Monday, December 31, 2012

[An Avenue]'s Best 101 Tracks of 2012

This isn't a beer post.  This post, it's not about beer.

What it is about, is beer's best mate, for there is nary a better time to consume heavily than in the supportive embrace of music.  Its a daily tradition at the offices of [AA] to consummate this bond between beer and tunes every night in large doses by regulation of the Canon Law of St. Augustine the Blessed.  And it gives us something to ruminate about besides the trillionth discussion on hops or farmhouse ales.

Then, at the end of the year, we try to make some ordinal sense of it all.

This is list season!  Oh, how its powers are untold!

Best of!  Top 10!  Editors choice!  Pee drinkers on the internet box offering humorously disturbing reader picks!  I don't care who you are, lists are just addictive by nature.  Our brains love organizational outcomes, neatly packaged next to ascending numerals and made to create order amidst chaos. Who amongst us doesn't love poring over the subjective opinions of total strangers in a manner that makes you fume and writhe when the author isn't even answering the fucking question correctly?

The answer is: none of us.

If somebody in my general proximity is in need of immediate or urgent assistance, they had better hope I didn't just start reading a list of rankings pertaining to just about anything -- food trailers, liberal arts colleges, Bollywood actors under 3 feet, whatever -- because it is an unnatural act to quit on a list before reaching  climax.  Lists are brain sex!  But because there is very little intimacy between the author and the reader, its like college brain sex!  The quickies of the literary world.

Unfortunately for you, pal, this list goes to 101 -- so I'm gonna take my time here and have you think about NBA scoring leaders since 1965.  I think it will be worth your time getting to know it, in an "Oh no, I love you" sort of way, especially because I don't patronize you by ranking anything to do with Jack White or Tame Impala, since I tend not to habituate with utter shit.

Sure, it might not be great, but there's a lot of it.

The 8th Annual [An Avenue] Best 101 (v. 2012)

101  All Wash Out | Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
100  Seven Stars | Air
099  Apocalypse Dreams | Tame Impala
098  Do Ya Thing | Gorillaz ft Andre 3000 and James Murphy
097  Heavy Metal | White Rabbits
096  Let's Go | Matt & Kim
095  October | The Helio Sequence
094  Rembihnútur | Sigur Rós
093  Without You | Lana Del Rey
092  Breakdown | Gary Clark Jr.
091  Angels | The XX
090  Primitive Girl | M. Ward

089  Sisterly | Fang Island
088  The House that Heaven Built | Japandroids
087  Noir Blues to Tinnitus | Of Montreal
086  Old Friend | Sea Wolf
085  Fate | Young Man
084  What The Eyeballs Did | Atoms For Peace
083  Under the Westway | Blur
082  Serpents | Sharon Van Etten
081  How Long Have You Known? | DIIV
080  Youth Is Wasted On The Young |  Young Galaxy

079  Baby | Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
078  Fingers Never Bleed | Yeasayer
077  Friends of Friends | Hospitality
076  Spiteful Intervention | Of Montreal
075  Would That Not Be Nice | Divine Fits
074  Octopus | Bloc Party
073  Enjoy Yourself | The Dandy Warhols
072  Petoskey Stone | Dana Falconberry
071  Sweet Life | Frank Ocean
070  Madness | Muse

069  Ruin | Cat Power
068  Everything's Gonna Be Undone | Band of Horses
067  Pretty Girl From Michigan | The Avett Brothers
066  Desperation Breeds... | Andrew Bird
065  Beatcha | Dinosaur Feathers
064  Empty House | Delta Spirit
063  Stay Gold | The Big Pink
062  Deconstruction | Fanfarlo
061  Sleep Alone | Two Door Cinema Club
060  The One | Kanye West, Big Sean, 2 Chainz & Marsha Ambrosius

059  Let's Go Home | Best Coast
058  1904 | Tallest Man On Earth
057  Parted Ways | Heartless Bastards
056  Lazuli | Beach House
055  Ho Hey | The Lumineers
054  Rubbernecking | The Big Pink
053  Looking Through | Nada Surf
052  Ayla | The Maccabees
051  Sedna | Efterklang

049  Disparate Youth | Santigold
048  Silent My Song | Lykke Li
047  The Wave | Miike Snow
046  This Is Not A Song | Islands
045  I'll Be Alright | Passion Pit
044  Heartbreaker | The Walkmen
043  The Base | Paul Banks
043  Dance For You | Dirty Projectors
042  Applesauce | Animal Collective
041  Motion Sickness | Hot Chip
040  Genesis | Grimes

039  For A Fool | The Shins
038  Call Me Maybe | Carly Rae Jepsen
037  Give It Away | Andrew Bird
036  Flaggin A Ride | Divine Fits
035  I Will Wait | Mumford & Sons
034  Five Seconds | Twin Shadow
033  End Of The Line | Sleigh Bells
032  We Can't Be Beat | The Walkmen
031  Marathon | Heartless Bastards
030  California | Delta Spirit

029  Tuck the Darkness In | Bowerbirds
028  Lucky with Disease | Elbow
027  Nancy from Now On | Father John Misty
026  Lonely Love | Islands
025  Manhattan | Cat Power
024  Kill for Love | Chromatics
023  Brains | Lower Dens
022  Wild | Royal Teeth
021  All Of Me | Tanlines
020  Oblivion | Grimes

019  Take A Walk | Passion Pit
018  God Help This Divorce | Miike Snow
017  Fineshrine | Purity Ring
016  Everything is Embarrasing | Sky Ferreira
015  A Simple Answer | Grizzly Bear
014  Hold On | Alabama Shakes
013  Chum | Earl Sweatshirt
012  We Are Young (ft. Janelle Monae) | Fun.
011  Wild | Beach House

010  Time to Run | Lord Huron
009  Feathers | Fanfarlo
008  Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe | Kendrick Lamar
007  Love Out Of Lust | Lykke Li
006  Pique | Menomena
005  Danse Caribe | Andrew Bird
004  My Better Self  | Tennis
003  Heaven | The Walkmen
002  Impregnable Question | Dirty Projectors
001  Myth | Beach House

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Well-Ordered Enumeration of 2012s Best Beers

The Criteria 

There will probably be some obvious omissions from this list because it's not truly a roster of my favorite beers that I dabbled in during 2012.  Instead, this is a list of my favorite beers that I drank during the calendar year BUT ALSO were brand new to my palate.  That is, if beer was newly minted and released to the public in this year-- or if a beer that had prior distribution, but was previously unavailable to me in some capacity before January, then it was considered for a spot in my top 10 beers of 2012.

Vintages were also left unlisted -- even if recipes were altered from years prior -- so as to eliminate powerhouse verticals, like Sputnik, La Folie, or The Abyss.  That would be a boring list, and would look very similar from year-to-year.

These were the 10 best beers that were sampled by me in 2012 -- typically in the company of my amazing wife and a variety of outstanding pals -- then presented to you all, my internet drinking buddies.

I hope you will have something to comment about, because lists tend to rouse -- so, de-lurk, un-lurk, ex-lurk, whatever.

(note: each listing has the active link for its respective [AA] article.)

The Results

10 | Labyrinth
Uinta Brewing | Salt Lake City, UT
Labyrinth's trademark isn't in the oaking of the beer, nope.  It is Uinta's actual adherence to clever ingredients which ultra-forgiving whiskey casks can't help to elevate: molasses, anise, cocoa, espresso, and yes, the very subtle rye itself.  The result is a sweetly spicy beer that smells like a conversation with your anti-prohibitionist grandfather and a dense gravity that tours and branches through all of your sensory receptors like a stout maze.

New Belgium Brewing | Fort Collins, CO
[The] draught version was crisp and smart and nuanced.  I loved it so much I thought about ordering another one immediately -- which, if you've been drinking with a beer nerd at a venue with a superfluous beer menu, is pretty much as unlikely as catching two homerun balls in consecutive at-bats.

