Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Breaking the Chain

I need to say up front that I am not a big fan of chain restaurants, or chain breweries. I've been to a number of them up and down the west coast. I won't be calling any out here, that's not a goal of mine. However, I would like to take a few moments to focus on a good example of a chain brewery - BJ's.

I am not sure how many locations BJ's has in the US, but in our neck of the woods (NorCal) there are a handful of locations, but only one brewery (located in Roseville). Their standard lineup of brews is pretty standard - a light beer, a pale ale, hefe, red, brunette, porter and stout. I don't have anything against these beers, but they're also not the reason I go to BJ's. Instead, I go for their specialty beers, and this week in particular I went to check out their newly tapped Juniper Rye - both on tap and on cask. While there I also sampled their seasonal Maibock, their ESB and IPA.

Following are my disjointed thoughts regarding these specialty brews.

Juniper Rye
Brewer: Andy Armstrong, head brewer of the Roseville location
Availability: Roseville and perhaps a few Sacramento area locations

Appearance: Deep golden color, great clarity and an absolutely amazing creamy head with a long lasting retention.
Aroma: The Juniper Berries really came through clean and clear, yet not overpowering, allowing for some peppery hop notes to come through. Malts came across somewhat biscuity, but was light overall. A beautiful aroma.
Taste: A beautifully balanced beer through and through, with moderate sweetness and mild tartness. The sweetness appeared to be slightly caramalized with a light roasted character. The Juniper Berries, again, served to accent the beers overall flavor and not at all overpowering. The beer finished slightly dry with a nice lingering mild bitterness, highlighted by a mild juniper aftertaste.
Body: This is one of the beers greatest attributes. Creamy, full-bodied, but served slightly over-carbonated for my tastes - I repoured it into an empty pint glass to cut out some of that CO2.

Overall this was a fantastic beer, worth seeking out. Andy has proven once again he's more than a talented musician or production brewer. It's great to see a bit of his passion for beer show in this unique, flavorful beer. I must admit, I am already curious to see what Andy has planned next and I hope the good people of my region make their way to BJ's to sample this Juniper Rye.

Without going into much detail, their IPA, ESB and Maibock were all masterfully brewed. The Maibock seemingly perfect for a warm Spring evening. The ESB, while lacking the hardness I expect in the style, wasn't pulling any punches in the hopping - assertive and clean. Then, of course, is the IPA, which was aggressively hopped with fresh American hops, lending to the beer's overall aroma, flavor and bitterness - much more than you'd expect from your typical chain brewery.

Which leads me to this post. From my experience, it is clearly an uncommon find when you discover a brewery with the high-gloss finish you see in each BJ's location serving up beers full of flavor, big in body and worth the trip to find them fresh on tap. It is a beautiful thing seeing a beautiful brewery inside a restaurant - even better when that brewery shows it's ability to brew top-notch beers as they do in Roseville. If you're in NorCal, check them out online and see if you can't find your way to one of their locations.

- Rick
About BJ's
  • According to Brewers Association, BJ's ranks #38 for largest breweries in the US - based on 2006 sales - just above Gordon Biersch and McMenamin's.
  • Their beers are sold in 1/2 gallon growlers for take-out
  • Seasonals and one-off beers most common at locations with breweries on-site.
  • Andy Armstrong came to Roseville from their Jantzen Beach location
  • The regional manager for NorCal is David "Puffy" Mathis, and that man has a palate to be proud of - I was able to judge with the man last year and he was sharp in his assessments. Incredible.
  • The bartenders in Roseville are among the best around when it comes to service - sadly the staff's overall beer-knowledge is lacking. Sad only because it's a brewery.
  • Southern California locations (Brea and Woodland Hills) has monthly beer appreciation nights that are worth attending - why they don't do them in my area is simply beyond me.
  • Oh, they almost always have some hard-to-find guest taps at the Roseville location. Right now they are pouring the Sierra Nevada Kolsch, Beermann's, Guinness, Lindemann's.
  • Find them online at