Wednesday, February 29, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Belgian Style Yeti Imperial Stout | Great Divide Brewing | Denver, CO

Aaaaargh Orkeckle Aorarooorr Mmrrppphhh.
One thing that bugs me about 1) the oppressive lack of lighting in my house, and 2) the total randomness in which my phone takes well-captured photos or remarkably shitty ones in the space of one frame to the next -- is that the first thing I really wanted you to notice about this beer was the absolutely gorgeous packaging that is going on.

True, I am an enormous fan of the Great Divide's Imperial Stout Yeti Series overall, but judging from the starkness that this bottle portrays from the refrigerator bays, this one wins on beauty alone. 

The Belgian Yeti's B R I G H T yellow business suit contrasting with the limo-black bottle is honestly stunning.  Combined with Sasquatch's iconic mid-stride pose whilst spooking the boozed-up Belgian monk -- who is all but offers our olfactorily-challenged giant a sample of his chalice -- really makes me believe that if there is all sorts of shit going on outside the bottle, the innards have got to be a party-and-a-half.  In other words, if Great Divide allocated this much creativity and attention to the beer itself, it might make me just start barking like fish. 

If you are as devoted of a reader of this blog as I am, you will note that I am a major suitor to both stouts and porters.  When brewers do entire series devoted to 'em, then I get a bit crazy in the pants.

Over the past few years, Great Divide has occasionally released a new stout to join the others in their Yeti series, which is remarkable in the fact that these are all seasonal stouts -- like even in the spring and summer months, stouts.  That shit cray.

So far, we have been ordained with the original Yeti Imperial Stout, Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout, Espresso Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout, Chocolate Yeti Imperial Stout, and finally, the Belgian Style Yeti Imperial Stout.  As you may surmise, these are big boy beers, maxing out at 9.5% ABV each -- yet they are wildly different their palatable subtleties, which make the average person want to collect the entire set.  This was the first time I'd even seen the Belgian.

Like a normal Yeti, the Belgian Style Yeti Imperial Stout will choke your fucking face -- in an awesome way.  There are still all of the wonderful notes of a typical imperial stout present -- like chocolate, nuts, coffee, and roasted malts -- but also the extraordinary spicy and fruity characteristics of a Belgian ale imparted by Western European yeast strains.  Its fucking remarkable to have such a complex, nuanced beer with such a dense delivery -- like Big Foot himself fiddling around with Garry Kasparov in a game of Russian ballet-chess.

I am completely smitten with this beer, particularly since the bright months forebode, and this is to be enjoyed, according to the master brewers, from July to September.  IPAs best not be messin' with Sasquatch this summer.

ABV: 9.5% 
Acquired: Austin Bottle Shop

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

[A Beer a Day] 60 Minute IPA | Dogfish Head Brewing | Milton, DE

I will gladly pay you tomorrow, for an IPA today.
And so it begins.

This is my first pint (maybe the first pint?) during actual business hours at the freshly minted Drink.Well, a craft-intoxicants bar that roosts right in the front yard of our quickly molding neighborhood.  It also happens to be the creative and economic iteration of two of Melissa's and mine closest friends, Mike and Jessica. 

It is a truly impressive place, having been developed over the course of two-to-five years (depending who you ask) at the vehement impatience of Mike and Jessica's very thirsty friends.  It is a place that is saturated in meticulous, pub-forward detail which was assembled as if building a dream quarterback to guide your expansion franchise from the league cellar.

The staff emphasizes the on-field accuracy needed for 3rd down conversions, and the food is so fucking remarkable, it runs a 4.3 40.

The handsome design of the bar is the marketable face of the franchise, while the cocktail and wine programs are the boutique's cerebral canon.

But as any owner would allude to, the ballsy, team-leading intangibles by which to measure your  long-term investment -- the backbone of the franchise, if you will -- is that glorious tap wall.

Therefore, handle-pull-number-one had to be something both epic and significant; a classic, yet provocative brew to ring in the good life: there is now a bar within yodeling distance of my house, and my fucking friends own it.  Oh man.  An IPA.  For sure, man.  Bring on the hops.

That pour up there is Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, have you met?  This is one of the original pedigrees of the IPA breed.  It is a perfect IPA.

Sure, there are more extreme IPAs, where you have to rinse your tongue in sodium borate to alleviate the tang.  There are better session IPAs, which just gave beer nerds a reason to rejoice when tailgating all day.  And there are even better-rated IPAs in the Dogfish Head inventory.

But Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA is the perfect balance of all three of those -- something that IPAs indubitably have a hardest time doing.  Either an IPA is too light to appease the ABV, or the ABV is too high to be sustainable.  Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA is a drive straight down the fairway.  Its balanced, its hoppy, it has a nice warm-alcohol finish, and it won't require making out with a fat girl to dissolve the bittered aftertaste.

Yes, this was a great selection by the bar owners to stock it, and an equally clever decision to take it off their hands at a mutually agreeable price.

So, I think I will have another today.  And probably the day after today, as well.

ABV: 6.o% 
Acquired: Drink.Well.

Monday, February 27, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Horizontal Tasting: Odell 5 Barrel Pale Ale vs. Brooklyn Pennant Ale '55 | Fort Collins, CO / Brooklyn, NY

Like Pujols vs. Jeter
Since Melissa currently has an American Pale Ale in the fermenter signifying her foray into the world of being H.A.M., as well as brewing, we decided to impart a bit of due diligence research with a horizontal tasting of two English-Style Pale Ales in the form of Odell 5 Barrel Pale Ale and Brooklyn Pennant Ale '55.

American and English Pale Ales can be wildly different from each other despite being rooted in the same techniques and stemming from similar pale malts, resulting in what could be the world's most common beer style.  The two indigenous recipes call for different styles of malts, yeasts, and hops that convey very different flavor profiles and aromas; while having approximately the same body and color.  The hop schedules of the two regional variations also differ in that American Pale Ales typically utilize a 3-stage hopping system, while those lazy, lardy Brits only use two.  Then, of course, there are a thousand-and-one subsets of variances within each of these specific styles based on region, recipes, etc.

Brooklyn and Odell -- two of the giants of American microbrewing -- have each has interpreted their own versions of an English Pale Ale.  Melissa and I opened the two bottles together and poured what appeared to be the very same liquid into four separate sampling glasses.

Brooklyn Pennant Ale '55 is an homage to the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers World Series championship team (which seems perplexing to honor with an English Pale a mere half-century after the fact) that had all the makings of a take-no-names, ass-kicking collection of legends like Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Carl Erskine, and Tommy Lasorda.  To state this simply, Brooklyn Brewing had a ton of lineage that they honored by producing this deft little beer -- a characteristic that can accurately describes that '55 Dodger team as well.

Because English Pale Ales are less hopped than their American counterparts, the note that emerges is the malt profile.  In the case of Pennant Ale '55, Brooklyn uses Scottish Maris Otter malts, which produces a very smooth, biscuity, toasted-bread flavor that finishes light and dry and very awesome.  Its the kind of beer that is made to be enjoyed in an place with a widely varying climate like New York City, so that it can be enjoyed anytime from the Mets to the Giants. Its an all-weather beer.

In fact, at one point in time, I proclaimed Pennant Ale '55 as my Desert Island beer -- since its adaptability makes it totally drinkable in all types of weather patterns and geographies -- assuming my island was a tricked out interstellar island like on  L O S T.

