lot thinner then you'd expect, so it a bit less heavy and more refreshing than some of the classic Belgians. I don't drink these all the time, but it's certainly a beer worthy of its popularity in Northern California and beyond.


Anderson Valley Brother David's Double

Named in honor of David Keene, the owner of the Toronado in San Francisco, this brew hails from the well respected Anderson Valley brewery in Boonville, CA.  It pours a nice dark chestnut color with good head that sticks around leaving nice lacing on the glass.  Suprsingly, there isn't much aroma to speak of other than some slightly sweet maltiness., even when the beer warms to around 55 degrees.  The taste once again hits you with the same sweet maltiness with a hint of banana, honey, and spicy hop.  I would have liked to see the mouthfeel have a bit more substance than what's exhibited here given that it needs to stand up to the 9% abv content.  All in all, not a bad beer, and certainly easily found in the Bay Area, but were it not so easily found I doubt I would expend much energy seeking it out.  Though if you find yourself somewhere that's offering it, and you're in the mood for a sweet malty Belgian with a little bit of a spicy kick, you could do worse.



Lagunitas Hop Stoopid Ale


Lagunitas has never been afraid of using a lot of hop flavor in their beers, as is the case with most west coast breweries, so it's no shock that with a name like Hop Stoopid you get a ton of hop flavor in this beer.  This double IPA pours a nice golden color, with a pretty good head for the style that sticks around for a while.  You get a nice hoppy aroma, but without being excessively floral or perfumey.  

With the first taste you get a strong hit of hop flavor and lingering bitterness.  As you continue to enjoy the beer, you notice that the hop flavor is more focused than many highly hopped beers.  By using a large amount of hop extract in the brewing process in the place of actual hops, the brewers have created an IPA that feels a bit more refined and stripped down than most, forgoing the superfluous floral notes for the true essence and soul of the hop.  It's a nice twist that suits the beer well and helps set itself apart from other highly hopped west coast IPAs.  Quite refreshing for an 8% abv brew, and one I find myself returning to time and time again when I want a strong hoppy IPA, but I'm tired of Russian River's and Green Flash's offerings. If you like your hops, this is a beer worth trying.



Russian River Pliny the Younger

Ah, Pliny the Younger.  Just say the name and watch beer geeks on the west coast get excited like a dog thinking it's about to get a treat.  This annual, very limited release causes lines to form at bars even before they open the day of tapping one of the kegs of the stuff.  But does it live up to the hype?

It pours a wonderful golden color with a typical amount of head for a beer of this type (Double/Imperial IPA).  It smells of piney hops and citrus, but doesn't seem to be quite as aromatic as its cousin, Pliny the Elder, though this could be due to it being served a little colder than I'd like.  As far as the taste is concerned, this is a sweeter, deeper, and more complex version of Pliny the Elder.  Where Elder is an explosion of a very specific hoppy spruce flavor, Younger is a broader more complex beer.  Still very hoppy, but there's more going on here than just an intense hit of hops.  There's also a nice orange/citrus undercurrent here that works great with the sweet hoppy flavor profile, and a good bitter finish that isn't overpowering.  It's not quite as thick as you'd expect for an 11% abv brew, but still coats the tounge nicely.  If I had to describe the beer in the context of others, I would say Younger makes me think of a blend of Pliny the Elder and a sweeter IPA such as Dogfish Head 90 (or maybe even 120).  

So, does it live up to the hype?  It certainly is a great beer, and I look forward to having a few each year.  That being said, I have to question the frenzy that surrounds it each year.  We live in a great time to be a beer geek, with a massive number of talented craft breweries and easy access to great beer, especially if you're lucky enough to live near one of the great beer bars in America such as the Toronado here in San Francisco.  So while Pliny the Younger is a fantastic beer, I question why people are willing to stand in line for hours, just to have a taste.  On any given night at the Toronado, there are some truly amazing beers that I would consider to be every bit as good as Pliny the Younger, so where's the frenzy there?  It's my belief that while Younger is a great beer, the massive cult following that surrounds it has exceeded its true value to the beer community, and undervalues the work of other great breweries.  The brand is now stronger than the beer.  

Last month I was having a few drinks at The Page, a great low key neighborhood bar with a nice selection of 20+ craft brews on tap.  This happened to be the night after they had tapped a keg of Pliny the Younger.  As I sat there, I listened to customer after customer come in and ask if there was any Younger left, which there was not.  One guy walked in and parroted the same question I had heard countless times before that evening, "Do you have any Pliny the Younger left?!" and when told they were out, replied with "Oh, well then I'll have a Lone Star" despite the comparable Pliny the Elder being on tap.  If you're unfamiliar with the brand, Lone Star is the Texan equivalent to PBR.  This pretty much sums up my complaint about Pliny the Younger.  A great beer that is made more difficult to enjoy each year by many who aren't ordering because they love the qualities of the beer, but rather because it's difficult to obtain.  So, enjoy a Younger if you find it being served in a bar you're in, but don't allow yourself to become one of the sheep who annually like to pretend that it's the only quality craft brew to be had in America.

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