Sierra Nevada — Hoptimum Whole-Cone Imperial IPA — 10.4%

Sierra Nevada’s latest bid for the hearts and gullets of hop extremists is a whole-cone-fired monster named Hoptimum. Sounding like a b-list X-Man who, after a mysterious nuclear accident in a hop field, awoke the next day with a giant hop cone for a head, this hop bomb delivers the bitter goods.

Hoptimum pours the color of a new Lincoln penny and its mutant hop power drives a multi-finger head that never truly dissipates but sticks around throwing lace all over the place like a cross between your granny and Spider-Man.

As for the hop report: German Magnum, Simcoe, Citra, Chinook, and the mysterious “New Proprietary Variety,” all gang up on your helpless lil’ pink tongue and give it a beat down it won’t soon forget: kind of like getting whooped with a towel full of grapefruit and clementines (so they don’t leave bruises) and then skull fucked by a pine tree while smoking some killer green bud (don’t pretend like it hasn’t happened to you). At 100 IBUs, the astringent factor is off the chart, so if you don’t like drinking cleaning products—and let’s be honest, some of us don’t—steer clear of this one.

The malt character, made up of Two-row Pale, Golden Promise, Munich, and Wheat, fights a good round or two—probably just so those who foolishly put money down on Light Caramel don’t start throwing chairs—but ultimately (or Hoptimately) bites canvas before too long.

At 10.4% there is an expected alcohol note in the finish, but nothing like what those numbers would presage, which leads me to rethink that perhaps this creature is better balanced than I gave it credit for.

All-in-all, an enjoyable atomic hop bomb for those of us who appreciate such things, but God help us all if this thing gets into the wrong hands. I’m looking at you, Magneto.

Grade: A-

21st Amendment Brewery — Fireside Chat Winter Spiced Ale — 7.9%

This winter warmer from San Francisco’s 21st Amendment pours reindeer brown with an inch-think eggnog-colored head. In the pint glass, the brew looks black as a winter’s night, due to a hearty mix of Munich, wheat, crystal, aromatic, chocolate, and black malts.

Its nose betrays the Chat’s 7.9% alcohol and the hearty English-style backbone. There is a sour note mixed with seasonal spices, kind of like a gingerbread man that ran afoul of the gingerbread mafia and has been rotting in a field for a few days. But in a good way.

As it warms, the Magnum and Golding hop aromatics wake up and start to balance out the cereal bill. For such a weighty grain profile, I would have expected more of a bready mouthfeel, but the Chat is thin enough to be followed by another without feeling stuffed like the proverbial Christmas goose. Feliz Navidad.

Grade: B+

Iron Springs Brewery — Mocha Porter & Black Magic Rye P.A.

Iron Springs Brewery — Mocha Porter — 6%
Every November, this Fairfax, California brewery indulges in a month of artisan chocolate-infused beers. This year they really hit what I found to be the perfect balance of chocolate, coffee, and British malt flavors with their special Mocha Porter.

Starting with a base of their English-style nitro-poured Fairfax Coffee Porter—a great beer on its own, owing to an infusion of java from the Fairfax Coffee Roastery up the block, an unobtrusive mix of Horizon and Crystal hops, and a deliciously hearty grain bill—the brewers have added cacao nibs, described as “small pieces of crushed roasted cacao beans” from San Francisco chocolatier TCHO.

This porter pours an ebony black with a super-tight milkshake-like head. The cacao really permeates the nose—leading one to believe that perhaps it is chocolate milkshake floating on top. The roasted malt and the coffee aftertaste play off of each other nicely and the mouthfeel is like liquid velvet.

Indulgent? Sure, but on a rainy Saturday, what better way to avoid the burgeoning Christmas shopping crowds than to duck in for a wee pint of heaven?

Grade: A+

Iron Springs Brewery — Black Magic Rye P.A. — 8%
Now this is a pint of different color—OK, it’s actually the same color (blacker than black) as the Mocha Porter, and the tight head, although a third as thick, does look a little milkshakey, but that where the similarity ends.

The nose the Black Magic Rye P.A. throws is all hops: Simcoe, Citra, and Amarillo all up front and heady. I went into this one blind, but upon first sip, I realized I was drinking the thickest, toastiest, Black IPA I had ever tasted. Iron Springs uses 100 pounds of chocolate rye malt per batch, and that roasted character anchors the high IBUs very nicely.

This is a new one on the big board, and I hope it sticks around a long time.

Grade: A

Boulder Beer Company — Kinda Blue Blueberry Wheat Beer — 5.5%

This refreshing example from the oft maligned “fruit and vegetable” category turned out to be just the ticket for a warm late-summer evening out on the porch. Boulder Beer’s Kinda Blue pours a perfect golden color shining from within like a cursed ancient Egyptian death mask. Hyperbole? Perhaps … and considering that this brew is built around an American wheat, I normally would like to see less clarity—since I like my wheat beers unfiltered—but damn, it is pretty.

The best part of this brew is the bouquet it throws. Blueberries are present, but not overwhelming or cloying. The hop profile makes itself known up front—yet upon tasting, it strikes a perfect balance with the grain bill.

All-in-all, Kinda Blue is a nice mellow American wheat with natural blueberry goodness. Points off for being filtered, though.

Grade: B

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. — Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale — 5.5%

Sierra Nevada has made some interesting choices over the last year or so. I kind of understood their decision to trade the delicious E.S.B. (Early Spring Beer) for their Glissade Golden Bock (which taught me once and for all that I do not like bocks); perhaps bocks are underrepresented when considered against the bitter and they wanted to branch out and turn people onto what Germans drink while dancing around the maypole. Whatever.