Sun King Brewing | Indianapolis, IN
We set a game plan to blitz the Midwest like Manny Diaz's nickle formation.  Only we didn't get caught in the bubble screen.  We sacked the shit out of it!  Founders, Jolly Pumpkin, Short's, Goose Island, Bell's, North Peak, DESTIHL, Kuhnhenn, and Sun King -- all our bitches.  There were others, but these were the best.  In fact, the highlights of the night -- maybe the entire weekend -- came from this region on this night.  Out of the possible 100-esque beers we sampled, six of my top 10 favorite were brewed by Middle American brewers.

Thirsty Planet Brewing | Austin, TX
While Jittery Monk emphasizes its coffee notes, the brilliance is in the use of a cold-pressed coffee supplied by local roasters Kohana Coffee.  In doing so, the coffee is never introduced to the heat element that tends to drain the flavor of the bean itself.  Instead, the cold-press makes the product far less acrid and presents itself as a naturally sweetened and very noticeably smoother liquid.  With Jittery Monk, that charred bitterness never presents itself, and instead, you are left with a very well-bodied coffee beer that finishes on the palate with a sweet cream and expertly placed hint of smoke, spice, fresh baked bread, malt, and Belgian chocolate.  Its a complex beer without being fussy.  Its clever without being exaggerated. 

Funkwerks | Fort Collins, CO
It is very obvious that the flagship beer of Funkwerks is brimming with pride.  It is very well-executed, satisfying, and thoughtful -- rich and cozy.  The exposition of this saison is that of a brightly-steeped lemon and ginger tea.  Then, there is crisp pear and citric acids exposing shrewd carbonation that boils on your tongue like cauldron spill.  Over-ripened guava, alfalfa hay, pepper and cloves impart before finishing with biscuity malt notes.  This beer was kicking some serious ass. 

Harviestoun Brewing | Alva, Scotland
Ola Dubh is an old ale aged in Highland Park casks that held whisky for 16 years and infused with mystery and magic; Highland Park scotch being a coveted brand amongst devotees.  What is imparted in this dark ale is a smoky-sweet sipper with roasted coffee and chocolate liquor notes.  Its is smooth as a Neil Hannon album-ender, and I probably should have been wearing a nice robe de chambre with turn-up cuffs while enjoying this.  It is a beer rooted in geography, and proper respect was to be paid to commemorate its long endeavor from the awful, Gap-swing-revival influence of the mid-1990s to its final flirt with my palate.  Its migration from Midwest Scotland to Midwest USA is a remarkable range, and it felt like its story was a Robert Burns re-interpreted by Tim Burton.

Hops & Grain Brewing | Austin, TX
If you've ever tried the base beer -- H&G's Baltic Porter -- you would remember that this was already a massively complex beer, with roasted coffee, cocoa, toffee, vanilla, and burnt malts -- but in this iteration, the Baltic Porter was further enhanced by age in Maker's Mark barrels, then imparted with black cherries to add luxurious, muddled Old Fashioned flavor profile.  Altogether, this beer is as graceful as it is playful.

03 | Hopslam
Bell's Brewing | Kalamazoo, MI
However, the Lou Gehrig power-alley slugger of this batting order is Bell's Hopslam.  This beer is supremely capable of snagging Pliny the Ruth's shot-calling glory in the clean-up spot.  Hopslam is the most well-controlled, and thus, well balanced, IPA I've ever had the opportunity to dabble in.  Its BIG hop profile is perfectly reigned in by the syrupy perseverance of its honey addition.  It is both easy drinking and challenging to tackle.

Jester King Brewing | Austin, TX
[Buddha's Brew] is both discretely saccharine and devilishly tart -- a clandestine sour ale with surreptitious balance, it is truly the first recipe from the brewhouse that I felt was under their absolute, expert control.  That is not a jab in any way -- instead, a huge ovation for their practices and tuned technical refinement, since they are most famous for using such highly volatile brewing methods and ingredients.  And that does not even mention the confident use of a monstrously unpredictable focal ingredient, kombucha tea (from Austin's Buddha's Brew, natch), which in and of itself is riddled with wild yeasts, bacteria, and other ferementable variables.  Buddha's Brew was soured and bright and complex, yet deftly clear in focus.  It was refreshing, but worthy of late-evening, fireside enjoyment.  Lemons without insistence on lemonade.  Really, just perfect.

01 | Einhorn
Austin Beerworks | Austin, TX
Einhorn is pound-for-pound, pretty much the best summer beer I've ever tasted -- and that is comparatively assessed against the giants of summertime like Bell's Oberon, Boulevard's Tank 7, 21st Amendment's Hell or High Watermelon Wheat, Dale's Pale Ale, Dogfish Head Festina Peche, and so on.
The immediate tenor of the beer is that it is superbly tart and deftly citrusy -- not in the clumsy way I find most brewers who've rushed a sour to market.  Einhorn had the dextrous finesse of apples, pineapple, citrus, and other subtle palm tree fruit mingling with fancy champagne notes.   It was gentle on the palate and crisp at the bookends of my articulators.  It was sweet without being either sugary or syrupy -- and most importantly, it hit the key characteristic of any worthy summertime ale: cold, bright, and effervescent.

The Conclusion

The overall, 2012 conclusion is this: 40% of the list is made up of Austin brewers.  In my best rah-rah-we-moved-to-Austin-just-before-it-got-too-crowded-and-therefore-we-have-local-opinions-dammit impersonation, this means that 1) There is explicit talent in the local brewing industry within this underrepresented, but blossoming state (and more expected in 2013) 2) There is an identifiable growth in the sheer number of breweries in Texas, and Austin is leading that movement.  3)  40% of the sample size covering dozens of excellent, worthy, and rateable beers are brewed right here in Austin, therefore 4) The best beer in Texas is being brewed right here in the Capitol City.

I think its a fair summation.

Cheers and happy holidays!  Thank-you for reading.  See you in the New Year when the whole process starts over again.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Sputnik Russian Imperial Coffee Oatmeal Stout | Austin Beerworks | Austin, TX

Before we get into the tedious ritual of me exaggerating about another great beer I've been drinking this week, and you ungrateful fuckers not commenting any of them, I felt the need to talk about how spectacular its been discussing micros and craft with you as the first anniversary of [AA] approaches.

Most of the drivel I've rabble-rabbled on about on this site has been largely embraced by the brewing industry, both locally and nationally (sometimes, internationally), and I'm humbly grateful that many of my readers have taken me seriously in regards to a subject I only marginally know about.

I am not a brewer.  I am not a writer.  I am not a sociologist.  I certainly didn't start [AA] to espouse those three ideas together into a prolonged beer discussion about craft culture as it pertains to the art of beer making.  Yet, somehow it became that -- and so it became a stable fusion reaction to honor the greatness of small-brewing in America as a whole; but most especially, to commemorate our local Austin brewers as they stitched the rows of creative yarn into my head through their astonishing talent in brewing.

One brewery (amongst several) whose practice has inspired [AA] verily, is Austin Beerworks -- the gilded and important gentlemen of brewing consequence residing in the northern borough of its eponymous city.  At this point, Austin Beerworks are shit hot, and are outpaced by the city's total frenzy to procure their goods from any gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, taphouse and doghouse.  The fugitive's name is Austin Beerworks, and everyone is out to get 'em -- and this is just for their regular rotational accouterments.  They've given themselves quite a few challenges by simply being so great at what they do.

But when Austin Beerworks decides that the challenges of appeasing Austin's everyday thirst isn't enough, then they brew a seasonal -- because, frankly, who doesn't love a good mania in their city?

Along with their assemblage of leggy Baltic lady scientists wearing lab coats and thickly rimmed glasses (to make them look even more sciency!) who observe the nobs and rods on their state-of-the-art engineering machines, the team at Austin Beerworks has created a beer that makes the most Slavic of Russian imperial stouts seem like lightly-entertaining fluff.

