A Sommelier’s Brewing Love Of Beer

My wife noticed that I have been drinking more beer lately. I know that the name of this column is Vino Sense and that I usually write about wine, but I will take a little creative license to include another tasty and refreshing beverage – beer.

There’s a good reason why I have been drinking a lot of beer lately. There are some really fabulous craft beers popping up on shelves in Hawaii – the likes of which have caught the palate of yours truly.


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This Big Island Brewhaus Belgian-style ale has tons of fruity notes

If you have not noticed that craft beers have experienced a huge swell of popularity and growth over the past few years, just take a look at your local fine grocery store and you will see a much larger selection of beers than ever.

There are a number of reasons for this. I think that, generally, the idea of craft beers made in smaller batches by the hands of passionate brewers means quality. Along with this, the limited production gives a sense of cachet and the drinker a sense of being cool and fashionable. These ideas run antithetical to big brewers’ beers made in huge production plants.

Drinkers, much like foodies, also want to know what is in the bottle that will go into your body. Craft beers are seen as being more natural, artisan and less manipulated. And let’s face it: Spending even $10 on a bottle of beer is a lot easier to palate (pun intended) than a $50 or $100 bottle of wine, if you are just trying something for the first time.

But enough of the why, let’s get to what. There are two breweries whose beers I have fallen in love with, one from afar, and one quite near.

The first one is Clown Shoes from Ipswich, Mass. The labels are just downright cool with super cheeky and fun artwork featuring beers such as Chocolate Sombrero Mexican Style Chocolate Stout, described on the label as “Roasted dark malts plus extra chocolate malts plus ancho chile plus cinnamon plus vanilla extract plus a chocolate-loving, beer-drinking, Clown Shoes-wearing, multi-limbed, gorgeous and glorious Mexican wrestler on the label. That’s the recipe for a Chocolate Sombrero!” Or the Vampire Slayer Smoked Imperial Stout (I could have used this last week at Halloween). On the label it reads, “In a world full of uncertainty, hardship and people trying to hold us back, do we need Vampires, too? Clown Shoes says, ‘No! Die, monsters, die!’ Our second anniversary ale incorporates signature dark malts, holy water, and malt smoked locally with hickory, ash and vampire-killing stakes.”

My favorite of them has to be the Blaecorn Unidragon Russian Imperial Stout. The label says it all: “What should we call our Russian Imperial Stout? Black Unicorn? Soul Dragon? Nahhh. Let’s combine them and create the ultimate mythical creature: Blaecorn Unidragon! Imbued with a monstrous amount of dark malt and aggressive hops, Blaecorn Unidragon is a powerful and complex brew designed to improve with age.” This is one of the most complex beers available. It combines a caramel, smoky richness with a smooth, almost velvety texture. Notes of cocoa and mocha punctuate a full and lasting aftertaste. These brews back up their great labels with all the flavor a craft beer drinker could ask for.

The other brewery is in in Kamuela: Big Island Brewhaus. I have to blow the horn for it, because I don’t think many people know that it was one of the Top 10 breweries at this year’s U.S. Open Beer Championships. Out of more than 2,500 beers from more than 100 breweries and home brewers from around the world, with judges from England, U.S. and Canada, Big Island Brewhaus placed No. 5! An amazing feat for our local brewery at 2,764 feet above sea level. If you get the opportunity to visit, you must have a meal at its Mexican-style cantina and revel in the dozen or so different types of beer it brews. My two favorites that are available in stores are Golden Sabbath Ale and White Mountain Porter. Golden Sabbath is Belgian-style with a golden color. It has tons of fruity notes, like pitted yellow and red orchard fruit, but it is not sweet. It has a lightly spicy and even nutty note with a moderate bitterness. It is full-bodied but still extremely refreshing.

The porter is even spicier and laced with “all-natural toasted coconut and award-winning, locally grown and roasted Hamakua Coast White Mountain Coffee.” You would think, when reading the ingredients, that it would be really confected and strong, but they are more like accents and do not dominate the purity of the beer. It does offer some cocoa notes, and the texture is quite sexy, silky even. I had both on my last trip to the Big Island.

As a wine lover, I admit that there are few things that are as refreshing as a great beer. And like my penchant for wines with great flavor, my beer must have the same. Cheers.