Odell 5 Barrel, by contrast, tastes like it was made a world away.  Brewers in the east and brewers in the west are as distinct as Bad Boy vs. Death Row, despite producing the same merchandise.  And just like b-boys, beer nerds definitely have their preference in topographic style.  Where the east coast pale ales focus markedly on their malt profile (and less so on their hops), the West Coast really does the exact opposite of that, crafting California-style hop-forward beers that are characterized with floral and piny notes and less breadiness than their East Coast rivals.

If you've ever had a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale you will have had a really general (and tasty) example of the West Coast style.  Odell 5 Barrel demonstrates a similar flavor to Sierra Nevada, except the brewers use five different varieties of British and American hops, then adding these hop flower essential oil additions during the boil at five different intervals, bypassing the customary three-stage hopping system.  It is really a remarkable technique that shows off Odell's brewing prowess and denoting the region of the country in which they brew. 

Overall, these are two outstanding English Pale Ales brewed by some of the leaders in small brewing.  There is really no incorrect choice given the option of having access to both, however, because only one of these brands is available in Texas (Pennant Ale '55), my hand in the matter is usually forced.  Depending on the season -- or if you are in Texas, the last 20 seconds -- you can decide if you want either of these to pair with whats going on in your part the world.

Brooklyn Pennant Ale '55
ABV: 5.o%
Acquired: Spec's

Odell 5 Barrel Pale Ale
ABV: 5.2%
Acquired: Southwestern Bottle Shop

Sunday, February 26, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Sorachi Ace Saison | Brooklyn Brewing | Brooklyn, NY

No sleep til -
I could explain how fortunate we are to receive Brooklyn beers in Texas, but as best explained by my buddy Graham, who has lived west of his native Houston (in Phoenix, then San Francisco) for some time now, stated, "I had to go all the way to fucking Hong Kong to get a Brooklyn Lager".  That is some dedication right there.

Fortunately, those of us in 25 US States do not necessarily need a passport to enjoy Brooklyn beers, but you might need some beef jerky for the road trip if you live anywhere west of El Paso.  Texas is the final frontier for the Brooklyn Brewery and its a fine score for our state.

Along with craft pioneers like Celis, Sierra Nevada,  Anchor, and very few others, Brooklyn grew the microbrewing industry from a regional effort into a nationally relevant phenomenon.  Later, New Belgium, Rogue, Stone, and Dogfish Head would help work this movement into a lather -- but, as prominent as these breweries are now, their roots were planted with the help of Brew-lebrity Garret Oliver and friends.

Though I celebrate Brooklyn's entire catalog, Sorachi Ace is, without doubt, the best non-seasonal, non-limited release that Oliver does (Well, I'm counting Brooklyn Pennant Ale '55 as a seasonal -- but if you don't want to do that, they its like a tie, okay? But even so, I love Saisons just a bit more than I love English Pale Ales.).

The unique characteristics of Brooklyn's Sirachi Ace is displayed right there in its moniker.  This beer uses a varietal of hops found only in Japan -- and was originally developed for the Saporro Brewery -- called the, erm, Sirachi Ace.  Sirachi Ace hops have a distinct lemony aroma and flavor, which makes it perfect for a Farmhouse Saison, since this type of beer was historically consumed during the harvesting seasons when these flavors could really open up the palate as a thirst quencher. 

Grassy and citrusy and minimally bitter, Sirachi Ace really behaves more like a champagne or a prosecco than an ale -- and it kind of celebrates the day in that same way, as well.  Because the weather was stupidly beautiful, Melissa and I decided to rip this from The Cellar, as this thing had no business being shelved on a 75° winter day.  

ABV: 7.6%
Acquired: Spec's

Saturday, February 25, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Imperial Java Stout | Santa Fe Brewing | Santa Fe, NM

Shannon Wheeler's inspiration.
Before Winter melds straight into Summer -- as seems increasing likely this year -- I best be writing about the fantastic, and I mean FANTASTIC winter beer season that I experienced this year.

Last year ended -- and this year began -- with a magnificently boozy warsh  in the forms of Russian Imperial Stouts, Bourbon Barrel Aged Ales, and Coffee Infused Russian Imperial Barrel Aged who-knows-what.

It was frequently awesome struttin' into my rotational retail speakeasies -- and I say speakeasies because Austin has the most unassuming bottle shops disguised as service stations I've ever encountered anywhere -- to pick up all of the limited releases and brewery one-offs from around the craft world.  Then, Rated Rookies, Austin Beerworks released a megaton Tsar bomb on us in the form of RICO: The Sputik Russian Imperial Coffee Oatmeal Stout, which had this city wobbling from the nuclear tonnage.

Santa Fe Brewing's Imperial Java Stout would have a lot to live up to given the collection of standouts that preceded it.

I will note that the first thing that captured my attention was the simple cover art of the can.  Cans always have the coolest shit on them.  They really tell the story of the beer, and in some cases, they can tell you if your beer is cold or fucking cold just by looking at them.

In this case, I really appreciated the subtlety of this beer can.  It gave me an impression of what the beer might taste like -- homegrown, simple, honest -- kind of the qualities of New Mexico itself; small town diner in the middle-of-nowhere type of shit.  "After noon" it said.  Not sure if that was a direction or a greeting.  I liked it.

The second thing I noticed is how beautifully it poured.  Extra lacing, like whipped cream that I always want to refuse at the coffee shop, but can never resist.  It took an eternity for it to recede to drinkable levels, which is great because I have camera work problems most of the time.  This gave me lots of time to shoot the damn thing over and over.

Finally, I tasted the beer.  Ooooh, BLACK coffee.  Interesting.  I usually douse my coffee in sweeteners because I'm a beer snob, not a coffee one, and I don't know any better -- however, on the occasion that we are out of groceries, I have to accept my java fate, and that usually means no sweetener.  Good.  This is good.  And there it is, that burnt jalapeno flavor that can't elude my palate with these coffee beers.  I've come to not only accept it, but love it.  Burnt, black coffee.  Like Starbucks.  Comfort food, if you will.

I was really impressed with this incarnation from Santa Fe Brewing, particularly since I don't fancy too much of their perennials.  But this was definitely a well-executed effort.  I will enjoy three more of these at some point. After noon.

 ABV: 8.o%
Acquired: The Land of Enchantment

Friday, February 24, 2012

[A Beer a Day] 120 Minute IPA | Dogfish Head Brewing | Milton, Delaware

I'll call your measly 90 and raise it to 120.
Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA is one of those legendary, mythical beers in that you've never tried it, but you heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw it pass out at 31 Flavors last night.

In other words, its pretty serious.

These are a category of rare to fucking-no-chance beers that are referred to in the nerd-dom as "White Whales".

Of course, some are far more unattainable than others.  Pliny the Younger, for instance, is so minimally released, it only really visits two places in the world: The Bay Area and Denver -- and they sell $5 raffle tickets just have the chance at a 10oz pour.  
Westvleteren 12, also known as Westy to mere mortals, is one of the 7 remaining Belgian Trappist Monasteries who still brew beer -- and it never leaves the grounds unless you go and pick it up at the brewery and pack it in your luggage (Note: there are rumblings about a limited shipment to the US this year, stay tuned.) 

Now granted, 120 Minute is no where near as difficult to obtain as those two examples -- after all, here are Mike and I toasting at the Draught House -- but it IS somewhat of a very special occasion when one goes on tap anywhere in the country.  Most pubs simply don't bother stocking it -- it's expensive, it's served in glasses made for ants, and 99.1% of people just generally find the taste of this beer very disagreeable.  Thus, all the trouble and investment it takes to acquire a quarter-barrel of 120 Minute IPA just isn't worth the dedication it takes for most pub owners.  Oh, and finding this in bottles will also prove to be generally fruitless as well.

