Friday, March 30, 2012

[A Beer a Day] La Folie Sour Brown Ale (2010) | New Belgium Brewing | Fort Collins, CO

The two things that make up 99% of the content on [An Avenue] are music and beer.  Its a bit of an obvious statement that one, but where I'm going with that is: these two subjects are highly personal things, and people prefer their own spectrum and ranges within these two areas;  those again being music and beer.

Sometimes, I'm completely fucking befuddled how someone couldn't completely swag their bodies all the way down to their knees when something like Of Montreal's Suffer for Fashion finds its way into their specific aural boundaries.  But I've been near such an inert human being whose sensibilities are offended by a shrieking, strident Kevin Barnes.  It just doesn't suit their neural palates, and I totally understand.  I get it.  I mean, I like totally loathe Stevie Ray Vaughan, but admitting that kind of information, especially in Austin, Texas, is likely to get my ass stripped of my residency.  I would literally have to register as part of the Taliban and be subjected to David Gray all day long.  But I get it.  Music -- like beer -- is highly individualized, and any indignation against your personal preferences is like an f-bomb email attack that you can't wait to reply to.

Sour beers have lately become all-the-rage in the brewing world -- but there was a time in the recent past that these goblins were considered the Of Montreal of Beer.  They were tart and tang, snappish and inharmonious -- and lets be honest, they are flavored by letting bacteria basically rot the product.  Well, in my opinion, that was everything that you needed to love about them -- an imperfect climax of sweet cherry, brettanomyces, and wine tannins.  I was absolutely hooked from the very first sample I had of Russian River's Consecration.

Unfortunately, those of us outside of a very small geographical area are not subjected to its greatness -- which is why we have to find other outlets.  More and more brewers are beginning to get their feet wet with sours now that the ancillary beer crowd is becoming more aware of its genius -- and, like Chicago, the second city to Consecration's New York is New Belgium's La Folie.

Recently, Melissa had been whining about the pervasive lack of Jester King's Das Wonderkind (sour) around the city, and so I offered accommodation in the form of a bottle that I had been storing in The Cellar for a couple of years: a 2010 La Folie Sour Brown Ale.

The thing with sours is that they are so fucking unpredictable.  They have the emotional grip of a pregnant woman, and with that, I didn't really know if this 700+ day-old bottle of beer would hold up over time.  I popped it to find out, knowing that under-delivery of the target sour beer would be like dealing with Melissa's metaphoric pre-natal undercurrents.  Standing between these two was like having teenage daughters sharing the same room.  Just pour the fucking beer, dad!

Let me express to you the best I can:  2010 La Folie was FUCKING perfect.  And I'm being honest here, it easily rivaled Consecration with the grace of a Claudette Colbert.  La Folie was absolutely charming: sweet but strong, delicate but tart in just its peripheries.

Typically when I un-earth these bottles aging in my cellar, I don't really miss them after enjoying them.  But this is definitely one I wish I could have another shot at.  I made sure to stock an La Folie 2012 in an attempt to find another Ingrid Bergman or Greta Garbo in a bottle.

ABV: 6.o%
Acquired: Spec's

Thursday, March 29, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Longshot American Homebrew Contest | Boston Beer Company | Boston, MA

So, I've been taking a bit of time off from [An Avenue] to re-evaluate what the whole point of starting this project was -- and to determine what the ultimate goal will be, apart from writing 1200 words a day that will basically sit in the deep, dark, fecal depths of the webiverse.

Nobody likes to read prose without a story arc and I felt that reviewing a bunch of unattainable beers everyday was starting to seem like a David Fincher script that never satiates the audience and gets very confusing and muddled --  just before it gets boring and overstated -- leading to the infamous crash-and-burn in the box office.  Nobody can really root for Fincher because he keeps givin' us the business every time.

The primary reason I started this page as a New Years resolution is because I needed to have demonstration of my work in print.  But why?

About a year and a half ago, I applied for the open editor position at Austin's, hoping that my beguiled wit (although VERY hastily constructed between real-life obligations) was enough to convince the previous editor to hand me fistfuls of cash and the chance to replace her as the authority on Austin's kitchen and lounge scene.