Sputnik is brewed in the Fall to the sounds and sights of John Cafferty's Hearts on Fire and the Rocky IV Siberian training montage (but into the fermenter before the final scene when Rocko SCREEEES Drago and all the geopolitically sensitive Rooskies in the crowd go all 'Merica! 'Merica!).  When its ready to rock-n-roll -- 80s Cold War style -- in the dead of Austin's arctic 80° winter, Sputnik "poosh eet to leemit, every time" because "no pain, no pain".

And if Einhorn is Austin Beerworks' masterpiece, then Sputnik is their manifesto.  It's creed is recited when November dissolves into December, and the Autumnals are replaced by Christmas Ales.

Sputnik is the contradiction to Einhorn's bright and clean summertime exemplar.  It is the baddie villain that strokes a white cat while watching you wonder just what the fuck are you are in for this time around?  Sputnik's Eastern aggression meets our Western ethos right at the mid-line of cultural wintertime joy -- dark roast coffee, coffee liqueur, sweet cream, almonds, and a very subtle milk-foam -- like a Matryoshka nesting doll of complexity and character that fits perfectly together into one vessel.  If this wasn't called beer, it would be called Sunday Brunch in Saint Petersburg, and it would be hanging in the Hermitage.

As the official Christmas post of [AA], I'm imploring you to seek out Sputnik for whatever shenanigans goes on at your family's house on that contrived day; or as a supplement to your lame, paper-plates-and-HEB-cookies contribution at your office holiday luncheon; and yes, even for the intellectually dormant New Years Eve party at the friend's house you've yet to visit in the three years since moving.  It will be the gift that gives. 

ABV 7.9%
Acquired Black Star Co-Op
Can I Find This in Austin? Only on tap, so knock the dust off of those growlers.
Album New Order | Power, Corruption, & Lies (1983), or, you know, John Cafferty.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Bourbon Barrel Aged Baltic Porter on Cherries | Hops & Grain Brewing | Austin, TX

Hops & Grain makes beer for people who like The National and fog.  They are the Pandora of brewing -- suggesting a spectrum of beer that you hardly knew even existed based on a template of shit you already knew you liked.  Their beers make a collective sense -- two perennials in Alt-eration and Pale Dog (with a 3rd regular on its way!) -- and then, a series of small-batch, experimental beers that utilize a filter bubble algorithm, opening the eyes of this city to a brewing philosophy seen mostly in the Northwest and Colorado, but scant in Texas.  All together, its one hell of a playlist.

On a Saturday night, an assembly of beer jury sat in the Casa Del Roble barrel-aging room of Hops & Grain to hear the testimonials of three local artisans representing a range of disciplines, discussing altruistic topics like fermentation in consumables and craft culture in the community.  Those of us in this temporary Saturday guild were treated to the spectrum of Hops & Grain's indie hits -- including the aforementioned base-beers -- Alt-eration and Pale Dog -- but also some of their barrel-aged, barrel-fermented, and otherwise flavor-tripping incarnations, scaffolding the evening like a listening party of High Violet at The Bowery Ballroom.

Though the central thesis of the panel was 'Fermentation in Craft', the yeast in the room rose prominently when the discussion of craft culture came up -- and because of the fundamental brewing theme of the evening -- reached critical reaction during the beer culture interactive.

Beer culture is, in fact, the topical emphasis here at [AA], and it was a delight to watch Joe Mohrfield of Pinthouse Pizza field beer-culture-related questions like Omar Vizquel at an Astros batting practice.  The dude loves to talk about beer, and he does it very well -- a skill surpassed in talent only by his ability to actually make the stuff.

As the dialogue continued between the participants and panel (which also included Simon Perez of Baked in Austin, and the formerly-hidden moderator talent of owner/brewmaster Josh Hare), I thought the most poignant comment of the night was courtesy of remaining panelist Ben Runkle of Salt & Time Salumeria.  When asked to describe how his very-nearly-completed brick & mortar butcher practice fit into the community's overall culture on the East Side of Austin, he responded with an interesting comparison of culture vs. community.  Pardon the pun, but I'll probably butcher Runkle's quote -- so to approximate his statement, Runkle intonated that 'Culture' is where one has been, while 'Community' is where one intends to go.

I thought it was provocative definition of the two buzzterms in that these artisinal niche specialties, like meat cutting and brewing, stem from a common, humble practices, and cannot insert itself into an accepting community until there is objectivity, comradery, accessibility, and collective goals.  Therefore, craft culture becomes less about exclusivity and industry, and more about functionality and exercising one's instinct to dismiss social stratification.

This is how something like craft beer culture is harvested from the Big Beer feudelists and distributed as an economical, social, and societal movement.  This is why craft beer is so insanely popular in The US at the moment, and to an equal degree, places like Grand Rapids, Portland, and Austin.

This is also why people write blogs about shit they can't even do, like the entire staff of one here at [AA].  I am here to merely DJ the hit singles of breweries like Hops & Grain, while being daft and using fashionable grammar to rouse the potential market, because everyone wants to be a small part of the PR machine in their own individual way.  But craft beer is not here to whore it up for Super Bowl ads -- not yet -- because it hasn't emotionally invested in the community of football watching, corn-and-rice beer drinkers just yet.  Let them fully convert the hipsters and the academics first.  But as it stands right now, we are sitting on a huge industry outbreak here in Austin.

And with that, came the nichiest of niches -- the hen's teeth of Hops & Grain's rare one-offs, fermented right here in the room in which we sat -- a Bourbon Barrel Aged Baltic Porter on Cherries.  Its a mouthful to even say, and it only gets more difficult on the second and third samplings.  The fourth request is simply the glassmouth pointed at the tap handle.

Therefore, it is my feeling that this beer should have a much more assertive name, like Laryngeal Kick or Wolf Bear, because this stuff is steady with the badassery yet bristling with indignation.  This beer's slogan should be "because why the fuck not, that's why".  It is that cold blooded.

If you've ever tried the base beer -- H&G's Baltic Porter -- you would remember that this was already a massively complex beer, with roasted coffee, cocoa, toffee, vanilla, and burnt malts -- but in this iteration, the Baltic Porter was further enhanced by age in Maker's Mark barrels, then imparted with black cherries to add luxurious, muddled Old Fashioned flavor profile.  Altogether, this beer is as graceful as it is playful.

You could say that I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life.

ABV ~10.o%
Acquired Hops & Grain tasting room
Can I Find This in Austin? The final keg has been tapped in H&G's tasting room
Album Lord Huron | Lonesome Dreams (2012)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Buddha's Brew American Wild Ale w/ Kombucha | Jester King Brewing | Austin, TX

As the Austin beer colony continues to thrive like the beginnings of a fertile Mesopotamian dynasty, Jester King stands as Hammurabi, governors to technique and style progression, while also bearing their trumpet towards the outside lands; allocating a small inventory to leave the city walls before it is pillaged and plundered by dehydrated locals.

As it stands, our local breweries can only narrowly keep up with our hefty demands for regionalistic Jesus Juice; where our most expeditious brewery, Austin Beerworks, is on a Philippides pace to outgrow last year's production by 400%.  Yes, a FOUR ... with TWO fucking zeros behind it.  Frankly, that's too quick for me to even comprehend.  I would need ESPN to do a Sports Science demonstration, with Chris Johnson as Austin Beerworks and my consumption-soaked gastrointestinal tract as LP Field.

And yet still, over the last year, Austinites cannot be sated with just 19 local breweries and brewpubs, a mere dent to Porland, Oregon's or San Diego's battleships.  But the demand for MORE MORE MORE has shifted to BETTER BETTER BETTER, and those who've drank their way through this city certainly know that this is the state of progression in Austin.  Though comparatively in its infancy, the quality of  product is at or near the esteem of the plutocracies in the West Coast, the Northwest, and the Midwest.