Therefore, when a very low rumble proliferated that the my favorite bar in the city would be serving this for a few hours, I had to busty-a-move see what all the shouting was about.  

120 Minute -- apart from being an AWESOME show on MTV that I watched religiously in the 1990s -- is an Imperial Indian Pale Ale that is boiled continuously with hops for two hours during the wort stage, imparting an enormous dose of bitterness into the flavoring of the beer.  Obviously, this indicates that the beer will be distorted as shit -- and it is -- at 120 IBUs and containing the over-sweetened flavor of Starbucks-like caramel.  Its unclear what to think about 120 Minute IPA while sipping it in a snifter, even for a dude who loves his hops as much I do.  Its so incredibly augmented, like the chick with Ds who reaches for double PPs.  I mean, is there a point?  Its neither refreshing or smooth or even flavorfully stunning.  Its an tricked up IPA; it exists, the end.

To be further critical, it tasted -- and had the consistency of -- something more closely related to a strong ale, rather than an IPA.  The thick sweetness combined with the alcohol burn disguised all of the fundamental IPA qualities of citrus, pine, and hops.  Founder's Devil Dancer has found a way to maintain the style's traditional characteristics, even those of an Imperial IPA, more so than Dogfish Head has.  

I'm happy to have had the opportunity to try it and choke it down, but unless I find 120 Minute again in a bottle (with intentions of aging) I doubt I'll ever overpay for it again.  

Ha.  Who am I kidding?  I will likely drink this anytime I get the opportunity to -- and I will think the same things over and over and over again -- and, yes, I will force myself to grin.  Because nothing really beats finding those elusive White Whales.

ABV: 18.o%
Acquired: The Draught House

Thursday, February 23, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Hell or High Watermelon Wheat | 21st Amendment Brewing | San Francisco, CA

The new can design doesn't make me as tight in the pants, but the beer itself takes care of that.
21st Amendment is one of those breweries -- like Bell's, Jolly Pumpkin, Goose Island, Russian River, Founder's, Three Floyd's, et cetera, et cetera -- that I am consistently seeking out and trying to chase down all over the flippin' country.  I have a source in another state who is this older, expatriated man whom I call to confuse from time to time, asking what his inventory of 21st Amendment looks like, and I usually have to go through the drill every time on why I'm calling him: 1) No I'm not confused that this is a small liquor store 2) several states away, and 3) yes, I do indeed have a delivery arrangement.  21st and I are tight like that, yo.

Back before Austin Beerworks opened their kettles for hard, pipe-hittin' brewing, one of the brewers invited me and several other friends to do a craft can share.  In other words, a bottle share, sans bottles -- oh, and he was gonna bring all the hooch, so no worries, just show up, savvy?  Why?  Well, since ABW was going to be exclusively canning (12oz and 1,984oz cans), Mike wanted us to be convinced that aluminum cylinders were the ultimate in beer vessels.  I don't know how he procured the massive stock of canned crafts from around the country -- I guess its the kind of thing that automagically happens to you when you are in the small brew industry -- but he had about two or three dozen samples for us to try.  And if this prolonged intro is any indication as to what was in his treasure chest, then it should be no revelation to you that one of these delicacies was 21st Amendment's Hell or High Watermelon Wheat.

The can that launched ships.
As I've alluded to before, atmosphere, location, mood, et al has so much to do with the highly subjective methods of judging beer.  Look, during this can-tasting, you could have handed me a Mountain Dew, and I would have said that it was awesome to the MAX, but if you asked me to drink that shit on the regular, I would have told you to be a good lad and fuck off.

Now, I'm not drawing any kind of comparisons to Watermelon Wheat and the Dew, but context has A LOT to do with this beer.  Lazing by the pool, eating Green Chili Pork Tacos from Torchy's at the South Austin Trailer Park, disc golf ... you know, stoner shit, is EXACTLY the type of situation you want to get yourself into with this beer.  Actually, go watch a Mountain Dew commercial, and its exactly all that shit, except their warm counterparts.  Its completely refreshing -- not unlike a soft drink -- but lightly carbonated to still resemble something brewed with hops and grains.  The watermelon flavor is well-distributed and finely balanced, and rewards you for being brazen enough to buy a six pack.  While most fruit beers are always paired with that infamous tag line from the buyer -- "Well, this is good, but I can only really drink one of these things" -- Hell or High Watermelon Wheat is such a pleasant beer, that you will surely finish all of them in a single sitting as I did.

And given the azimuth of your misdeeds at the moment, this beer will rank very highly for you as it did for me.

ABV: 4.9%
Acquired: Pic 1: The Trail of Beers / Pic 2: ABW can share

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Life & Limb 2 American Stong Ale | Sierra Nevada / Dogfish Head Brewing | Chico, CA / Milton, DE

My first good idea as a parent.
Before becoming a father, I read a line by some clever punter that said this about parenthood, " Everything your kid does will seem cute to you.  This is the natural biological defense against discarding things that wail or squirt shit."

Obviously, this kind of stuff doesn't get printed in the places that you are most likely to see it -- like one of those trite parenting books or fucking Parents Magazine (yes, such a god-awful creation exists, and for some reason it is being delivered to my address).

But the bowels of parody sites on the internet is where the real knowledge and lessons about life reside.  Its true.  Also, you can find the meaning of life in high percentage alcohol.

These two bottles of Life and Limb were purchased just before the birth of my son, Enzo, for the purpose of commemorating this sprouting new branch of life.

As you might expect -- I absolutely intended to bring one of these to the hospital with me in the travel bag for immediate celebratory consumption post-birth; then, age the other bottle in The Cellar in order to properly observe another milestone later on in his life --  his first English Premier League goal, perhaps, if I become a demanding enough sports-father.

Turns out, we didn't have to really sneak contraband booze into the hospital.  Hell, the nurses practically offered jello-shots and refilled our cooler with ice.  Therefore, Mrs. [AA] and I were able to toast to our new gremlin very affably -- with 10% American strong ale in plastic cups while stay-cationing in the recovery room. Actually, Mrs. [AA] just really had a tasters-sip and passed out (some drinking buddy she is), while I consumed the rest of the bottle and watched 12am Bravo programming alone in the dark.  Those specific elements induced some highly concentrated hallucinogens.

Life and Limb was originally intended to be a one-off collaboration (Life and Limb 1, duh) between highly-regarded craft brew titans, Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head, but they decided to continue the relationship due to its box office success and film a sequel.  Because this co-op spanned the length of the entire country, it brought a very nice spectrum of ingredients into play -- most notably sugar syrups representing the East Coast (maple) and the West Coast (birch).

Too much of this led to that.
But before I explain those elements, allow me to retreat back a bit in order to provide some important details about this beer.  While Life and Limb can be enjoyed at any time after purchase -- the intention of the brewer is for it to cellar-age for several years so that the alcohol and sweetness can mellow and further mesh, thus becoming a more balanced ale.  And while its perfectly acceptable to unwrap this bottle from its Spec's bag and untwist the cork -- it will taste completely different at that time than it will in one, two, three and any other number of years beyond.  This will set up a very nice vertical tasting for me and Mrs. [AA] in the future.  [Note: I have three total bottles of L&L2 left, and the Spec's Beer Yeti instructed at least a 3 year storage, so I will likely go to at least that distance for bottles three and four]

So, now back to the syrups -- this is why the brewers included these dense sugars in this recipe for the explicit purpose of progressive preservation while it ages.  However, because I popped this gangster only a few weeks after it was bottled, the thick, syrupy notes were still VERY prominent, and the alcohol had not had time to mature.  While Life and Limb 2 tasted very nice, its was an extremely aggressive beer with sweet, nutty, earthy notes up front, and warm alcohol on the back end.  Its was a tough row to hoe when you're solo, exhausted from emotion, and Kathy Griffin's face is making you reflux.