The latest favorite to be benched was their incredible Anniversary Ale. Sierra made the case that they were swimming in hoppy beers; Torpedo, Chico Estate Harvest, Northern Hemisphere Harvest, Southern Hemisphere Harvest … OK, I get their point. Once again, however, an old favorite has been replaced by … well, meh.

I vaguely remember Sierra putting out a brown a few years back, and come to think of it, I haven’t seen it around. Stepping into the breach, Tumbler fills that niche solidly, but not spectacularly. It pours, as you might imagine, a nice autumn brown with good head retention and decent lacing.

Upon first smell, I get some harsh mineral notes that obscure the hop profile and the roasted malt. On first sip, though, it’s all good. This is a textbook brown, no more, no less. The requisite toffee and chocolate notes are there, and there is a slight grassy hop finish. The Tumbler’s body is a little thin, perhaps the coach has it doing too much time on the mat.

With some real outstanding American-style browns on the market these days (I’m thinking Lost Coast’s Downtown Brown, Bear Republic’s Pete’s Brown, Big Sky’s Moose Drool), Sierra really had to distinguish itself here with something special … and didn’t.

Grade: C+

Maui Brewing Company — CoCoNut Porter — 5.7%

A Taste of the Islands #12
… and now for dessert! To fill out the Monkey’s half-rack of island brews, what better than Maui’s sweet, dark, and delicious Coconut Porter?

The CoCoNut pours a dark chocolate brown with a mocha colored head that takes its sweet time to fade to lace. There’s a nose of toasted coconut, vanilla, and cold coffee. It almost smells like an Almond Joy tastes.

On first sip, the roasted malt profile dominates but leaves room for a chocolate hit and a really smooth hop finish. This beer has great body and mouthfeel like black velvet (like the paintings, not the whiskey).

This one is all about the balance—and Almond Joy. That’s it in a (coco) nutshell: balance and candy, just like life.

Grade: A-

The recap:
Waimea Brewing Company—Pakala Porter—4.9% Grade: A+

#10 Waimea Brewing Company—Uli Uli Brown—3.8% Grade: B+

#9 Waimea Brewing Company—Captain Cook’s IPA—5.4% Grade: A+

#8 Waimea Brewing Company—NaPali Pale Ale—5.4% Grade: A-

#7 Mehana Brewing Company—Volcano Red Ale—5% Grade: C+

#6 Hawai‘i Nui Brewing—Sunset Amber Ale—5.4% Grade: B+

#5 Waimea Brewing Company—West Side Wheat—4.5% Grade: B-

#4 Waimea Brewing Company—The Fonz IPA—5.8% Grade: A

#3 Waimea Brewing Company—Cane Fire Red—6.3% Grade: A-

#2 Maui Brewing Company—Big Swell IPA—6.2% Grade: A-

#1 Kona Brewing Company—Limited Release Wailua Wheat—5.4% Grade: C+

MacTarnahan’s Brewing Company — Summer Grifter — 6.2%

Like the name says, this beer is only drifting though town hoping to pull a couple of marks. Come the end of August, it will be gone, and so will a big chunk of your cash.

This limited edition IPA pours a tangerine-tinged gold and throws a surprisingly malt-forward nose complimented with citrus notes. Upon first sip, the malt profile holds your attention as the hops (Chinook, CTZ, Cascade, and Centennial) sneak in the back, quietly.

At a mere 54 IBUs, I would have called this an American Pale Ale; it’s not what I expected for the style, but I found myself warming to this mongrel. With so many West Coast IPAs vying to each be hoppier than the last, the Grifter is a refreshing change of … God damn it! Where’s my wallet?

Grade: B

Waimea Brewing Company — Pakala Porter — 4.9%

A Taste of the Islands #11
This porter is the darkest beer brewed at Waimea, and how gloriously dark it is! The Pakala Porter pours as black as a night out on the Kaua‘i sand under nothing but stars. The Pakala’s quarter-inch head quickly reduces leaving some lacing behind, but on a night like this, au natural is what’s really called for.

Moving in close, the Pakala offers up a strong coffee/roasted malt fragrance and invites the first sip. Taking the initiative, I raise the pint to my lips and let the initial hop bitterness wash over my tongue. This brew deserves more that a brief flirtation; to be appreciated, it is to be savored.

The immediate brashness of the hop profile soon gives way to a decadent dark chocolate aftertaste with a bit of espresso/burnt toast hinting at this porter’s English roots.

The aggressive mouthfeel of the Pakala demands attention, and for those daring enough to ride it out, this beer tastes better the longer it is on the tongue.

Grade: A+

Waimea Brewing Company — Uli Uli Brown — 3.8%

A Taste of the Islands #10
’Uli ’Uli are brightly colored feather gourds used in hula dancing, a curious name for Waimea’s take on a traditional English brown ale. The Uli Uli pours with very little head or lacing and is, as you might expect, brown.

A subtle coffee aroma foreshadows a strong roasted malt taste with a slight hop finish, but not enough to make it bitter or to knock this beer into the West Coast style. Light carbonation and a luxurious mouthfeel place this brown right in the pocket for an English Dark Mild.

A great starter for exploring the darker range of Waimea’s brews, or a decent session beer for a change from the island’s proliferation of lagers.

Grade: B+