Still though, Austin remains on an island of innovation without a realistic means for broadcasting the news of our kickassery by way of a tangible, exported product -- and because so, unless you are a trader or festival go-er, your chances to taste what is offered here is like dialing French Laundry during dinner service to ask if there is a wait.

And where I'm going with this, is that Jester King has begun to make the ballsy tread from the shallow end of Austin's imaginary distribution boundaries.  Reports are, that there is some high quality grade shit as far as Orange County and Chicago. 

That brings forth the question: Now that Jester King is a hotly popular and nationally coveted product, are they still just a beer label, or are they now a brand?

I will admit that when I do write about Jester King, its like major link-bait for the pee sitters over at Beer Advocate, and possibly for others who avoid that site entirely because they already know how to read at an elementary level.  In this way, I consider reputation to precede merit the way any trendy brand might.

Jester King releases beers like the cast of Glee releases pop singles -- and while I can see the indelible charm of having a clever rotation of seasonals and a baiting anticipation of rare one-offs, the grind that Jester King has become, is that few are still giving heed to the beer itself, and are scrambling around town like self-serving jerk-offs because Jester King is their brand.  Its kind-of the same approach one might have towards Russian River, where, regardless of the bottles contents, the fact that it was crafted at the hands of Russian River was 'good enough'.  I'm guilty of it.  Recently, bought another one of these just because it was available to me.  I potentially screwed someone else who may have really wanted it.

So, my hesitation with Jester King is that good is the enemy of great, and often times, I feel like I've spent a minor fortune on just a nice flight of bottles, just not a great one.  Without coming off too critically of a fantastic brewery -- a brewery fast approaching the superiority of one of my favorite breweries of all time, Jolly Pumpkin -- I only want to see more correspondence between consistency, availability, and premium.  In an industry where money and support are parceled out awfully stingily, I do find that Jester King is a place where enthusiasts can gather, and they will shower us with love and generosity. 

But then they took it beyond that.  WAAY beyond love and generosity with the release of this magical thing:  Buddha's Brew.

This beer created my renewed vigor for Jester King.  I wish I could jump through this page to tell you in person how it had done just that, and that I was a giant tit for only grabbing one when so many more were available to me.  This is how far being flippant gets you: one bottle of Buddha's Brew.  Shit.

Many of you in the audience have already read about my opinion on Austin Beerworks' Einhorn -- I know this because I just checked its readership stats, and it just annihilates the next closest by several hundreds -- and I really haven't had the same immediate addiction to a beer since then until I experienced Buddha's Brew.

There are beers made locally that I love like a beautiful and faithful companion -- Hops & Grain Alt-eration, ABW Pearl Snap, Thirsty Planet Jittery Monk come to mind, and those are all pretty wonderful -- but Buddha's Brew is just gnarly teenage hormones.

It is both discretely saccharine and devilishly tart -- a clandestine sour ale with surreptitious balance, it is truly the first recipe from the brewhouse that I felt was under their absolute, expert control.  That is not a jab in any way -- instead, a huge ovation for their practices and tuned technical refinement, since they are most famous for using such highly volatile brewing methods and ingredients.  And that does not even mention the confident use of a monstrously unpredictable focal ingredient, kombucha tea (from Austin's Buddha's Brew, natch), which in and of itself is riddled with wild yeasts, bacteria, and other ferementable variables.

Buddha's Brew was soured and bright and complex, yet deftly clear in focus.  It was refreshing, but worthy of late-evening, fireside enjoyment.  Lemons without insistence on lemonade.  Really, just perfect.

I was completely floored.  It was fantastic.  This was the beer that could define Jester King's legacy -- an agile and daring wild ale -- all while they continue to accomodate the real world with other nice varietals.

But this was it: the iconoclast to the religious followers of Jester King. 

ABV 4.7%
Acquired East 1st Grocery
Can I Find This in Austin? Good luck. A trade might yield better results.
Album Interpol | Antics (2004)

Monday, December 3, 2012

[A Beer a Day] An Audio Collab: Peach Porch Lounger Ale ft. G. Love | New Belgium Brewing | Ft. Collins, CO vs. Positive Contact Beer Cider ft. Dan the Automator | Dogfish Head Brewing | Milton, DE

I am solidly convinced that 90% of the reason collaboration beers even exist -- and becoming rampantly faddish in the commonwealth of craft -- is to bring notably absent beer labels to a region where the one half of the operation can sneak under enemy lines without receiving official state licensing.  I think this is an excellent strategy implemented by these small-but-wildly-popular craft breweries from places that I assume the owls of the Texas ABC view as far-off, not-America provinces, like Michigan, Oregon, and California.  In doing these collabs, these perceived meek mice of the brewing industry are provided an economical opportunity to scramble past the billion dollar beverage commissions and into the welcoming coverall pockets of us Lennies of the beer collecting universe.

Something that is puzzling and counter-intuitive and altogether ironic about the whole process, however, is that collaboration beers tend to be considerable letdowns.  In the larger picture, collaboration beers suffer from the fragmentation of too many brewers in the kettle -- and honestly -- would be more engaging having Yates write the final manuscript, without the influence of Whitman and Melville affecting the story's central thesis.

But for everything collaboration beers are not, there is one very important aspect of their masonry that makes up for all their unintentionally twisted embellishment; the remaining percentage of 10 for which collaborations even exist in the first place: because drinking them is A LOT of fucking fun.

Apart from the scarcity of these limited releases, the hunt through each shop's beer-brary in search of the rarity, and the perception that two (or three) giants of the industry gathered together in reasonable proximity to make this specialty recipe, it is a most compelling of the collaboration beer for the drinker to pick the nuances of each master's hand that define the beer itself.  Typically, collaboration beers have philosophical landmarks from each brewery's tendencies: Belgian yeasts, bacterial inoculation, bittering hops, and so on, making the beer more like Scattergories than Jenga.

But what is most unusual about the two beers in this article, is that they weren't produced in partnership with people of the industry -- but with musical artists, who before now, I would have assumed, cared fuck-all about the brewing process.

However these relationships came to be, I was focused more on the fact that two of my favorite US brewers decided to honor both the primary and secondary theme of [AA] -- and that is beer and music.  And on a Friday night in Austin, a paring of the two is right in our honey holes.  It is something we like to insufferably blog about.

My first impressions of Peach Porch Lounger was, of course, largely visual.  Holding it in my excited grip I was dizzy with enthusiasm reading its contents:  Peach, lemon, other great shit that tastes great in beer.  And did I mention peach?  This past summer, I really got into the magnificence of peach-influenced beers -- and with this one being brewed under the banner of New Belgium's magnificent Lips of Faith series (La Folie, Tart Lychee, Cocoa Mole) I was ready for some serious alone time with it.

The second piece of visual information came to me in the image of a screen-printed bluegrassy-looking yokel, who, upon further investigation, ended up being something called Garrett Dutton of G. Love and Special Sauce.  What, was Jack Johnson unavailable?

I was genuinely surprised to hear that G. Love still got work, particularly as an interpretive brewer.  So, this restored my faith that I could still play for Newcastle United someday in the future.  But possibly more surprising, was that these delicate ingredients yielded a 9% denture rattler.

It appeared that New Belgium was attempting to intonate southern-inspired, hot-weather beer which would not only replicate something like a sweet tea, but a replacement for porch-tea altogether.  Brilliant, I thought.  All of this really coincides with New Belgium's inward facing determination of their Lips of Faith series -- although I still did have some bewilderment with the inclusion of the dude who wrote a song called Baby's Got Sauce.  (But hey, at least it wasn't Sublime).

