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Other Letters From America

Xmas Comes Early in Long Beach


Thursday 13th December 2001.

Having moved to the US in September 2001, come mid-October I moved from my temporary digs near LAX to an Apartment in Long Beach, and area which (rents allowing) I hope to stay in for at least the next couple of years. My Apartment is on Long Beach Boulevard, which runs the length of the Beachfront in Long Beach, and so entertainment is never far away. There are many restaurants, several good bars, countless tourist attractions, but more importantly at least three microbreweries. One of which is the nearby Rock Bottom Brewery located on the corner of Long Beach Boulevard and Pine Avenue.

I had actually been on two, or three, previous occasions, but had been driving so I had not had much chance to sample all of their beers. So it was with great anticipation that I signed up to attend the Christmas Beer Tasting Night, hosted by the amiable and very knowledgeable Head Brewer, Chris Boggess, of “Bogfu” as he is sometimes referred to.

It started at 7.00pm, and I was ably accompanied by Katrina, a ‘non-beer’ drinker and colleague from Work, who came along for the night. We were both immediately greeted with adhesive nametags and led to an outside covered drinking area on the Sidewalk with about 20 other people. Drinking outside in mid-December, at night! - Only in Southern California. I knew it was going to be a good night if we had to wear adhesive nametags, presumably the potential that we may forget our names was going to be high.

No sooner had we sat down at a Table complete with several clean sampling glasses and a jug of iced water, then we were presented with a 750ml bottle of Affligem Noel. A 9% ABV beer from the De Smedt Brewery in Opwijk, Belgium. This was to set the tone for the rest of the night. Noel Christmas Ale is a mildly sweet bitter beer with some faint chocolate aftertaste. It had a wonderful gentle warming finish. This would actually turn out to be the nights’ favourite beer for both of us.

Having arrived a little late, but missed nothing, no sooner had we poured the first beer, I spotted in my peripheral vision that the next box to be opened was festooned with familiar looking Pink Elephants. This could only mean another Belgium Beer, this time from the Hughye Brewery. Delirium Noel, another hefty beer weighing in at 10% ABV, and one that I had not sampled before. This was a more powerful tasting beer, highly alcoholic with a yeasty taste. Opinions on the Hughye Brewery vary between Belgium Beer lovers, but I think Tim Webb sums up the brewery neatly in Edition 3 of his Belgium Good Beer Guide. I was somewhat disappointed by the Noel -  but as an aficionado of Delirium Tremens, this was probably not surprising. The beer had no real character of its own, and I would not be surprised if the darker Noel was another  “tweaked” beer that Hughye are famous for producing.

The third beer to hit the steel mesh table tops was Corsendonk Christmas Ale, labelled in 6 languages in a colourful steel tube – clearly aimed for the marketplace as a liquid Xmas present. This beer was labelled as from the Brewery Corsendonk, B-2380, Oud-Tournhout. I know that these beers have been contract brewed in the past, e.g. Corsendonk Agnus at Du Bocq, etc. but this appeared to be from somewhere else. Allegedly first brewed in 1998, the beer was 8.5% ABV, dark and rich, with hints of chocolate and spices in the nose. A smooth beer that didn’t disappoint, but I felt that it maybe improves with age. Probably best after 12-18 months.

Then at last, we had chance to try some domestic Xmas offerings, starting with Santa’s Private Reserve Ale from Rogue Ales, Newport, Oregon. Strength of the beer was initially very difficult to determine, as annoyingly bottled beer in the USA very rarely appears to be labelled with any indication of strength. Santa’s Private Reserve Ale came in a painted brown glass bottle – which was quickly snaffled by a couple of the samplers. It was labelled as; 13 Degrees Plato, 44 IBV, 73.1 AA, 26.75 Degrees L. Different !. I guess it was about  6.0% ABV. The beer was quite acceptable and described as “A reddish copper coloured beer with a roasty, malt flavour and a hoppy finish.” A description which nicely sums it up. Interestingly, the beer used Chinook and Centennial Hops.

Most people had three or four sampling glasses, so the iced water was now being used by many of the tasters for washing out their used sampling glasses and palates. The next beer was soon to follow, Wintertime Ale from the North Coast Brewing Company, Mendocino County. Again strength was indeterminable from the beer label and unknown. Further research suggests it was around 7%, but this was never confirmed on the night. This was a very unusual tasting beer, but it was hard to say if it was the pace of drinking that ‘slighted’ the palate at this stage, or not.

 Then came a period of calm, before the storm. A chance to top up on some much needed snacks, or appetisers as they are called here. The staff had laid our some Cheeses, Crackers and as assortment of freshly cut carrot sticks, etc. A nice touch. On entry we had both been given a red ticket each. An impromptu raffle of various items, mainly Beer Glasses ensued. As there appeared to be more prizes than tickets, it appeared as though we couldn’t lose. Katrina, who had never drank much Belgium Beer before, began to collate an incredibly vast array of Glasses, including at least One Birra Moretti and Three Erdinger Weissbeer Glasses to my memory. 

Then came the finale, Samiclaus. Currently now 14% ABV, a lower gravity than in its heyday. This really is an exceptionally powerful tasting beer, which to me what appeared to have strong  ‘whisky’ tastes overtones in the aftertaste. A true sipping beer. 

Later, after the official sampling I had chance to speak to the Brewer Chris, and a couple of other “beer-nut” locals - who joined me and Katrina for a beer, like we needed more!. It was soon apparent that we were both beer lovers and many stories of beer drinking were swapped. Later, Chris produced two of his own beers. At this point it does start to get a little hazy, I know for sure, for the next day I noticed that my notes had started to deteriorate rapidly at this point into an illegible middle-eastern language that hadn’t been used for over a 1000 Years !!.

Several Pitchers of Old Nix at 8.5% ABV arrived. This is the Christmas offering from RBB, and a gorgeous strong ale, very much in the mould of an English Xmas Ale brewed to battle the cold nights for that long walk home from the Pub. Interestingly the second beer produced arrived in a brown glass swing-top bottle. This was a Trippel style beer, a hazy looking golden beer – although by this point almost everything was starting to get hazy. I recollect a fruity tasty, strong, golden coloured beer. This beer had not gone on sale at the time of tasting, so I hope to appreciate it again later.

The session was planned to wrap up at about 9.00pm. Needless to say it was around Midnight by the time we left, both suitably oiled and warmed by both the beers and the friendliness of the establishment, fellow drinkers, staff and especially the brewer, Chris. It was a surprise to me that Katrina, who by this point was probably the only one who understood my Slurred English accent, actually enjoyed several of the stronger Belgium Beers. As a non-beer drinker I felt it my duty to introduce her to some good beer. English Dry Cider, which is hard to find here, remains her preference though. Hmmm, Have to introduce her to Cantillon Geueze at some point!!

I recommend that anyone out this way from the UK, at least visit this establishment. I like to make my own mind up, and I am a strong believer in not telling people where to go, so put it on your “To-Try” list and discover it for yourself.  

The night cost about $16 per person, but considering the quality, and quantity!, of beer that we had drunk, it was serious value for money. It was also very good to meet the people behind the Brewery.  

Other sampling nights are planned in the near future, and I for one will have my name down early for these. 

Further details on the Rock Bottom Brewery and Restaurant can be found on their Website at;

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