But it was worth it.  The whole thing.  The wailing and the syrups and the squirting shit.  I just hope that the next series won't have to be purchased before Enzo is in college and we are retired.  Maybe we'll adopt an Asian Life and Limb who is already good at things.

ABV: 10.2%
Acquired: Spec's
(in the year 2011)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Golden Ale | South Austin Brewing | Austin, TX

Broadly speaking, Austin is right at the vernal equinox of a beer Renaissance.

If I were to count how many start-up breweries that have manifested in the past two-to-three years in the closely surrounding area (and by extension, Texas in general) i would have to take off my shoes to count, then use my chin -- like the kids do these days -- to count the hanging remainders that stretch into the dozens.

This is certainly an exciting time to be a local beer nerd, and I've found that so many brewers around town are completely competent in their craft, as well as extremely approachable.  So much so, that I've had the opportunity to spend a good amount of time drinking with several local brewers --  both in their work environs, as well as outside in real life.  Funny guys, tons of knowledge about fucking everything, and they like to drink beer -- the kind of punters who you need on your pub quiz team, if only you could have a half-dozen ringers.

South Austin Brewing is now the prized puppy on the Austin beer scene -- though I'd been following their progress for at least two years or so while they jumped through the requisite hoops of the Texas ABC and culling their funds.  A couple of weeks ago they invited the public for their first-batch tasting, and after braving an unseasonably cold Austin day where I had to actually wear something made of wool, I entered their dojo with an approving bow.

Main ingredients: waffles, chocolate, extra beer, and JC Van Damme.
South Austin is gonna go ahead and follow through on a recent trend with local brewers: the Belgian Beer spectrum.  Daunting as it is, there are some really fantastic brews fermenting around town in the form of Abbeys, Dubbels, Tripels, and Saisons.  Adelbert's Brewing is a place doing something very similar -- and quite honestly, doing it very well.  Hops & Grain just released another in their Greenhouse Series (the 11th since their debut just a couple of months ago!) that is a Belgian Red.  And still another, swiftly approaching brew from unnamed sources that will trip the scales of Belgian awesomeness -- though I am not at liberty to even whisper about it at this point in time.

Anyway, the point is that there is so much Trappist-devotion going on, I'd be surprised if we don't get our very first true monastery in Austin, whose monks will brew and cultivate moules from Town Lake.

South Austin currently has two sample beers: Saison d'Austin and their Golden Ale.  Having really favored the latter, I opted for two samples of the Golden Ale and only one of their Saison.  The Saison was fine -- and I'm delighted that we'll soon have a local Austin Saison to call our very own (pricing rumors, notwithstanding) -- but I really loved the Golden Ale.

The Golden Ale was true to form in the Wallonian style -- making it a well-balanced, deeply flavored, and refreshing beer -- not unlike a Duvel.  Not bad at all for a first-batch, but then again, with the competition brewing around town (pun!), local beer makers are essentially knocking their respective first pitches out of the damn park.  Some of them are tomahawking their first-runs out of the stadium entirely. 

Oh, also, SABC have a pretty kick-ass logo as well; an essential in this town for the purposes of recognition and merch.  Choices, man, they are aplenty.

ABV: 8.o% (or thereabouts -- still getting TABC approval)
Acquired: Brewery release (though they will be bottling in 22 oz. soon)

Monday, February 20, 2012

[A Beer a Day] The American Adjunct Lagers of Portugal: Super Bock vs. Sagres

If one thing the USA should be given credit for, its the ability to brusquely take the ideas of others and jackknife it into a niche, no matter how laborious, formulaic, or manipulative it may be.  I can't go so far as to say that we don't improve the shit out of many of these things, but often we strut around like we're innovators of the earth and fail to acknowledge predecessors.  I don't know how the Germans, Czechs, and Belgians felt when we finally decided that we no longer needed their expertise in order to produce their crafts pertaining to brewing, but I imagine it was a pretty sour walk home.  They were, and always will be, the masters.  And we will always be the disciples.

Only recently have we decided to start giving our sources credit for the ideas we've trademarked under our system of legal charters.  Where once Budweiser, Coors, et al brewed "American beer", we can now find shelves upon shelves of proper homage to the motherland in the form of Czech Pilsners, German Rauchbiers, and Belgian Quads -- all brewed and labeled right here in the United States -- to name a few.  For that, I'm proud of our small brewers for honoring their heritage, while InBev and MillerCoors continue to browbeat us with patriotic drivel.  This is why the perception of American brewing is so poorly regarded worldwide, when -- in large part to small craft -- we have augmented our philosophies to align with a more unified, universal beer culture.

I'll tell you something odd about visiting Europe (and I'll talk later someday about the same feeling I had in South America), is that their beer culture is not nearly as berserk as I expected it to be, and not nearly as zealous as it is here in America at the moment.  They're like Oscar Robertson sleeping their way to another triple double, while we are the Jeremy Lins of the beer world, getting randy about a crossover layup.

When Melissa and I traveled to Portugal for our honeymoon, I was surprised -- but not really -- that a party culture like Lisbon and an artisan culture like Porto drank beer modeled after American rubbish.  I guess in mass amounts, people will find that their endgame is to get painted, and I can totally respect that.  However, I am really bewildered that they would look 4,200 miles across the Atlantic to St. Louis for macro inspiration, when the very brewers that beget American brewing in the first place lay less than a quarter of that distance to the east.

I totally subscribe to the drink-and-let-drink philosophy, and I've certainly imbibed on The Big Three with pleasure (and then, everyone has a favorite local for mid-week drinking -- here in Texas, it's Lone Star/Pearl Light).  I'll tell you what, go to Billy Bob's in Ft. Worth or a Longhorns tailgate on a Saturday night, and tell me that this Lone Star Beer you are drinking is not the best thing you've ever tasted.  Boozing is a lot like real estate: Location, Location, Location.

When some of the guys and I were in Argentina, back before the Malbec craze took over every shitty Real Housewives Wine Bar from Scottsdale to The Cape, we drank a bottle of wine at La Cabrera that had to be the best tasting fermented grape juice on the planet.  Didn't matter what the price was, or the vintage, and I barely remember what it was called -- but what I did know was that between four dapper dudes, consumed with excitement, and sitting at one of the best steakhouses to have ever existed, this was the best fucking wine on earth.

And so it brings me to point of this post:  the two giants of Portuguese brewing -- Super Bock and Sagres.  This is sort of like scrutinizing Miller vs. Bud -- and it is because those are two of the biggest brands in the country -- but relaying back to one of my prior points: nothing tastes better with crawfish in April than a Pearl Light.  Judging beer like this is to analyze the ambiance, the situation, your surroundings; in other words, the full experience.

Super Bock Lager | Unicer Brewing | Le├ža do Balio, POR
This is Super Bock, brewed just outside of Porto -- a region known more for wine (and if I ever start a wine weblog, I will begin with my undying love for the entirely overlooked Portuguese wine industry) than for beer.  However, because Porto is to Portugal what Boston is to the United States, there is a very pleasant blend of the industry class mixed with the creative class, and therefore, there needs to be an accessible beer for both.  Super Bock is just that nice beer to appease this spectrum, and besides, both sets are pairing it with a Francesinha anyway -- because food and beer are the great uniters.

