California: First Impressions and Beer/Venue Review

My flight to California was hot, but uneventful.  I was fortunate enough to arrive right at the start of rush hour, so it took me 90 minutes to go 25 miles to my motel, not as bad as I was expecting but still annoying.  Something I had to look forward to, however, was the fact that where I’m staying is only 2 blocks from one of the beer bars I wanted to check out while here – Lucky Baldwin’s Trappist Cafe.

After dinner at In-n-Out (semi-overrated), I was full and didn’t feel like going to drink beer.  I decided that I’d call them to find out what they had on tap, before committing myself to going there.  The first beer that the bartender listed was Russian River Pliny the Elder, I stopped her right there and put my shoes on. Outside Lucky Baldwin's

I walked up to Lucky Baldwins and I really liked the look of the place.  The doors were wide open to let in the cool night air (it was in the low 50’s, Californians apparently deem this cold enough to wear coats and scarves).  From what I had read online, this place didn’t have many taps so I was surprised when I saw a big line of handles when I came in. Tap Handles

There are actually two bars in Pasadena with the name Lucky Baldwin’s, however the one I visited is more focused toward Belgian beers (as witnessed by the word Trappist in the name).  I was a little disappointed to only see a few Californian beers on the lineup, most of which I can easily obtain back home.  The place had very few bar seats, which is really the only thing I can fault the place for.

One of the great things about living in Pennsylvania, one of the best beer states in the country, is that we’re a bit spoiled when it comes to the beers we can get.  I didn’t look twice at any of the Belgians on the menu, even though some of them are fairly rare in the grand scheme of things.  To add on top of that, PA is the only state on the East Coast that can get Russian River beers so I’ve had the pleasure of trying Pliny before, but never nearly as fresh as here: Pliny the Elder

The pour from the bartender was pretty shoddy, with no head as you can see by the picture.  Even without the head to bring out the aromatics of the beer, the nose had a huge punch of hop character full of apricot, pine, and grapefruit.  The flavor had all of the above in full force with almost no malt to speak of.  It finished dry with an appropriate carbonation and a slight bit of onion character from the Simcoe hops.  5.0/5.0 RR Blind Pig IPA

I then saw on the list that they had something listed as Russian River IPA.  As it turned out, much to my disappointment, it was not actually RR IPA but Blind Pig.  When fresh, I might actually like Blind Pig a bit better than Pliny, but I couldn’t say 100% as I haven’t had it in a  while.  I ordered one anyway and I was further upset to find out that it was a bit old.  I think next to Pliny, this probably gets ordered far less, and thus has a slower turnover rate.

There’s a bit of citrus and apricot in the aroma, but the hoppiness is marginal at best with a dash of malt.  The taste is mostly malt dominated with a light amount of hop flavor and bitterness.  It finishes somewhat dry, with a medium body that is probably my favorite part of the beer.  3.0/5.0Old RasputinTo finish things off I ordered an Old Rasputin from North Coast.  I’ve had it before and would not have normally ordered it, but it was being served on nitro.  I’m kind of a sucker for beers served this way, with one of my favorite beers being a nitro pumpkin ale.  The beer comes to me looking as beautiful as only a cascading nitro pour can be.  Pitch black with a light brown creamy head that is very inviting.  I have to be a little lenient on the aroma because some is lost when a beer is served via nitrogen.  All I can discern is roasted malts with a slight licorice edge.  The flavor is somewhat muted with burnt malt, chocolate, and a slight metallic flavor.  The nitrogen thins out what would normally be a substantial body.  I usually feel that what is lost in putting a beer on nitro is made up for with the creaminess that is imparted.  In the case of Old Rasputin, I really would stick to drinking it with normal CO2.  While tasty, not as good as the original.  3.5/5.0


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