My final impression of the beer erased any and all doubts of what New Belgium could really do with this limited release brew.  The infusion of lemon, peaches, and wild brettanomyces gave the sauce a very notable, albeit subtle, southern dialect.  Like 1,000 times better than any accent on The Walking Dead.  Autumn peaches and banana-inspired funk -- much like a fall hefeweizen -- were locked in a romantic hold.  It sort of stupidly reminded me of a mid-mall Orange Julius -- frothy, tropical, creamy -- and at 9.4%, disguised the enormous alcohol content like bluegrass disguises the upright bass -- that is, until you start to feel it thump you right in the head, making you aware of its existence.

ABV 9.4%
Acquired East 1st Grocery
Can I Find This in Austin? Yes, but disappearing quickly.  See above.
Album Charles Bradley | No Time for Dreaming (2010)

Everything that went right with Peach Porch Lounger, took a total, record-scratching halt in Dogfish Head's Positive Contact, which was brewed in conjunction with the shrewdly gifted musician and producer, Dan the Automator -- a man responsible for some of the most ingenious collaborations in modern music: Handsome Boy Modeling School (with Prince Paul), Deltron 3030 (with Del and Kid Koala), and Gorillaz (with an entire spectrum of indie and hip hop demi-gods).  But for every bit of controlled edginess and creative harmony in all of his other projects, Positive Contact was a cacophony of horribly engineered notes, complete with the drummer falling forward through his seven piece kit as a result of a bad Molly bender.

Positive Contact broke a cardinal sin in brewing experimentation -- and when you infuse beer with apple cider, cayenne, and fresh cilantro, thats exactly what one is going for -- experimentation.

The beer was soapy.

Typically this is a result of fermenting the beer in the primary for too long, but because Dogfish Head are scholars of the brewing business, I sincerely doubt that this beer was mishandled.  I just have to believe that this recipe had no chance to succeed and was fucked from the word Go.

But the problems didn't stop there, no.  An acetaldehyde flavor was very prescient -- typically caused by infected beer, leaving a tart, cidery, apple taste -- but again, not because of mismanagement, but because of ingredients.  Whereas wild ales would welcome these sour notes, this beer was not intended to taste like a stocking stuffer from Bath & Body Works.

Mercifully, Positive Contact finished up with itself -- but not before some disconcerting heat from the cayenne to heckle you from the gallery, leaving a trail of Skittle-like lava-phlegm that is damn near impossible to hack out without losing your uvula.

While Positive Contact had all the ambition of Plastic Beach, it all really amounted to a Damon Albarn rendition of Banana Pancakes, and that's just one fucking mess.

ABV 9.0%
Acquired Spec's
Can I Find This in Austin? I wouldn't recommend seeking out the few left.
Album James Blunt | Back to Bedlam (2004)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Labyrinth Black Ale | Uinta Brewing | Salt Lake City, UT

Despite there being blue skies in my city today, despite this fickle Austin summer emulating Karl Rove like an 85° quest to deny the victory of autumn, despite being a half-dozen beers deep inside of a courtesy craft keg gifted from one of this city's premier artisinal breweries -- of which I was enjoying with the sincerest gratitude and enthusiasm -- I decided to splash the pot with my sobriety-currency in order to play a monster hand of Uinta's Labyrinth.  What a motherfucker.

Prior to this whim, I have had no history with Uinta Brewing.  I hadn't sampled any of their commodities.  I hadn't studied their brewing history between banal bites of lunchtime offerings.  I haven't really even uttered their name in a way that would suggest I'd like to get real friendly with them at all.

And the ultimate truth is, I picked up this bottle in a heavily-stocked Denver booze depot thinking it was the encumbrance of another brewery -- Crooked Stave -- due in part to me being 1) a dumbass 2) wholly unfamiliar with the absolute genius of Uinta Brewing 3) flimflammed by a neck-sticker that read "Crooked" on it, unknowing that this represented Uinta's Crooked Line, a series of unusually and epically brewed liquids using big-beer methods, like barrel-aging and innovation from magical gnomes from the 67 confirmed moons of Jupiter.

So, upon return from the cold cellar, flopping back down on the yard furniture with bottle in hand, eager to share with company, I scantly recited the customary details of its labeling to the participants: beer-style -- check, brewer -- check, ABV ... ¿¿que el fuck??  13.2% alcohol?  I then announced that my guests should prepare their anuses.  And to get their popcorn ready.

I can understand why Uinta decided to go with a very prosaic distinction of labeling Labyrith as simply 'Black Ale'.  It is disarming.  It sounds harmless.  Its like Holly Gennero suggests to John McClane in Die Hard, 'Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs.'  But dubbing this just simply a Black Ale is like saying Tim Tebow doesn't like sex.  No, he's a nutless celibate.  And Labyrinth is a not a Black Ale.  Its is a walloping, huge, falcon-punching stout.
We sat in our chairs, all like, 'Haaans, bubbie. I'm your white knight', and then we got our asses capped by this enormous beer like a smarmy 1980s widget trader.

When Labyrinth is properly defined, it is labeled as an American Imperial Stout, ready to carpet bomb your face with F-22 air-to-ground malt-rocket precision and 13.2% infra-red search and track alcohol.  Labyrinth was SEAL Team Six infiltrating my inner compound to extract any remnants of wishing I had grabbed Crooked Stave, sobriety, and any other discounts of Uinta as a brewing organization.  Wow.  Fucking wow.  This was absolutely both excellent and deadly.  You see, being a beer scribe can be fraught with danger.

Despite wearing my ass like a hat, Labyrinth captured my interest almost immediately, and, like other darling artifacts that get passed on from one generation to the next, I also almost immediately felt regret sharing it in such an unremarkable fashion.  This beer deserved to be compared horizontally with the other barrel-aged greats that were still sub-letting space in the cellar: Goose Island's BCBS,  Brooklyn's Black-Ops, New Holland's Dragon's Milk, Deschutes' The Abyss, etc.  Yes, as sexy as The Abyss.

This was not so much an American Imperial Stout as it was -- what I just now made up -- a Cabaret Stout.  The origins of my categorization are obvious: dark, smoky, boozy, flirtatious, and, well, ready to bone.  Otherwise stated, extremely entertaining.

Sure, in the very recent past, I was discussing the dregs of vanity projects like the well-funded karaoke act called 'barrel aging'.  However, Labyrinth's trademark isn't in the oaking of the beer, nope.  It is Uinta's actual adherence to clever ingredients which ultra-forgiving whiskey casks can't help to elevate: molasses, anise, cocoa, espresso, and yes, the very subtle rye itself.  The result is a sweetly spicy beer that smells like a conversation with your anti-prohibitionist grandfather and a dense gravity that tours and branches through all of your sensory receptors like a stout maze -- or better yet, a Labyrinth.  Oh shhnap!  A moment of total realization and cognizance.  I better keep beating myself over the head with it. 

ABV 13.2%
Acquired Argonaut Liquor (Denver)
Can I Find This in Austin? Uinta is not distributed to Texas
Album Radiohead | In Rainbows (Expanded disc) (2007)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Biere de Garde {w/ Brewery Vivant} ✦ Frambozen Raspberry Brown Ale ✦ Imperial Coffee Chocolate Stout | New Belgium Brewing | Fort Collins, CO

Americans love a good theme.

Themes allow us lazy thinkers to summarily place caveats cleanly into categories with a very gentle curve that our slow-footed brains can maneuver.  Lately, I've been getting a bit more theme-y with the blog and its because I kind of like the smash-bang infusion of beer culture into society's common rituals with obvious things like what beers to drink on Halloween, or more subtle ones, like how to narrow the spectrum of holiday pumpkin beers so that valuable gastric real estate isn't wasted on hasty, eye-level decisions at the supermarket.

The blatant tenor of this week has been the impending arrival of the Greatest Holiday on Earth, and that is Thanksgiving (for our international visitors from the Russian spam sites).  Indeed this holiday is considered by so many as the anti-Christmas, as it centers around the affable and completely voluntary assembly of friends and family in the name of food and football; void of the dickery of gift-exchanging -- although the public profession of thank-yous across social mediums has become the new immaterial of unwanted stocking stuffers (so, stop that shit before you ruin my holiday). 

