Beer Journal

A quasi-daily examination of beer and things related to beer.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Now on Tap: Stone IPA

Style: India Pale Ale
Brewer: Stone Brewing Company
Location: Escondido, CA
Alcohol: 6.9%

I've gone to good lengths to rank and file my affinity for hoppy pale ales, but there is always room for things new and worthwhile.

Not that I am at all unfamiliar with the Stone Brewery. By no means a recognizable, national brand, Stone's beers are primarily sold in unfriendly, 22 oz. bottles (although select kegs and sixers are available). This IPA is available in all three formats, although it most commonly comes in the larger bottle. I've never seen a commercial or advertisement for the brand, yet I have found it sold in any number of supermarkets and liquor stores wherever I have traveled.

Stone IPA is a prototypical west coast IPA, mildly malty and extremely hoppy with a bright amber color and a mouthfeel hinted with fruit. Their is a relatively high alcohol content, but it doesn't interfere with the drink's flavor. What's most distinctive about this beer, particularly as an IPA, is the initially sweet taste. This can probably be attributed to the aforementioned maltiness, but there is something different about it in this beer. Where as the malty/hoppy combination can sometimes leads to dryness, in this drink there's a great refresh that I would usually associate with a German beer (kolsch or hefe).

I haven't tried the Rumination Ale yet, but if it's an improvement upon this one (as suggested in most literature I have seen on the subject), I should get right to it.

Rating: 8.2

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Review: BJ's Restaurant & Brewery

Type: Chain, mass-market brewpub
Menu: Traditional American
Location: McAllen, Texas
Beers: BJ's Brewhouse Blonde, Harvest Hefeweizen, Piranha Pale Ale, Jeremiah Red Ale, PM Porter, Tatonka Stout, Nutty Brewnette, seasonal brews

Originally started as a Chicago-style deep dish pizzeria, this Chicago chain switched it's focus to beer in 1996 for it's Brea, California store. Along with the palatable South Padre Island Brewing Company (review forthcoming), BJ's stands out among a sea of family-themed chain restaurants in the Rio Grande Valley. Located just off of the Ware Road exit in McAllen (in front of the new Convention Center and Barnes and Noble, right next door to the future P.F. Chang's), BJ's is the first phase in the evolving McAllen marketplace.

The beers are better than most chain brewpubs, but none of them blow you away. At least BJ's makes up for its lack of distinctiveness with a honest variety. Of the beers, the Brewnette is the most memorable and best-suited for the menu that retains an emphasis on pizza, right down to the dessert Pizzookie, a monstrous cookie topped with ice cream that tastes a heck of a lot better than I just described it.

This is not to say that BJ's offerings are entirely typical. Aside from the numerous pies, BJ's has a decent amount of sandwiches, burger, salads and pastas. The main course meatloaf, pot roast and fish tacos are all very good, the former two also available in smaller-portioned open-faced sandwiches. The sides fit nicely; in what can be read as both a compliment and a complaint, my wife commented that next time she'll forgo the entire meal and just order the delicious steamed vegetables.

The real gem of the BJ's menu are the appetizers. While there is a selection of the common (potato skins, chicken wings, spinach artichoke dip), BJ's offers their own unique takes on some lesser-found starters. Sliders (mini cheeseburgers), chicken pot stickers and lettuce wraps all get the individualized treatment. The Official Beer Journal favorite are the avocado egg rolls. Any of you that have tried to cook with avocado know the difficulties: cook too little and it remains cold and hard; cook too long and it turns to mush, completely losing its desired, natural texture. BJ's solves both of these problems with its rolls, which are cooked quickly at a high temperature. Throw in the thick and dark, sweet and spicy sauce, and you've got yourself the pinnacle dish on the menu.

But the best aspect of the BJ's in McAllen is neither the food nor the beer: it is the symbolic upswing that it represents, a move away from the recycled line of Chili's Applebee's and Olive Gardens that litter this region. As with any new restaurant in the Valley, there seems to be a perpetual waiting list; that will surely die down. As with any restaurant in the Valley, the service tends to be rather slow; that might never change. Hopefully, neither setback will lead to closings.

Beer: 7.4
Food: 8.1
Atmosphere: 7.8