California: 38 Degrees and More Beer Reviews

I had the afternoon off yesterday, so I took it as an opportunity to check out a bar in a neighboring town.  When I asked for bar suggestions on Beer Advocate, one that came up was 38 Degrees in Alhambra, about 5 miles south of Pasadena.  I called them prior to driving down there to find out about the parking situation and the girl who answered the phone was very friendly and helpful. Outside the bar

The place was mostly empty when I went in (it was about 3pm) so I easily got a seat at the bar.  I was greeted by the bar tender and immediately handed a beer menu.  After perusing the list I selected Big Sky Brewing’s Moose Drool American Brown Ale and ordered myself a Cobb salad for lunch.  I learned that 3-7pm was their happy hour, and non-limited micro drafts were $2 off so this would be the most reasonably priced beer I’d purchase this whole week.Big Sky Moose Drool

Big Sky is not a California Brewery, but as far as I know they aren’t available in PA.  Moose Drool is one of the top examples of American Brown Ale, so I definitely wanted to give it a shot.  The pint had a beautiful dark mahogany color with a thick off-white head.  It smelled very malty, with a definite chocolate malt presence and just a touch of hops (not enough for me to discern variety).  The flavor had a smack of hop character with a very light bitterness to keep things balanced and a rich, full malt flavor with a lot of breadiness and toastiness from Munich malt.  There were also some roasty chocolate flavors for good measure, as well.  It finished dry and made me want another sip, but with just a bit too much carbonation in my opinion.  I can see why this is considered one of the finest examples of a less hop forward version of the style.  4.5/5.0 Alesmith My Bloody Valentine

Alesmith beers sometimes find their way into PA but they are certainly not common, especially their seasonals.  I ordered a 4.5oz sampler of their My Bloody Valentine, a hoppy American red ale (which is also released for Halloween as Evil Dead Red).  This turned out to be quite a tasty beer and the bartender didn’t charge me for it, which makes it taste that much better.  Red color is pretty hard to get in to a beer, but Alesmith did a pretty good job with this one.  There is a light tan head which sits atop a nice brown and ruby body.  The aroma is predominantly of fruity Centennial hops, with a bit of peach from some Amarillo.  The malt underlying the hops is apparent…even with this much hop character, this is still going to be a malty beer.  The Amarillo is lost in the flavor with the Centennials taking center stage.  There is a caramel malt sweetness with a restrained bitterness that allows it to shine through.  4.0/5.0 Deschutes Abyss

One of the biggest West Coast breweries is Deschutes and it’s unfortunate that their beers can’t be found too far East.  I was incredibly happy to see Abyss on tap, because it was supposed to be an exceptional beer.

This beer is jet black with a thin cap of dark brown foam on top which leaves some of the best lacing I’ve ever seen.  When it was first served to me it was a bit too cold, and the smell was a bit subdued – it actually smelled a lot like Oskar Blues Ten Fidy.  Once it warmed up, however, there was an obscene amount of roast character with some oak in the background with some dark chocolate and coffee.  The flavor is a neck and neck battle between sweet and bitter.  The bitterness is both in part from hops as well as from the ridiculous amount of roasted grains and the sweetness is just from the residual sugars left from fermentation – I don’t get any caramel character.  There is an oaky astringency that plays well with the tannins from the roasted malts and the finish tastes entirely of dark cocoa powder.  A beer that is simply a tribute to the glory of dark malts…amazing.  5.0/5.0

Overall, this bar was awesome and can stand up to some of the best that I’ve been to.  The staff was really friendly, the food was good, and the beer selection top notch.  I’m glad I took the short drive to get here, because it resulted in the best venue of my trip in addition to what will probably be one of the best beers I’ve ever had.

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