Anyway, until recently, the defacto accessory to dinner was inexpensive table wine poured into mismatched stemware, primarily due to the fact that very few people have access to 20 matching Burgundy glasses in a guest room closet somewhere in the house.  So, it was an amusing ritual for the family to pretend to be these big wine apostles, when in fact, drinking dinner wine was a lot like going to church: only on major holidays.  And although great wine has a very respectable spot at the table, the culture behind wine itself, really does not.  Wine is gossipy and exclusive.  And it seems to only really be able to make it as far as the second course before closing up shop at dessert, save for the one, biscuit-arsed, port drinking, effete Times-reader in the group.  But fuck that guy.

The second of the Big 3 of Booze -- craft cocktails -- have almost no shot to overtake wine as the Beverage of Thanks.  I like cocktails very much, but I never quite seem to fall in love with them despite thinking they are excellent.  I think that many just have a difficult time engaging with them at the culinary consumption level.

I was at a competitive cocktail event just the other night, and I was genuinely surprised by the juvenile culture surrounding its ideals: good hair, great sport coats, faux-ethnic tats, and biting criticism of their own.  Cocktail culture might possibly be the exact opposite of Thanksgiving's thesis -- and through my very scientific sample size of one event, seems to have cultivated competitive conflict instead of inclusive fellowship.  These provocateurs use too many adjectives and appear to be invested too personally in their craft so that things like collaboration between equals and celebration of the art itself is solidly rejected.

Therefore, what is left to fill the a very large beverage void left by $10 Australian varietals and the non-starters of Old Fashions and Manhattans, is ... well, beer.

If wine is allegorically the catering of booze, and cocktails the booze world's version of cooking, then brewing is comparatively the baking of the alcoholic triumvirate.  And in every community across the planet, congregation and collaboration is celebrated with bread.

Beyond the general ridicule I have for my fellow beer nerds and the utmost respect for the brewers, the message of beer culture is clearly one of accessibility, comradery, objectivity, and collective goals.  The underbelly of beer culture is in fact a simile for Thanksgiving celebration itself: doughy enthusiasts (and soon-to-be-enthusiasts) hunting and hoarding kills of rare and rare-ish beers, then amassing in a coven to show off their skins, either publicly in what is called a beer-share, or privately, in what is called Instagram. The mutual interests between Thanksgiving dinner and beer culture is a natural fit, and because so, beer must customarily become the liquid feature at America's Feast for the future.  Building bridges and all that shit.

And because New Belgium essentially wrote the doctrine for beer culture, and ultimately has saved Thanksgiving from Trader Joe's infiltration, I present to you three of their beers that should grace your table tomorrow evening.

First Course

Thanksgiving dinner is typically a salt-bomb.  A delicious, delicious salt-bomb.  But typically the first course of the annual feast prepares our sensors with a light, green salad or a mild soup to coach the palate.  A farmhouse biere de garde, specifically this Biere de Garde, which was brewed in conjunction with beer-savants, Brewery Vivant of Grand Rapids, would be the perfect compliment to greenery and muddled goards.  Biere de Garde enriches the flavors of these starters by presenting a subtle citrus profile and yeasty baked bread notes, just before you bomb your guts with gravy.

ABV 9.o%
Acquired East 1st Grocery
Can I Find This in Austin? It's a fairly common sight around town, HEB, Spec's, and various shops.
Album Beirut | The Rip Tide (2011)

Main Course 

Something on your plate is gonna have to balance out the savoriness of roasted turkey and mashers, but too often, cranberry sauce and candied yams are neglected by feasters.  Therefore, I would suggest adding your daily intake of fruits and veggies -- not on your plate -- but on your coaster in the form of New Belgium's Raspberry Frambozen.  The tart-y sweetness of the fermented berry beer balances the umami impressed upon the gullet by the bird.

Since we're no longer 14, Mountain Dew is no longer an option, unfortunately -- and because we're not 80, we don't even know where Spec's stocks the Riunite.  A raspberry fermented brown ale does the ploughman's job of tilling your innards in preparation for salty seconds.

ABV 6.5%
Acquired Spec's
Can I Find This in Austin? Every grocery and liquor store in town. Even some corner stores.
Album Polica | Give You The Ghost (2012)

Dessert Course

If you've made it all the way to pecan pie, than obviously you have the capacity to indulge yourself with a dessert beer to complete the finishing touches on shamefulness.  I don't think that New Belgium has even made a stout before -- and if they have, I can't think of it -- but they pull this one off masterfully.  This beer is rich, sweet, and creamy -- mimicking the Euro tradition of dessert coffee -- but since this is mf'in American, we're gonna go down swinging with a big stout.  This version, however, is not as thick in the palate as an imperial stout, leaving just enough room to clear the regurgitation space when Tony Romo leads the Cowboys offense out on the field.

ABV 9.o%
Acquired East 1st Grocery
Can I Find This in Austin? More elusive than BdG. Specs and various smaller shops should have it.
Album Other Lives | Tamer Animals (2011)

Friday, November 9, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Bishop's Barrel #1 Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout | Saint Arnold Brewing | Houston, TX

If you were one of the 49,000 that trod the avenues of the Colorado Convention Center four weeks ago, you will have noted that bourbon, wine, and rum barrels appear to have doubled up on their chores and are now serving as placeholders for alcohol beyond their initial duties of making 12-year-old whiskey and Bordeaux more delicious in the mouth.

This Zeitgeist of alcohol flavored alcohol, brewed and aged by nearly every participant at the festival, finally brought to my attention that whiskey innoculation is probably on its unofficial downward trajectory -- something I find remarkably unfortunate because barrel-aged beers are a fucking ride, man!  But as per the protocol of all things faddish, these modifiers of the good into great have to eventually diminish towards its lonely exile, where it has to keep the TV on at night for company.

The beer industry is notorious for beating dead horses into field hamburger -- even after as the fresh-face kink of the latest extreme brewing technique has faded into banality; everyone is doing it, so why aren't we?

I'll answer that one for the people in the industry: Because you don't run the triple option when you don't have an offensive line, or, you know, three running backs.  The talent, discipline, or personnel isn't always there for an undertaking of such methodical precision, and one that has lots of moving parts.  With so many breweries feeling obligated to barrel age, literally anything, it has led us to a point where ordinary beers are tainting the beer wall with the instrumental versions of your favorite songs. 

I will say, however, that there is usually a Marshal Plan in place for most brewing trends -- and this sort of reconstruction will begin with the masters of its style rebuilding the bombed-out reputation of beer in barrels.  Nationally, those are places like Russian River, New Belgium, Goose Island, Jolly Pumpkin, and Deschutes, while at the municipal level, places like (512) and Hops & Grain (their Baltic Porter on Cherries was one of the best things I've tasted this Fall) are tilling the garden of rejuvenation.

So, generally, the previous few paragraphs was my attitude and internal response when I learned that Saint Arnold would be doing yet another vanity project based entirely on barrel aging beers.  This series they would be calling Bishop's Barrel, and the first of the series would be -- are you sitting? -- a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout.  I nearly fell out of my chair with boredom.  The same brewery who made Santo?

My buddy Mike likes to say things like, Santo is necessary because it keep the lights on, meaning that Saint Arnold couldn't be sustainable as a brewery making densely-constructed, small batch, pet-project beers like Bishop's Barrel #1.  And he's right.  People need to keep buying Santo and Elissa IPA for whatever their reasons they might have to waste their money, so that Saint Arnold will have the resources to continue targeting what they are best at, specialty craft beer.

