Beer Review: Alpha Session from Drake’s Brewing

Photo © Dave McAvoy

Until recently, the craft beer world was involved in a friendly war to one-up each other by creating bigger, bolder, and more extreme beer. Breweries like Samuel Adams and BrewDog produced beers in excess of 25% ABV, which really pushed the limits of beer. Other brewers focused on making the most sour, hoppy or spicy beer possible. Most of them are well suited for sipping or should be shared with others, not for throwing back in succession.

This trend is beginning to change. More breweries are focusing on the lower end of ABV spectrum and are redefining the “session ale,” including Drake’s Brewing in San Leandro. Their Alpha Session, a “Nor Cal Bitter Ale” as they describe it, weighs in at 50 IBUs (similar to many IPAs), but comes in a lighter at 3.8% ABV. Drake’s recently released Alpha Session in bottles around the Bay Area, so I thought it would be fitting to share my thoughts about the beer so you can determine whether or not you should take a few home to enjoy.

The beer pours a clear golden color with a finger of frothy white head forming atop. The head recedes slowly leaving some lace clinging to the sides of the glass. The aroma is full of West Coast hops, with hints of pine, grapefruit and citrus tickling the nose. There’s also an ample malt backbone, which gives the beer some balance. It’s surprising how full the aroma is considering its below 4% ABV.

The taste follows the nose closely in many ways. The first flavors to hit the tongue are a mix of grapefruit, pineapple, and other citrus and tropical hops, with some mild bitterness alongside the caramel and English biscuit malts. Through the middle, the pine and grassy hops jump out, bringing with them a stronger bitterness and a touch of resin. The finish continues the hop forward trend, with more tropical and piney flavors, some good bitterness, and some sweet malts lingering on the tongue. The beer feels a bit lighter than medium bodied with moderate carbonation. It feels smooth and incredibly refreshing with a nice dry and bitter feeling left afterwards.

Bringing the English-style bitter and session ales to forefront of craft beer in America is a trend that I can really get behind, and the Alpha Session is a great example. There is no longer a compromise between having a full flavored beer and something that you can drink all evening long. I really enjoy how much hop flavor and bitterness is jammed into this beer, without cutting down on the smoothness and session-ability one bit. One word of warning though, this beer has a habit of disappearing from your glass quite quickly, only to find out that you’ve had enough beer that catches up with you.

Beer Review: High Water Brewing’s Anniversary Doppelsticke

Photo © Dave McAvoy

High Water Brewing recently celebrated its first birthday. In honor of the occasion, brewer Steve Altimari created the Anniversary Doppelsticke (pronounced “Dopple-shtick-uh”). It’s a beer style that some knowledgeable beer fans may not be familiar with.

Here’s a little background about the style. A good starting point is the German Altbier, which is brown ale. A close cousin of the Altbier is the Sticke Alt, which is a stronger and darker seasonal version that is quite rare. The Doppelsticke is an Imperial version of the Sticke Alt.

High Water’s Anniversary Doppelsticke is a rich, dark copper-brown brew that when poured produces a finger of frothy off-white head. The head slowly fades and leaves behind some spotty lacing clinging to the sides of the glass. If you give the beer a good sniff, sweet toasted caramel malts and brown sugar notes fill the nose, with some noble hops and biscuit playing strong supporting roles. There is also just a touch of sweet dark fruits. I was really impressed with how full the aroma was without being too sharp and strong.

When sipped the beer hits the tongue in a very similar manner to how it struck the nose. There’s a wonderful balance of sweet lightly toasted caramel malts with some brown sugar sweetness and some citrus and noble hops coming through. Through the middle the complexity builds a bit with some biscuit and a touch of hop bitterness. The finish is a mix of toasted biscuit and toffee malts and a hint of dark fruit sweetness. The beer is medium bodied, with moderate carbonation and is extremely smooth with a dry and slightly sweet finish.

I have high expectations when new High Water brews are released and this particular beer was even more surprising in quality and uniqueness. The balance of flavors are fantastic and the beer has an incredible (and almost dangerous) smoothness at 7.5% ABV. I definitely recommend seeking this one out and giving it a shot, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the style.

Review: Triple Voodoo Inception Belgian Style Ale

Triple Voodoo Brewing has been making noise around the Bay Area for just six months. Until recently, the only way to try their beer was on tap, but they now bottle and distribute their beer within the San Francisco area. Their first release is the Inception Belgian Style Ale. From the description, the base beer is a Belgian Tripel, but the style has been altered quite significantly to introduce some California flavor into the mix.

Starting off with the look of the label, I like the Triple Voodoo logo. It’s bold, eye catching and made the bottle really easy to spot on the shelves, but the rest of the label looks a bit plain and needs some work. For example, I don’t understand why “TAP INTO THE EXTRAORDINARY” is in all caps, while “mythical sensation in a glass” is not? I also think the plain two-tone Red and Black color scheme is a bit plain and uninspired.

As for the bottle’s contents, the color is a clear golden-orange, which is already a departure from the more traditional hazy and cloudy Trappist style. An inviting layer of frothy white head covers the top of the beer with lots of visible carbonation rising to the top of the glass. The head fades away fairly slowly to reveal some lacing. The nose again reveals a hybrid of west coast style and Trappist tradition. The banana yeast, lemon, and clove aromas, common to the Belgian style, are definitely the strongest elements here. However, there is more hop presence than normal, giving this a little bit of a West Coast kick.

The beer starts off with some mild banana and fruity esters alongside some light clove and sweet biscuit malts. The flavors grow in intensity as the beer sits on the tongue a bit, however, there is a nice balance that’s a constant throughout. Somewhere in the mix, the hop flavor comes through as soft and not very bitter. It feels medium bodied with a lively, yet gentle carbonation. The beer keeps its balance through the finish where the sweetness of the fruity esters and malt linger for some time afterwards.

So is the Inception Belgian Style Ale worth a try? Absolutely. At $8 for a bomber it’s not going to put too much of dent in your wallet and your reward is an interesting Belgian/West Coast hybrid.

Photo © Dave McAvoy