Obviously, since I'm still tip-tapping away in an office that reeks of pink cafeteria slime -- and not at an east side cafe dissecting a wood-fired salt bagel and a Cuvee Maritage espresso, I didn't succeed at that particular mission.  I didn't have a degree in journalism, I didn't have experience, and I sure-as-shit didn't even meet the bare minimum of narrating a personal weblog.  In other words, I was a positively pathetic candidate -- if you can even go so far as to denote myself as such.  I needed to give them something to root for.

And so here I am.  The Longshot.  And this is what I'm talking to you about today.

I think by now, if you've read this far into today's entry, you are somewhat of an interested reader. and I can reasonably count on you knowing my ambiguous thoughts about Samuel Adams and the Boston Beer Company in general.

In my head, the brewery's product is like a Skittle® brisket -- which would induce immediate retching of the bowels at first mention of such a disgusting product.  However, when the company is anatomized, you can really see the art of their delivery, and at times, they do good work.  At the very least, they have really good ideas, even thought the execution usually falls tremendously flat.

This is one of Sam Adams BBC's better ideas:  A homebrew contest (much like their B'Austin crowd sourced beer) that would give the amateur brewer a chance to hit the jackpot and have their product called up from Single A right into the Big Show..  

Sam Adams BBC ran with three recipes that they appeared to like the best -- and also saw the commercial opportunities for, obvs -- in the form of A Dark Night in Munich Dunkel, Five Crown Imperial Stout, and Derf's Secret Altbier.   Awesome.  And each of these dudes even get to have their provocative mugs printed right on the bottle, too!

So, I settled in to watch some world football, American style (which by and far, is the biggest longshot in this entire blog entry) and see the potential that batted these guys into the major leagues.

Every one of them looks like they should be shopping with their moms at the Container Store.

Up first, was A Dark Night in Munich, a dunkel style that doesn't get a lot of run from American Microbrews, but is one of the more spectacular Germany inventions along with the bicycle, the MP3, and gummy worms.  I don't often drink imported beers, but when I do, I drink dunkels.

A Dark Night in Munich is surprisingly spot on with some of the Bavarian dunkels I've had, and, to be honest better than the dunkels I had in Frankfurt (though I realize this is not the primary region for this beer style).

As I've discussed before, I'm a big fan of balanced, malty beers, and ADNIM really piques my interest with its baked-breadiness and sweet yeasts.  Its really rich and creamy without being a heavy beer at all, like a well-crafted wiesse beer.

ABV: 5.9%

I thought that since we were already off to a good start, I would open the second bottle right away to keep the momentum.  The first two things I noticed about the next bottle -- sampled in a semi-appropriate progression of lightest-in-color to darkest -- was that the ABV was a sticker-shocking 9.3% (is this the heaviest alcohol beer that Sam Adams brews?  I think so.), and that the name, Derf's Secret Alt, was really really fucking nerdy.  But I was willing to proceed for science. 

I'm not a huge fan of Altbiers -- Dusseldorf's response to rival Cologne's wildly popular Kolsch beers -- but I've enjoyed a few on rare occasion.  This was about how I remembered the average ones -- too sharp on the tongue, too malted, and grassy.  I also thought the color wasn't dark enough, which led me to believe it was void of chocolate and caramel notes.  They were kind-of there if I was really searching for them -- but searching for that little nuance was like inspecting the stitches of a Rob Dibble fastball.  Look too closely, and your ass is gonna get fucking beaned.

ABV: 9.3%

Herp derp.
I was a little bit buzzed after downing the first two in the 90 minutes it took for the US to totally fuck up a 1-0 lead, and so I took halftime off to eat a sandwich and revitalized my palate a bit -- because what was coming was a huge hill to climb with only testicles for legs.

Imperial stouts are damn near one of my favorite things in life, along with Texas football, 100-person gigs, Franklin brisket, and loitering with MelEnzo Magee.  Its an exceptional style -- rich, creamy and boozy with nuts, chocolate, and burnt coffee notes.  It swims to your stomach like a wolverine.

Five Crown Imperial Stout is definitely a well-scripted beer.  It has all the qualities of a nice Imperial Stout, but i have to note that it certainly has that mass-produced flatness that is rarely apparent in the small batches that the little guys do.  I'd actually really love to taste Joe Longshot's original creation to see how heavily Sam Adams BBC influenced his beer.  And c'mon, a homebrewed Imp Stout?  That is just like fucking magic and genius all in one.  I don't think I've heard of such a thing -- so this guy definitely gets a gold star to defend against the terrorists, whom hate both fun and beer.  I would like to buy and drink this in the privacy of my home again.

