Pizza Port Tap Takeover @ Cask

Here’s my terrible confession about the Pizza Port Tap Takeover at Cask Pub & Kitchen recently: I was a bit disappointed. The service at Cask, normally excellent, was a bit spotty on the night – at one point I saw four staff members walking about behind the bar, not one of them taking orders, from me or anyone else. In their defense, the place was busier than usual. So there was that. Then there was the beer. Pizza Port has been getting a lot of hype in Europe recently – but if you look at RateBeer (as a yardstick, not the final word), Pizza Port actually has relatively few top-ranked beer these days. Most that reach our shores come from the Carlsbad branch (Pizza Port is a brewpub/restaurant “chain” of sorts with four locations in Southern California) but if I got it correctly there was also a few from one of the other branch available, not sure which one. Anyway – I don’t think they’re as hyped in the US as they actually are here. And I don’t think they’ve actually earned that hype either.

Now, before you think the night was a total washout, I better get into the beers. I sampled six of the ten brews available and it’s entirely possible that I missed the real highlights of the evening – but I still did have two standout beers and three so-so ones and one downright bad one. Let’s start with the good things first: Coffee Monster (Imperial Coffee Stout, ABV 9.3) was a textbook coffee stout, strong lovely dark roast flavors with hints of cocoa, and as you drank it the caramel notes became more evident – yet the beer retained a dry roast finish throughout. 4/5. And Whambo IPA (IPA, ABV 7.8) was a big American IPA in classic US (I would even be specific and say San Diego) style: totally hop forward with lots of citrus, pine and floral notes, with enough malt to carry it but not intrude at all – the relatively high ABV was very well hidden. 4+/5. Whambo’s bigger cousin Noserider DIPA (DIPA, ABV 8.2) was very similar but failed to hide the alcohol (0.4 ABV makes a big difference, apparently) resulting in some sharp boozy notes next to the big hop aromas which took away a bit from the final result. 3/5 and a clear example that bigger isn’t always better when it comes to IPAs.

Revelations

Pizza Port’s entries in the Belgian style catalogue were pretty meh. Dubbelicious (Belgian Dubbel, ABV 7.0) is a Belgian Dubbel brewed with a lot (60 kilo) of raisins – yet the raisin notes failed almost entirely to appear except at the very end, and then only very little: some raisin, some dried fruit, some grape skin flavour, but not much. It was full-bodied, I’ll give it that, but overall I’d say any Trappist dubbel has it beat. 2+/5. Revelations (Belgian Strong Ale/Trippel, ABV 8.0) is reported to have won awards and it was nice enough, clearly better than the Dubbelicious with a solid, full body and good mouthfeel and all Belgian style-typical flavours present and accounted for: banana, cloves, caramel, toffee, and so on. Still, in my mind nothing really set it apart from most of the original offerings in the genre – by no means bad, just … uninteresting.

Night Rider Bourbon Barrel Aged (Imperial Stout, ABV 11.0) was a big disappointment. I love imperial stouts, I love barrel-aged beers, and imperial stout is really the style for barrel-aging: the big flavours can be both enhanced and mellowed by barrel-aging, making a complex beer even more multi-faceted. This, however, requires some skill as the trick is to get the flavours to work together, making sure that the barrel characteristics do not take over, and so on. But this was the first beer of the type I’ve tasted where barrel aging actually seemed to make it worse: the brew was unapologeticaly sharp and boozy and the flavours (coffee, tar, caramel, marshmallows, licqorice) clashed rather than complementing each other. The sweetish flavours just felt weird when coming up against the again rather sharp bitter coffee and licqorice flavours. 1/5. Am I completely off-base here? Did anyone else have the same experience? Maybe it was a bad keg or I got the end of it somehow. Or maybe it is actually an over-hyped beer that’s just not that good? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

After having tried a few Pizza Port beers (I also had a couple at the Craft Beer Co’s anniversary party), my assessment would be that it is a solid brewery with some really good brews, but overall not very stand-out. I certainly will not seek Pizza Port beers out in the same way that I would seek out, say, Cigar City, Westbrook or Farmer’s Cabinet beers. And finally, not to be too negative, I really like that Cask (and other places) do things like this, i.e. tap takeovers featuring beers and breweries rarely seen in the UK. I value the chance to try this stuff, even if it turns out I don’t always like it…

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Posted on July 11, 2012, in Event and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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