This particular glass of Super Bock -- which is not even a bock beer at all -- was enjoyed, ironically speaking, on the 4th of July at The Casa de Casal de Loivos in the Duoro region of Portugal overlooking hillsides upon hillsides of vineyards.  Just married, feeling pretty damn good about life, a chilly pool on a warm day at the top of the earth, I had to rate this American-style lager a perfect ten.  How could I not?

ABV: 5.6%
Acquired: And I'm being honest here: I pushed a little poolside button, and a traditionally dressed Portuguese chambermaid brought me this exact set-up on a silver platter.  Like I said, the full experience.

Sagres Lager | Sociedade Central de Cervejas | Vialonga, POR
This is Sagres, brewed just outside of Lisbon in a region known for getting downright festive on the most mundane of nights.  Lisboetas are essentially the Chicagoans to Porto's Boston.  Super, super friendly people who drink perpetually and like to talk to strangers.  In the part of town called Bairro Alto, a maze of Portuguese bars called tascas stretch for dozens of confusing blocks.  Seriously, its like the Legend of Zelda, and there was no use trying to find a specifically-researched bar, or one you just left and wanted to return to.  Also, you can drink outside as you walk or loiter in the streets, which are wide enough for a only Smart Car at best -- so the mass of people milling about make one street look like the next.  It's like Mardi Gras in New Orleans if Mardi Gras was held on random Tuesdays in the summertime.

At this point of the night, we've bounced around several tascas, and happen upon one that I recognized from the recommendation of several locals: Tasca do Chico.  There is fado and there are footy scarves.  I'm fucking relishing each moment in here.  I snap a pic of my goblet and the woman behind the tiny bar hands me a plastic cup to take my beer onto the street, whereupon I am promptly offered a trunk-load of pot to purchase.  I pass.  The beer is cold and rich, and not like anything mass-produced in America at all.

Although miles -- literally/figuratively/etc -- from the experience at Casa de Casal, it was still a wildly fun night that ended in a very small bar drinking Sagres and being swallowed by an entire bar doing freestyle fado. Thus, ...

ABV: 5.1%
Acquired: Tasca do Chico, Lisbon, POR

Sunday, February 19, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Quercus Vitis Humulus Oak Aged Barleywine (2009) | Otter Creek Brewing | Middlebury, VT

Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.
Sometimes my beer cellar can resemble a sock drawer in that occasionally, some mismatched cast-away resurfaces after a few years, and I'm like, "The fuck?  I remember you, Tommy Maddux".  And when this happens on rare occasion, it becomes the Selection of the Night for Melissa and I -- which is how we came upon this bottle of chemistry from Otter Creek Brewery somewhere in Vermont.

After studying it and trying to remember when and where I picked up this undrafted free agent, I somewhat recall it being a random one-off at Spec's somewhere in the territory of 2009.  And when I looked up the label to do a bit of research for this entry, the Otter Creek people were like, "very limited release, y'all", except they didn't say y'all because they're probably a bunch of Ben & Jerry's eating, carpetbagging beatniks.

No use waiting to see if this thing gets any better.  Three years was probably too long to wait anyway.  Plus, I was already buzzed, and being buzzed makes me generous with The Cellar. [side note: At my unending requests, Melissa -- and others -- have finally learned to call it The Beer Cellar, as opposed to The Beer Fridge -- because this ain't fucking HEB.  Love takes time, as my buddy Alex always said when I wanted to start his car's A/C at Level 4 during the hot El Paso summers.  Indeed, Alex -- beer takes time.]

As you will note from the label, Quercus Vitis Humulus is a bit of mouthful, both verbally and consumably.  From the Latin meaning, [Of the] Oak and Vine, Hopped, QVH is a very contrived, heavy-handed barleywine -- much in the same vein as Garret Oliver's failed The ConcoctionQVH is fermented with French savignon blanc grape juice and re-fermented with Champagne yeast, then asked to take a time-out in French oak barrels for the duration of at least six weeks.  Sounds, delightful, oui?  

Eh.  Sure.  It was nice -- and as is usually the case, drinkable enough.  But, there were so many distinct flavors struggling with each other -- not to mention in the slightest that this is a high ABV old-ale barleywine; a style that commands a major amount of regard from an individual's palate on its own.  The beer was bittered, but not by hops I thought -- something else, like too-charred oak.  While champagne yeast is a magnificent ingredient in beer, combined with the grape juice, it was tart in an odd fashion; in other words, soured without bacteria, which made it seem just a bit off.  And at 12% alcohol, it was really making a tough go of things, particularly since I'd already been happily consuming dense Belgians at Drink.Well.

I admit, aging isn't always kind to beer.  Hops, alcohol volume, time, temperature, leakage, light, et al can basically alter an entire style from what the brewer originally intended.  However, that is what is part of the fun of cellaring -- aside from the volumes of liquid Charles Dickens to read back there -- being able to test the beer's longevity, and observing taste profiles of the same beer from one month (or months, or even years) to the next.  At least that is why I find it expensive fun.

ABV: 12.o%
Acquired: In a galaxy far, far away.  Spec's, I think.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Milk Stout Nitro | Left Hand Brewing | Longmont, CO

Already my favorite beer of 2012
There is a special place in the hearts of La Familia Puga for Left Hand's Milk Stout.  After all, it was the first communal beer between Melissa and I after 9 (actually, it was 10) loooong months carrying (actually, it was just Mel) our diminutive (actually, he was huge) offspring.  Adjuncts aside, Milk Stout Nitro is a definitively first-rate beer.

Nitro will be a limited release of Left Hand's perennial Milk Stout (sans nitrogen), which is a spectacularly packaged beer on its own; however, the technology that the brewery perfected was to be able to drink a bottled beer that feels like it came from the tap.

I often talk about the flavor profiles of the brews on here, but the star of this particular incarnation of this beer is its mouthfeel.  In other words, Nitro tastes better because it feels better.

When pubs pull a stout on draught, it is delivered from the keg to the glass with the ample use of nitrogen rather than the copious use of carbon dioxide.  Therefore, stouts feel and taste creamier in a pub because they contain less carbonation and are allowed to "cook", as stout heads form from the bottom up and take a minute to settle into a perfect foam hat.

Whereas Guiness invented the portable nitro stout with the use of their in-vessel nitrogen-releasing widget, Left Hand has perfected the idea by improving the properties of the glass itself, sans widget.  The result: a perfect draught pint, in the room of your choice.

Another awesome  feature of this beer is the suggestion from the brewers on how to pour it.  No longer should one doubt the prospect of pouring the perfect pint: 1) Keep the glass upright, pour hard, and 2) Admire.

I've followed their directions at least a dozen and a half times thus far.
In an earlier entry, I discussed the characteristics of milk sugar that make up the lactose in a Milk Stout.  Because of this ingredient, and the distinctive maltiness of a stout, Left Hand Milk Stout tastes a lot like a root beer float or maybe even moreso, an iced cappuccino -- milky, coffee-flavored, infused with chocolate and roasted nuts.  Think about the times you would enjoy such a thing.  Not necessarily a winter beer, right?  Though it pairs perfectly with an Autumn baby, this beer can also be enjoyed in the morning. 

ABV: 6.0%
Acquired: Spec's

Friday, February 17, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Thrash Metal Farmhouse Strong Ale | Jester King Brewery | Austin, TX

Only a few Sleestaks were harmed when making this beer
Beers like Thrash Metal are exactly what this weblog is about.  Well, sure, its also a little bit about conceit and braggadocio grandstanding, but mainly its about beers like Thrash Metal, and exceptionally staggering surprise from local brewgicians Jester King.