ABV: 8.9%

To conclude, I thought that this was a really brilliant gimmick by Sam Adams BBC to not only publish these Longshot homebrews, but to distribute them into a mix-pack (because one of the saddest things about beer shopping in Texas is, although completely legal, most places are unwilling to let you produce your own delicious adult hurricanes from the beer rack).  Maybe Sam Adams BBC did a bit too much editing though.  I've said it before, maybe its time for Jim Koch to hand over the keys to the brewery -- it appears that his fan base has surpassed his abilities and creativity.  

Saturday, March 24, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Cutthroat Porter | Odell Brewing | Fort Collins, CO

I don't feel especially talkative today, so to reflect my mood, I'm going to present a beer that really speaks for itself.

First, I'll let you know that Odell is far and away my favorite Colorado brewer.

That sounds like a fairly insignificant statement considering Colorado is a state roughly the same size as Alabama and South Carolina, and smaller than Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Maryland.  However, Colorado also happens to be the beer mecca of the universe, so this is like saying Gary Oldman is my favorite actor in Hollywood.

Odell makes very straight forward, principled beers.  They make a wheat, they make an IPA, they do a pale ale, an amber, and a porter**.  None of those beers are infused with strawberries, or pecans, or rose hips; or aged in whiskey oak barrels or inside of small Laotian boys -- nope, none of that shit.

Now, I'm not saying that all of those things aren't delicious additives (maybe not the Laotions -- but we'll have to wait for Brew Dog to tell us at some point); I celebrate the entire flavor catalog, however, at times we as beer fans get so lost in the muddle, that we forget what an honest pint of beer tastes like.

Cutthroat Porter is exactly what Odell brewing represents.  When I first opened the bottle and took a anticipatory taste, I was actually puzzled that I did not have to wade through layers and layers of flavors.  I had honestly forgotten what a true porter actually tasted like.  It was perfect.

Cutthroat Porter has all the qualities of an authentic London porter -- one of the world's great styles -- with heaps of roasted malts, a hint of fresh brewed coffee, and a swirl of cocoa.  Its a dark beer that drinks light and it wouldn't be too difficult to soldier through an entire six-pack during the moguls event at the Sochi Olympics.

And here is the really, really good news:  Austin just landed one of Odell's brewers, who moved to our shire to open up what is essentially going to be a Pizza Port clone.  That is win-fucking-win on so many spectacular levels.

Additionally, the rumor on the webernet is that Odell will enter the Texas market in due time.  Now, normally, I would dispel those rumors until I saw a Facebook picture of cargo ready to be shipped to The Great State from Fort Collins, however, this is the same source that broke the Ballast Point and Alaskan news.  So, you know, giggity.

ABV: 5.1%
Acquired: New Mexico

**Sure, at times -- like any other US brewer -- Odell will get a bit cray with a small-batch series, but nothing that is even THAT over the top, really.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Temptation Wine Barrel Aged Wild Ale | Russian River Brewing | Santa Rosa, CA

... no I've never met anyone quite like you before ...
Would you, dependable reader, like an alcohol-filled grin on your booze-relaxed face?  When you consume intoxicants, do you wonder how you can negotiate both wine AND beer into a common glass?  And finally, do you love fun, use your phone's camera on landscape view, and enjoy passing out like your mother in a rain of nickels?

Then, Russian River Brewery is just the kind of natural progression you need to make into the twenty-teens era of boozing.  Its like, the future and shit.

As you might already know, Russian River is responsible for the majority of the beer-loving country losing their beer minds once a year -- and then also responsible for maintaining that momentum in the form of the country's most stalked beer, and in between that madness, rousing everyone up in a heap of laundry with their -tion series, which is what we have here.

I've avowed my love for the Russian River -tion series on this weblog before, and Temptation is just another in the collection that makes me wonk out with my mouth agog, like a southern baptist in the Big City.

This particular rendition, Temptation, is an American wild ale that has been aged in French oak Chardonnay barrels collected from the very wine-fertile region of Northern California.  Wild ales are like a sub genre of craft brewing -- as in, a more customized, unpredictable, and delicate beer brewed in the smallest of batches -- all the while produced by industry that prides itself on limited product anyway.  In other words, making this stuff takes a lot of time, patience, risk, and knowledge in order to squeeze even just a little bit of blood from the turnip.