Saint Arnold's spectrum of beers is like a wife utilizing her women senses:  Sometimes you just don't know what kind of shit your gonna experience in that moment, but realize that each of these encounters has the potential for unbridled awesomeness or the potential for temple-rubbing confusion.  Sometimes the look on your face is of incredulity about how something grew into a mature and sustainable entity all by itself.  Santo?  Santo should have sunk the battleship.  But Pumpkinator was its Marshal Plan, an emphasis on big, reputation-saving beers that give impression that they are bound by financial restraints, but their true passion lies in small batch.  I can't really fade 'em for that.  Its like a line from a favorite song of mine by The National, " Karen, believe me, you just haven't seen my good side yet".

For having little experience with barrel aging, it appears that Saint Arnold just wanted to get in the cockpit and mash the gears until they made something incredibly viscous, boozy, and sweet.  And after one lap around the course, I would say that they steered this beer with remarkable fucking pace.  There is delivery around all corners, vanilla up front, bourbon down the straights, and candied confection through the finish.  And, and.  Its powerful as shit, straight fucking metal.  The imperial Russian stout was matured in Kentucky's Woodford Reserve barrels for 10 months, bottled in remarkably ballsy 12 ounce bottles, shipped to a handful of bars/restaurants ONLY to the tune of 1,000 measly cases, and the hype did the rest.  But hype is only called hype when it disappoints.

This did not.  Not at all.

Go build your rocket, boys.

ABV 10.o - 11.o %
Acquired Friends. How many of us have them?
Can I Find This in Austin? Yes, but extremely rare, and only in bars. Unless, y'know, friends.
Album The National | Alligator (2005)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Chocolate Six Pack: Chocolate Ale | Boulevard Brewing | Kansas City, MO ✦ Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence Dark Ale 10th Anniversary (2007) | Ommegang Brewing | Cooperstown, NY ✦ 2X Double Milk Stout | Southern Tier Brewing | Lakewood, NY ✦ Chocolate Sombrero Imperial Stout | Clown Shoes Brewing | Ipswich, MA ✦ Black Chocolate Stout | Brooklyn Brewing | Brooklyn, NY ✦ Dark Angel Cherry Porter | North Peak Brewing | Traverse City, MI

Trick or treat?  How about fuck off?  Lets just drop all the shallow platitudes so I can give your child his charity tooth decay while he rots his teeth down to nubs, and then you and your family can just leave me to punching my liver in commemoration of the start to holiday season with candy-flavored beer, comprende?

Its not that I'm grumpy.  I'm not.  I'm just lazy.  I just want to relax ... ALL the time.  And you're making me get off the couch every two-and-a-half seconds.

And seriously, is it really fucking Halloween already?  Coming off of GABF and Austin Beer Week in consecutive weeks, someone is just taunting me to kick my sobriety while its down.

Ah, yes, Halloween: the truist of patriotic due-diligences; gorging, drinking, carousing, ogling.  Its like we're practically the founding fathers. And now that everyone is making alcohol with chocolate, its total validation to commandeer this children's holiday into our own, because, well, we are certainly not the greatest generation.  Nor where our parents.  And so somewhere between these two biological eras of selfishness, Holloween became a nocturnal decline in moral restraint before the Winter 20 craps on our Spring Break pool time.

Son of a ... I.  DO NOT.  want to go to Target tonight and rummage through all the terrible bags of sweets that the boxed-wine moms have left for us lazy fuckers to fight over.  I'm expecting a few more tricks than treats after bashfully handing out the Necco Wafer/Good n' Plenty oh-your-neighbor-is-a-timely-fucker-mix to all the local kids in the hood.

But despite all that rubbish, I actually do love Halloween in its current state -- mid-week porch drinking, handing out socially accepted enamel poison, eating candy for dinner, and littering my own yard with mini-Nerds boxes.  Those who know me well enough will know that I quite simply could not have forced myself to do anything if I didn’t enjoy it.


One of the staples of our Halloween -- and holidays in general -- is surrounding ourselves with those we love, and by that I mean seasonal offerings from the beer companies.  And, so, to make this all come full circle and remain topical, All Hallow's Eve means chocolate ales.

Boulevard's Smokestack Series is exactly what makes me excited about being a beer-ghoul.  Its a smartly conceptualized series of large-format beers made by one of the most underrated breweries in the country -- and released at timely point in the year with only mild-to-moderate hype depending on the release.  Certain bottles are not so sniped by the nerds, that a little pre-planning can't nab a casual fan a chance at a great, limited release.  Two of my favorites in this series are Tank 7 and Love Child #2 (with more discussions of other Smokestacks on the way when I have time to write more about 'em).

But in almost a direct contradiction of the previous paragraph, Chocolate Ale was one of the more difficult Smokestacks to find -- and to further complicate -- Boulevard unknowingly bottled and released a couple hundred spoiled bottles to the Southwest region, making the hunt all the more unusual in that Boulevard wanted its consumers to find them and report them based on a serial number.  Total pain, so when I caught up to a store with enough to spare, I just bought 3 bottles because I was too lazy to check the numbers and went on the percentages.

For me, Chocolate Ale was kind of like figuring out if the band you just discovered will be big in 2012 or not -- I guess kinda like listening to an average band with a lot of hype like The Alabama Shakes along with 300 other people during SXSW.

This beer has a similar vibe -- you suspect there's something pretty good there, and you know the masses would probably consume it like fun size Butterfingers, but its hard to be completely smitten about it.  Chocolate Ale was a catchy product with a buzzy reputation, but if it wasn't from Boulevard, I would have simply skipped over it.

And to top it all off -- and this is probably the primary scar on my memory -- is that one of the three bottles I consumed was from that rancid batch.  It tasted like fundraiser chocolate that you sold out of the cardboard boxes in elementary school than a collaboration with a highly-regarded chocolatier.  Okay, the acceptable bottles did contain a nice, charming light-bodied ale, which is unusual for the chocolate beer style, but I just couldn't see this one really having much of a career after winning the Grammy for Best New Artist.

ABV 9.1%
Acquired Sunrise
Can I Find This in Austin? Yes, but its seasonal and limited, usually hits market for Valentines Day.
Album Otis Redding | Pain in My Heart (1964)

We drank this almost a year ago, and my memory of it is so old, the damn thing needs a bus pass.

What I do absolutely remember is Mrs. [AA] pairing this perfectly with a Christmas-dinner-concluding pomegranate parfait that kicked the ever-living shit out of my palate like a drunk Liverpool fan.  I'm not a huge beer-food pairing advocate, but 10th Anniversary Chocolate Indulgence was one of two beers that I remember very fondly as being extremely food-friendly (the other being this one, which I talked about back when I was less wordy).

The Belgian chocolate itself deserves its very own, holy shit!, paragraph.  And there it was.

At the time of consumption, this beer had been given four magnificent cork-and-caged years of aging in a combination of store-shelving and personal cellaring -- of which, did nothing but complete justice to a product that developed as gracefully as Diane Lane. 

ABV 7.o%
Acquired Spec's
Can I Find This in Austin? Found it in Austin last year, and was store-aged. Prolly long gone by now.
Album Bon Iver | For Emma, Forever Ago (2008)

As a superfan of stouts, my range of favorites begin with dry Irish and ends with boozy Russian Imperials.  Otherwise stated, I celebrate stout's entire catalog.

Somewhere right in the middle of that widely nuanced spectrum is the smoothly-sweet milk stout.  Fans of Mrs. [AA] might recollect her devotion to Left Hand's Milk Stout -- and as a huge fan of her's I agree with her discerning tastes.

Southern Tier's version is better than decent, bordering on very good.  Its not as rich, creamy, or chewy as Left Hand's version, no -- and that's a bit of a buzzkill coming from highly-coveted Southern Tier Brewing -- but  2x Milk Stout, makes up for it with perceived chocolatiness.   And its mightily there.  If Left Hand Milk Stout is fresh glass of lactose, then Souther Tier's 2X is a heavily-spiked YooHoo.

