Now safely home, I've gotten back to the vital work of tasting every new beer that I can get my hands on- and talking about the ones that got away. I'll start with one of those, described to me in exquisite detail by Chris, the Beer Guru:
Wild Dog Whiskey-Barrel-Aged "Gonzo"
This beer is available in extremely limited-edition gift boxes, only five hundred of which were made (the packages also contain a nice glass and a chunk of the barrel in which the beer was aged). This is their Gonzo Imperial Porter- a tribute to the famous Kentuckian Hunter S. Thompson- here aged in whiskey barrels, adding texture and weight. The head is fine, a light roasted brown in color. The beer attacks with an initial whiskey hit, followed by light oak flavors. Loaded with rich coffee notes on the mid-palate, it finishes with deep roasted chocolate flavors. The mouthfeel is silky and smooth, not as intensely viscous as expected.
The rest of these I tasted:
Butte Creek "Helltown" OG Hefeweizen
Super-light, with extremely subtle flavors that are almost not there. It's more Deutschland than NorCal, with prototypical banana aromas. The carbonation is very fine, and the finish is crisp and dry. This beer needs to be drunk very cold, and very quickly.
Pyramid Brewmaster's Reserve 2007: Imperial Hefeweizen
An interesting brew. The beer is very cloudy, with dense bubbles in its impressively European head. The nose almost reminds me of Gueuze in its tropical tartness, but this does not carry over on the palate. It is fruity and rich, with a marked peppery bitterness to the well-hopped finish. A somewhat awkward pairing of styles, this beer nonetheless offers the intensity of an Imperial with a bit of the refreshing aspect of a good Hef.
This is the hoppiest Belgian beer I have ever had. To the chagrin of the haters of the hop (i.e. folks who don't like to have their beers club them into hoppy submission), there is an ever-increasing trickle of European brewers who, having seen the bright white rainy light out here on the Left Coast, have taken this inspiration back across the Atlantic. More than one Belgian beer trumpets this fact on its label, only to disappoint with barely noticeable hoppiness- not so Taras Boulba. These folks have nailed it. The nose is filled with aggressive, peppery hops and lily flower. With starry, assertive carbonation, the beer finishes bright and bitter. By God, it's alive! This wouldn't pass for a Northwestern IPA, but it is just as hoppy.
Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale
This beer celebrates Sierra Nevada as pioneers in the craft brew revolution. On November 15, 1980, Ken Grossman began the first-ever batch of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and the world has never been the same. The Anniversary Ale is a worthy addition to the family. It has a beautiful, bright copper color, with floral, assertively Northwestern hops (they are Cascades, in fact), smelling like a fistful of the stuff right off the vine. On the palate it is super-clean, with its hoppiness wound around delicious malt and fine carbonation. It is reminscent of a hoppy steam beer; absolutely delicious.