But first, a brief bit of history between the King and I.  When Jester King was announced as a budding farmhouse brewery in the periphery of Austin, I was positively ecstatic because my favorite brewery to visit in the US (so far, natch) is a farmhouse brewery in the northern reaches of Michigan's Mission Peninsula called Jolly Pumpkin.  When pictures and teaser comments first started to surface on their Facebook page from some of the proprietors of Jester King, it seemed as though they were taking a large component of inspiration from those folks up north.  Heck, even the names and logo were somewhat similar.

I was pumped -- a farmhouse brewery right on my front lawn.

But where things turned sour was at Whip In one night, very shortly after their February 2011 release of Black Metal Imperial Stout.  I could barely finish the pint, it was so bad.  A short time later, Melissa had a tasters sample of Commerical Suicide at Draught House's Anniversary Party.  "Dirty dishwater", she remarked.  And then again at Black Star Co-Op with my first taste of Wytchmaker RyePA.  Terrible.  Fucking terrible.  Finally, only a few weeks later, I did a horizontal tasting that included their collaboration with Mikkeler called Drink'n the Sunbelt.  Surely, nobody could fuck up a Mikkeler collab, right? -- and furthermore, Mikkeler wouldn't even be coproducing with an inferior brewer, right?  Right?  Cardboard. Stale hops. Undrinkable and squalid.

Well, shit, I thought.  This is a bummer.   But I give up. 

But then something wonderful happens.  Jester King starts bottling -- in 750mL bottles, no less.  Because I am aware of the sudden seductive trade-bait that their awesome packaging and labeling has suddenly created, I snatched up quite a few Black Metals and Wytchmakers.  I shelve them for some other time, for some other punter who wants to trade me abominable beer for some Pliny or Consecration, or like, whatevs.

Something wonderful part 2:  I'm a lazy trader.  So much so, I never got around to trading those gnarly bottles for any Russian River goodness.  So, what happens with a beer surplus but to get busy drinking?  I popped a Black Metal with my brother Chris.  I'm telling him not to expect anything great.  I'm reading the labeling, "Bottle Conditioned", it says. Interesting. 

Tasting, tasting ...

Holy shit.  This is an outstanding beer.  Bottles saved Jester King.  Or maybe they just brewed better.  Reading their labels, its pretty damn obvious they knew what they were doing -- but with several batches under their belt, and the benefit of conditioning their beers made a UNIVERSE of difference.

Since that first bottle of Black Metal, I couldn't get enough of Jester King.  Anything they release, I've tried to collect, age, drink, share, trade, et al.  Melissa and I have visited their brewery on several occasions.  In other words, the sun shines out of their behinds.  They are just great -- Jolly Pumpkin-esque, after all.

So, relating this long-winded anecdote back to Thrash Metal: This is one of their very limited, special releases.  Remember I was discussing their Mikkeler collab, Drink'n the Sunbelt earlier?  That was their first one, and Thrash Metal is their second.  Its not a seasonal, its just an occasional.  There will be no anticipatory event that will help us predict when this will be released -- if ever -- again.

Thrash Metal is what big-beer drinkers bone for.  And by "big-beer", I mean those brews that have certain shitloads of alcohol in them.  Thrash Metal is one of those.  Labeled as a Strong Ale, Thrash Metal weighs in at a very hefty 9 percent.  Now, going back to an important part of Jester Kings philiosophy is that they are a "farmhouse" brewery.  When you combine those two elements of big-beers and farmhouse ales, well, they kind of contradict each other. As I alluded to in a prior post, farmhouse ales are typically very low in alcohol, so as to keep farm workers who were drinking this stuff throughout the work day from lopping their arms off Machete-style.  But Jester King is all, "fuck that", we're going Thrash Metal on this brew -- and thus, the big -- HUGE -- alcohol notes in their farmhouse ale.

Thrash Metal is nothing short of legendary.  This particular bottle above was shared at The Salt Lick with Rick and Eli, and they had the same opinions about it.  Its a very fucking friendly beer in that way, in that nobody tends find it at all disagreeable.  Huge, HUGE, esters and a great barnyard funk.  Syrupy -- but strangely crisp in flavor.  Malty but not burnt.  Rich without tasting sweet.  The whole idea of Thrash Metal is a awesome test in paradoxical thinking, like Dave Mustaine riding a giant field mouse like a horse.

ABV: 9.3%
Acquired: An Austin bottle shop

Thursday, February 16, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Alaskan Amber | Alaskan Brewing | Juneau, AK

Sometimes the snow comes down in June, sometimes the sun goes 'round the moon

These could very well be the last two contraband Alaskan Ambers to have been sipped within the slowly loosening beer-authority grip that is the great state of Texas.  The word on the street is that the Alaskan Brewing Company will be making headway onto local shelves within the next 30 days. This is the part of this paragraph that you should be getting chills.  Alaskan in Texas, chief.

My folks kindly brought a rather generous portion back from Seattle for me during their summer trip last year, and for that, I thank them.  Though this 12-pack was carefully rationed to worthy guests on certain nights, it wasn't until I heard about the imminent supply that Melissa and I decided to celebrate by popping the last two forgotten soldiers. 

Alaskan Amber was a beer that we both enjoyed for a number of years in Arizona -- and as I've mentioned before, Arizona is a strange anomaly for "importing" great, non-regional, small-brew beers from around the states.  Personally, Alaskan Amber reminds me vividly of the Phoenix Texas Exes Thursday Thursday events in which a tables-full of Longhorns and friends alike would take over a random Valley bar, starting out with semi-respectable conversations amongst the group, but eventually devolving into sexual innuendos and shouting down unaffiliated patrons there to have an after-work pint by the time the appetizers arrived.  I remember that my first two pints were always Alaskan Amber (where available), before switching over to the requisite Shiner Bock, because belted insults directed at everyone in general goes best with a raunchy beer.  This must be why the Spoetzl market in the Phoenix metro really burgeoned.

Lest I digress into further stories of shenanigans with the Texas gang, I'll explain why Alaskan Amber is so great, despite being a pretty common beer style. First, and lets be honest, foremost, it is made by little magical Inuits who ride-share to work on sleds pulled by baby seals.  Therefore, drinking this beer anywhere above 40° would just be an insult to the eskimo culture.  This is something that I've obliged them during my entire Alaskan Amber beer-drinking run -- up to, and including, last night.

Alaskan Amber basically has all the characteristic richness of a finely-tuned amber, with that excellent, thickly-sweet caramel finish.  I fucking love caramel.  Ask anyone.  I think this is why I have an absurd kind-of love for most ambers -- but I think the Alaskan Brewing Co. does it the best of any brewer in the country.  Welcome to Texas, guys, I drink your milkshake.

ABV: 5.3%
Acquired: Probably a Safeway in Seattle

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Rumpkin Rum Barrel Aged Pumpkin Ale | Avery Brewing | Boulder, CO

So little is less romantic than having to conform to a day devoted to not insulting your wife -- or having a meal out on the town because you wanted her to think that the idea of doing such a thing just came to you out of the blue, and not because you are an obedient donkey.

Proclamations of love, in my opinion, might actually be worth LESS on such a day for no other reason than everyone else is doing it, even those who you suspect insult the whole idea of being bewitched by another.  Get the fuck out of here.  What does all this have to do with a day in the middle of February, anyway?