ABV 9.1%
Acquired Sunrise
Can I Find This in Austin? No, the closest Southern Tier distributes is Missouri.
Album Wolf Gang | Suego Faults (2011)

The reason for the dual-paned picture is because I want you to notice the stemware used to drink this beer.  On the left is a goblet, while the one of the right is a snifter.

As snobbish as this may sound, this is a beer that absolutely proves the theory of 'glassware matters'

When sampling with the goblet, Chocolate Sombrero -- a Mexican-style chocolate stout -- was quite tasty -- tons of chocolate notes ... and then, well, that was it.  I didn't really get what was Mexican about it, other than being another gimmick from overtly-gimmicky brewers Clown Shoes (something that I generally despise in the craft brewing world).  So, I tried it in a snifter, and really, the reaction was somewhere north of "fucking hell, this is amazing".

This is what this brewery meant by "Mexican-style chocolate stout"!  There were the chocolate notes, still prevalent and large, but there was also ground cinnamon, roasted nuts, cloves, Mexican canela, and bread crumbs sitting right there at the back of the palate.  It was truly exceptional.   

Moral of the story: learn your glassware. 

ABV 9.o%
Acquired Spec's
Can I Find This in Austin? Yep, easily.  In liquor warehouses and bottle shops, not grocery stores.
Album Vampire Weekend | Contra (2010)

God help our livers, 10%!  My go-to post Halloween stout.  Only I can never wait until then.  There is nothing I want to add to Black Chocolate Stout's reputation, only to insist that you consume this in large quantities.

ABV 10.o%
Acquired East 1st Grocery
Can I Find This in Austin? Easily. The furthest state west to receive all Brooklyn Brewing's glory.
Album Santigold | s/t (2008)

While Dark Angel is not officially a chocolate beer, its portfolio of tasting notes includes hints of black-chocolate covered cherries and burnt molasses, making it damn near perfect for Halloween consumption if you love things like being better than everyone else in the world.

And, from what I've long-dubbed North Peak as The Most Photogenic Brewery ever, you will look absolutely stellar holding this while yelling at kids to 'get off your lawn'.

ABV 5.o%
Acquired Jolly Pumpkin Traverse City
Can I Find This in Austin? Probably the hardest of this bunch to find anywhere in the US.
Album Camera Obscura | My Maudlin Career (2009)  

Cheers! and have an absolutely safe Halloween!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Man o' War IPA | Pinthouse Pizza | Austin, TX

I'll say this about Austin Beer Week, it is like the post-break-up sex of GABF, following just one abbreviated week after it on the events calendar -- and at just the cusp of time when one is easing out of those liver pangs that have been troubling you since two Thursdays ago.

Whoever conceptualized the timing of a week devoted to the Austin beer scene is a bleeding genius on account of the timing of this thing; one more caucus of the willing without having to delve right back into the deranged commitment of another beer festival of such GIANT proportions or worse yet, swearing off getting wasted forever.  Its just one more hit, one final hit while the Valium takes effect; the casual buffer between pandemonium in Denver and the dying of the light in Austin.  The party is crashing us, and we are thankful we won't have to move very far at all to enjoy it.

The timing is also very punctual in that everyone around town associated with the industry -- in whatever capacity, large or small -- is still plenty abuzz with enthusiasm following the high school senior trip, grabassery that is GABF.  Its as if those of us who were present for those few days in Denver witnessed a legendary Donkey Show that we couldn't wait to share the details of our with our less fortunate friends back home.

What is more, is this is about the time when some of Austin's -- and by extension, the rest of the US -- best beer styles are made: pumpkins, porters, stouts, old ales, imperial reds, autumnals, rauchbiers, and Pre-Christmas ales; chocolate nibs, hazelnuts, coffee, malts, figs, cherries -- you dream it, they make it.  If any of these styles make you feel like bundling up in 79° weather, than your well will surely be poisoned during this week.

And around town during this magnificent décade of beer events is something to be keen on behind every heavy wooden door: rare-beer tappings, one-off specialty casks uncorked by local brewers, panels devoted to specific beer styles, collaborations between innovative local brewhouses, noteworthy appearances by legendary sensory specialists from historically important craft breweries, anniversary parties for iconic beer bars, the grand opening of others ... and so on.

One of these events that I was particularly fortunate to attend due to a generous friend in the brewing industry, was the pre-screening, first pour, and IPA panel at the newly rooted Pinthouse Pizza, which sits amongst the polished grime of Burnet Road like a handsome ex nihilo basilica to beer worship.

Past its distinguished façade from street level is a narthex of spotless steel kettles before giving way to a positively stunning nave emulating the flirtiest of Munich bierhalls.  Here, the open and vaulted interior is very obviously devoted to communal gatherings amongst the familiar and unfamiliar.  Get friendly because you will likely have table mates -- however, for the proximately-challenged, there are a couple of bar stools for semi-private imbibing.

But the message here is very clear: Don't be a pussy.  Visit your neighbors.  Drink fine ales.  Be jovial.  Its the message that Crown & Anchor, another legendary Austin beer bar, preached to us as far back as the ancient American era of the 1990s -- long before the avante-garde practice of communal situating amongst strangers was a concept cautiously accepted in this city.

And if sharing personal space with strangers intimidates you, then there is somewhere in the galaxy of 50 beers on the tap wall from local, regional, and national craft brew houses sure to get you feeling more comfortable.  More importantly -- and here is the subject of this article before I start to Yelp it into shit -- there are four mainstays from former Odell (CO) brewer Joe Mohrfeld, which I consider amongst my favorite breweries in the country due to my belief that they make their staple beers better than anyone else in the industry.

The beer I had the privilege of tasting on this night was Joe's Man o' War IPA.

One thing we talk quite a bit about on [AA] is the concept of beer culture, and like any other concept that suggests an exclusionary lifestyle preceded by a modifying noun, it tends to sway dangerously close to dickish marginalization, like hipsterdom, or to a nerdy social disadvantage, like being a Jimmy Buffet fan.  But what beer culture means -- at least me -- is the simple ideal of classic antiquity, using quality substances to promote progressiveness beyond just beer, but also things like agriculture, transportation, horticulture, architecture, and so on.

And what propagates this cultural movement towards better standards -- particularly for Americans inundated with fillers and additives, mollifying the tight fists of cheap detriments, like glass buildings and macro brewing, is the simplest, most unintentional, and least assuming of premises: better beer.  The style that beget this beer culture: The India Pale Ale.

While IPAs remains craft beer's most popular -- but also most-polarizing styles -- there is enough nuance and variety for everyone in this country to have a preferential style, which is typically based on region (West Coast IPAs tend to be heavily bittered by hops, while East Coast IPAs tend to be more traditionally in-line with English Ales deported to India during colonialism).

The style that I prefer is somewhere in between those two regions -- the Midwestern IPA -- and Joe's Man o' War IPA was right in my strike zone.  Man o' War only dips its big toe into the warm piney resin of the Pacific, while also resisting the urge to dive full on into the malty Atlantic.  Its nose was as bright as a Colorado pale ale, but had the nuanced malt bill of a Michigan IPA.  The front was deftly citric and finished with a carefully hopped and lightly floral note (I'm guessing Citra and Cascade hops?).

One can taste the master-work of restraint and quality ingredients by a knowledgeable brewer from an esteemed brewery; classic antiquity, control, quality ingredients.

My immediate impression was to think and feel very fortunate to have this brewer land in my town.  And that frequent visits will be necessary.  I haven't even tried the fucking pizza yet.

Glad tidings to you on this 2012 Austin Beer Week.  May you track all the whales you intend to hunt and may you spear them dead in their wake.

ABV 6.5%
Acquired Pinthouse Pizza, derp.
Can I Find This in Austin? Yeah, starting today!
Album Akron/Family | Set 'em Wild, Set 'em Free (2009)