Found love in a bottle of Rumpkin
The romantic answer is that someone as enchanting as my wife realizes the intentions of the 14th of February beyond the solitary day -- and actualizes it in ordinary day-to-day events that make me a happy boy.  Similarly minded couples recognize these acts as "the little things"; the little things that construct the entire perspective of love.  In this case, love manifested into a bottle of beer presented to me with her perfect smile.  Melissa knows that I would never, ever dip my toes into the prospect of purchasing something fermented for myself that costs more than $1 an ounce.  I'm just inwardly cheap to myself like that.

But because she loves me, and it makes her happy to see me excited about something, she performed one of those little deeds that the best women we all know, do.  Probably not a big deal to most -- not even to her -- but a universe of thoughtfulness to me.

This is Avery's Rumpkin Ale.  I've had a small sip of it once before -- coincidentally in the presence of my wife -- and I sent out an unintentional beacon of love for this beer.  There were only 512 cases of this made and the very first year it was bottled, so, basically, its a pain in the arse to find.

This pumpkin ale was aged for 6 months in Gosling's Rum barrels, coincidentally, my favorite dark rum thanks to a fine introduction to the product by 1/2 of the gang's resident spiritologist, Mike Sanders.

Now, here is my situation with Pumpkin Ales.  Frankly, I really can't stand them.  I find them too spiced and sweetened beyond palatal preference.  Most brewers intentions with their pumpkin seasonals, it seems, is to replicate a pumpkin PIE beer -- which, is no treat of mine either.  True pumpkin-tasting beer, therefore, is actually difficult to find.  Seriously, next year, try it.  You will taste a mouthful of post-turkey dessert instead of the natural, dense, earthy deliciousness of the fruit itself.

With Rumpkin, Avery actually hammers down the raw flavors of pumpkin, then 4lokos you with HUGE, overt finishes of dark rum.  "Holy fucking cow", you will think -- because it is a beer experience you will have never had (despite being relatively late in the beer season to be drinking a pumpkin ale -- either that or very, very early).

At nearly 16%, this beer is not obnoxiously powerful.  Its quite smooth, but dense; easily drinkable, but most certainly a sipper.  I have one last bottle saved from Series One, and I'm heavily anticipating what the stamping on the label indicated from this bottle -- that this will be brewed and re-shelved for Series Two at or around October 5th, 2012.  Thank-you Melissa.  Hope you enjoyed your Valentine's Day too.  So sorry that the insults and general malaise will re-start after your solitary day in middle-February.

ABV: 15.9%
Acquired: Hyde Park Market

Monday, February 13, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Supplication Wine Barrel Aged Sour Brown Ale | Russian River Brewing | Santa Rosa, CA

"... and I says to her, 'Supplication?', more like 'Fornication'!"
Two years is really a long time to miss out on something you love doing.  In the interest of this weblog, that would be drinking a COMPLETE bottle of Russian River all by myself.

Sure, I've had pours of Pliny the Elder here and there throughout last two years -- and yes, there were the semi-often samplings of the -tion series with friends, and friends of friends, and sometimes complete strangers-- but its been far too long since I've been able to decant my very own bottle of Russian River without the obligation to share and share alike, for fucks sake.

When it comes to Russian River beers, nobody is really that picky.  One of the top-rated brewers in the world, there were approximately five or six -tion bottles that I was undressing with my eyes at the pub I was in.  There was my first love, Consectration.  And there were other Brettanomyces-whores in the window, like Sanctification, Damnation, and Salvation -- but one coquette stood out like the Queen of De Wallen: Supplication.

I've had Supplication once before during a bottle share.  I'll tell you this: 2oz. is not nearly enough to scratch an itch.  A gallon of this is not enough.  But 375mL would have to do.

As you can read, Supplication is a brown ale that was aged in oak pinot noir barrels for 12-16 months, then refermented in the very vessel that it lives in until some unassuming punter like myself wanders by like a lost ball in high weeds to flatter it.  First, right on the nose, the cherries and sour brett hit like a rock.  Its not as tart as Consecration -- which is the same brown beer base, but infused with Cab Sav barrel resin and currant -- but instead is far more sweetly sour, like an expensive French candy that come in packs of two.  It really is a creation of art, dealing with wild bacterias, and then making me believe that this is one of the most delicious beers ever made.

Supplication is serious business.  Like 10 times more serious than the internet.  In Russian River, beer drink you.

ABV: 7.o%
Acquired: An Austin pub

Thursday, February 9, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Fretzy's Unfiltered Ale | Phoenix Ale Brewery | Phoenix, AZ

Hi Oberon, I'm Fretzy's.  Have we met?

It took me about 10 seconds to recognize what was going on here.

Fretzy's is as close to Oberon as Matt Berninger of The National is to our saint and samaritan, Steven Morrissey.  That is to say, there are VERY overt similarities in profile, a massive harvest of inspiration, and, not only the same genre, but almost an entire album of cover songs in bright-eyed tribute.

But let me analyze this from a different perspective: As a standalone, Fretzy's is truly a phenomenal beer; wheaty, grainy, floral, and citrusy -- the marking of a genuinely inspired Unfiltered Wheat Ale.  Its pours extremely hard, demonstrated by the beer-float froth sculpted like the coiffed pompadour of our beloved Mozza himself.  Oranges and hay (Melissa said "hay"; I was truly proud) and bread yeast were the stars.  I was really fucking enjoyed this, I said to Melissa, this tasted just* like Oberon!

(*hasty superlative, but "just" meaning -- hey! shit! this is a great clone!)

Despite all that, this is not bad for a start-up brewery in a dearth'ed beer burg like the Phoenix Metro.  I did a bit of research on the malts Phoenix Ale Brewing uses to make this beer, and as it turns out, Fretzy's is made with 2-Row malts.  Guess who else uses 2-Row malts.  That's right: Morrissey.

Would there be The National without The Smiths?  Probably not. But guess what?  This is not graduate school.  There are enough A's to go around for everyone -- and Fretzy's has certainly earned excellent marks.  Its a clone, sure, but its not like a home brew imitation.  There is some very obvious skill and craft that went into making this beer. If there was no Oberon, this would probably be one of, if not the best, wheat beer I've ever tasted.

But, lo, its hard to dethrone a crown without dissension from the serfdom, and I'm a loyal follower to King Oberon. The Queen is Dead** they say!  Long live the King!  I guess Oberon is the King of Beers.  Someone ought to trademark that.

(**Smiths pun alert)

ABV: 5.o%
Acquired: Beer trade from Arizona (Thanks Whit and Scott!)

[A Beer a Day] The Dogfather Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout | Laughing Dog Brewing | Ponderay, ID

Let's just hope Sofia Coppola stays away from the next few batches.
Happy Congratulations, everybody! Laughing Dog Brewery is now being imported into the Texas market.  Unfortunately, people like me go and grab it all before you can get off of work, even at your boss's decent acquiesced time when you have "an emergency" at "your kid's school".  I have lots of those. As far as anyone at work knows, I have eight foster kids that frequently let the halls of various elementary schools around Austin flow free with heaved sick.  So, sorry bout that.

One of the things I've noticed about drinking every day is how much fun its been.  Sure, its a challenge, and at times it can get you down, but I think its one contest I've stood up to. Another thing is that I learned how much I like to incorporate whiskey into my beer.  When fermenting sugars into loads of alcohol just isn't enough for me, I like to double up with beer soaked in distilled spirits to really bring that unthinkable edge, you know?

It appears that Laughing Dog has found such a recipe that is custom designed for those needs.  Dogfather is an imperial stout -- a style I just love madly -- and aged for 11 months in bourbon barrels.  Oh, also, there were only 300 cases of these made (3,600 bombers total) that were distributed around The States, so running across one was a bit of a dog's bullocks.

The Dogfather tastes like what I would imagine the inside of Mama Cass' mouth tasted like after that Bourbon and Cadbury bender that exploded her heart -- but in a clean way, of course.  I mean, if that's the flavor worth killing yourself over time is, then you KNOW that shit's gotta be ace.

Well, folks, you can get it all here in one 22oz bottle without all the gruesome shrieks and wriths.  Chocolate and booze and rich, deep caramel notes with a very nicely hopped body.  Pairs well with a ham sandwich.

ABV: 11.o%
Acquired: An Austin bottle store

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Strawberry Short's Cake | Short's Brewing | Bellaire, MI

... and everyone know: Strawberry, Strawberry is the neighborhood ho.

I'm a fan of fruit beers like I'm a fan of Steve Carrell, a comedian who is genius at times, terrible at others, but overall,  average and palatable; nice wholesome, clean fun -- like safe sex with your other after catching an episode of Mad About You on TBS.  You get it.

Because fruit beers are mostly unoffensive, they're also pretty ordinary and unadventurous.  A blueberry or raspberry beer will taste like toast with alcoholic jam, for example -- quite an ordinary thing to eat for breakfast when there is a world of eggs benedict and chicken and waffles out there, amirite?

Typically, the base-style of a fruit beer is a wheat ale, which exacerbates the generally tepid feelings I have about them, wheat beers being the vodka of the brew-world in that you can just about make them taste however you want with just a touch of this and a dab of that. 

Fortunately, in this instance, I am discussing Short's Brewing from waay up north in the boondocks of Mitten-chigan. Short's is a brewing company that really pushes the boundaries of flavors and chemistry. These are the geniuses who brew beers like Key Lime Pie, Smoked Apple Ale, Spruce Pils (made by using blue spruce tips), and Bloody Beer (Bloody Mary style beer with tomato, horseradish, and celery) to name just a few of their creative samplings.  They are exactly the type of company that makes the grind and expense of beer hunting a fun prospect, when at times it feels like wading through the same Pale Ale over and over.  And although some of their recipes fall a bit short (mind the pun!), their creativity and unmistakable ambition for crafting great beer makes me taste their product with a forgiving palate.  Strawberry Short's Cake, for example.

Immediately after popping the cap, the scent of muddled strawberries hits in the foam nose pretty firmly and then again even stronger in the liquid itself.  Short's Cake is made with milk sugar, which is the same lactose as you would find in a milk stout -- which anyone who's a fan of that style would know -- makes the beer creamy and sweet without being syrupy.  Its a wonderful ingredient, and it is not at all lost in this beer.  The milk sugar combined with very blatant shortbread notes make this fruit beer not so much a summertime sipper -- even though, sure, it could very well be -- but more of a fruit "stout", in that the beer has a very thick, dense flavor, but also delicate enough to eat after a meat-and-potatoes kind of meal.  The people of the heartland are kind of into that.  They know their stuff.

ABV: 5.o%
Acquired: Jack's Market, Traverse City, MI

[A Beer a Day] Leg Humper Hefeweizen | Sleepy Dog Brewing | Tempe, AZ

First, I would like to thank my beer-trading buddies in AZ, Whitney and Scott for sending this nifty little bomber our way.  We in Texas, much like in AZ, appreciate a nice weiss beer to compliment our mild winters -- milder this year than most -- with a yeasty and clove-infused Hefe.  Since it was somewhere in the high 60s -- at NIGHT -- when we decided to open up the beer cellar, we decided to pop this.  I will say that Hefeweizens might be Melissa's favorite beer style, while I find them attractive mostly with food (like a fucking BLT, FTW, amirite?).  I can't say that I order too many Hefes in an "imbibing-only" setting.  I felt this was my chance to really dig deep into this style that has really set a very high mark locally with Live Oak's Hefeweizen.

First off, if the labeling is any indication what was inside, I was already feeling pretty cheeky about it all.  I also particularly like Sleepy Dog's logo in general.  And because I'm a big Arizona homer -- not when I actually lived there, mind you; I pretty much disparaged it -- but, since moving away I've gained a huge sense of appreciation for my former home field.  I even miss it sometimes.

The next thing I noticed were the massive, fat bubbles after the pour -- even as I was setting up my camera that I never seem to have ready.  You can really see that even though the head has receded, the carbonation remains really active.  I can see that there has been an almost total yeast filtering judging by its clarity, and really this is a style of Hefeweizen called a Kristallweiss.  I happen to really love Kristallweissens since tasting one from a local brewer by the name of  Circle Brewing called Blur. 

Leg Humper's strains of yeast did not really evoke bananas-and-cloves at all.  In fact, I tasted almost no fruity or spicy esters.  Instead, I got a very bright, lively beer that tasted sweet and dry -- and most definitely interesting, but unlike any other Hefe I've had.  The carbonation was a bit like the tail wagging the dog *wink* -- dominating the beer until the very end with a consistent stream of surf into the palate.  Melissa loved it.  I really liked it too, but I think I would have preferred it with some bacon and mayo.

ABV: 6.o%
Acquired: Trade from Arizona

Monday, February 6, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Cantillon Fou' Foune Apricot Lambic | Brouwerij Cantillon | Brussels, BEL

Its like God designed it for doggy style.
An easy way to know if you are having a good day is just to compare it to one of mine and see if its similar.  And if in this comparison of yours, you have materialized a triple-sized pour of something crafted by Brouwerij Cantillon into your hands, then I would gamble that you were having a GREAT day.

The generous and kind and gifted (and every other superlative you can throw at them) people a Jester King endowed their assemblage at their 1st Anniversary Party with a huge beer boner in the form of Cantillon Fou' Foune -- a beer that has had only 3 kegs imported into the entire United States in the past year, and one of which sat here in this small microbrewery's taphouse as an absurdly benevolent and delicious gift to their patrons.

Cantillon is a very small, but very renowned, brewery established in the year 1900 and set in the beercore city of Brussels, Belgium.  The brewery specializes in Lambic beers and uses spontaneous fermentation to strengthen and sour their beers -- a process that remains unchanged since Cantillon opened for shenanigans more than a century ago.  Their availability is thin, and Fou' Foune in particular is dependently brewed based on the seasons apricot harvest.  That is to say, having such a beer in your near-grasp, waiting in an increasingly uneasy beer line, hoping against fate that the keg should blow as you survey the empty tulips being thrust forth by your line mates, is enough to make ones teeth itch.

To be born damned with a Grinch-like beer soul two sizes too small, was to hold out my tulip and be blessed with a Fou' Foune taster's pour three sizes too big!  While a needy line was brooding behind me, I proceeded to baptize my tongue in apricot prayers while Boris Karloff narrated my thoughts.  Its difficult to be sincerely objective with a beer so rare, but I'm certain that this stuff was magnificent regardless of all the allegories attached to the Cantillon Brewery.  Fou' Foune was not so much apricot onanism as it was an apricot orgy.  It was like species of different apricots attacking another species of apricots in an apricot War of the Alliance.  Kamikazee apricots vs. Guerrilla apricots vs. blitzkrieg apricots vs. some wide-flanking, hand-to-face, ass-kicking, vigilante apricots. This was like The Punisher, anti-hero of beers -- even if it is kind of a sissy-style lambic.

I mean, think to yourself for one second -- "how flippin' tasty are apricots in the first place?"  Like, really fucking good, right?  Add that recipe for success to a mf'ing beer potion and that's one A-bomb dropping glass of magic.

ABV: 5.o%
Acquired: Jester King Brewery guest tap