Wild ales are manufactured by storing an unfermented base beer  in vessels -- like an oak wine cask -- for an extended period of time and allowing it to spontaneously ferment by introducing wild yeasts and bacteria, giving it its distinct sour profile.  The level of talent required to produce this style are almost immeasurable.  There is no real way to control a beer that is essentially spoiling with bacteria, therefore, there is a ton of artistry and knowledge (and a lot of luck) required to not only make it consumable, but also consistently consumable.  Russian River wrote the later chapters in the book of Sours and Wild Ales, right where the Belgians and their lambics left off; and Russian River's skill is truly unrivaled in the brewing community.

As for Temptation specifically, well, it sings.

The beer spends a full year aging in its wooden home, infusing all of the vanilla and fruit notes of the oak. Its dry and crisp and not at all buttery the way a glass of California Chardonnay might present itself typically.  This particular -tion is not as sour as, say, Consecration, but it definitely has a nice brett back.  As it warms, it gets a bit denser in flavors and loses a bit of its tart while a smooth funkiness emerges. 

While not my favorite in the Russian River wine-barrel series, Temptation is so far and away superior to the "best of" anything any other American brewer is putting out in this category.  If you can find it -- actually, if you can find ANY Russian River wherever you may be looking -- grab it.  It will never disappoint.

ABV: 7.25%
Acquired: An Austin Bar

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Mole Beers : El Mole Ocho & Cocoa Mole | New Holland Brewing / New Belgium Brewing | Holland, MI / Ft. Collins, CO

One trend that I've been noticing lately is the newly-acceptable arranged marriage between the Royal Family of Food with the homely, dowrybride of the Beer Bourgeois.

Once subjected to the ridicules of its feudalist wine relatives living high up in the castle, The Beer Bourgeois have recently elevated its caste position in society, becoming much more affiliated with culinary pairings and bi-annual festivals -- once earmarked solely for its kith and kin of the intoxicants community.

Whilst wine was living in perfect harmony with fish and cheeses and pastas, The Knights of the Spirits Templar were rousing the characteristics of beef and chocolates and other components of a manly diet.  Beer serfs were reduced to gullet-slumming with bratwurst, hamburgers, pizza, and the accompanying corn-and-rice-extender beverages.

Despite the general befitting of those ideas, beer was determined to be something more than a palate cleanser to savory foods.

Now, we are in the midst of a craft brewer renaissance -- and pairing beer with culinary boards ordinarily reserved for high-end distills and fermentations can be as elegant as a Araujo Eisele Cabernet Savignon and an artisan cheese plate. American craft beer has developed its palatal profile to be as complex -- and in many cases, MORE complex -- than its counterparts, and chefs are intrigued enough to pair their craft with the Vaishya of the adult beverage world.

With this newly found acceptance into the culinary club, brewers began fiddling around much more with food-based beer recipes.  Where once you might see a simple smoked porter, now one has the potential to find a brisket-infused rauchbier.  In some cases, brewers are simply circumventing the whole beer-and-food-pairing movement and just conjoining everything right into a single bottle of goodness.

Coincidentally, I've been able to sample a half dozen (or so) of these extreme beers -- and more specifically, I've encountered a recipe that keeps popping up in the periphery of bottle shop shelves: Mole beers. 

This is a bottle that I picked up in Michigan last summer while camping in Holland, near the coast of Lake Michigan.  New Holland Brewing is one of my favorite US brewers.  It is for all intents, one of the nation's most overlooked breweries (well, kinda, since the distribution is relatively small -- but I'm talking more in terms of dialogue between beer nerds; overlooked).  I'm always seeking out whatever goods they're slangin' whenever I get up north.

This particular brew is from their High Gravity Series, which is best known for their Dragon's Milk Barrel Aged Stout, which I love like someone might love their favorite song.  Its great, it comes from great minds, and I was so very excited to try this edition in this series -- a firelit Michigan night, some summer iPod jams, and a very proximate place to pass the fuck out when I start to get a bit puzzleheaded.

One caveat:  I do not like regular, solid-state mole.  Chicken and chocolate sauce just kinda ain't my thing.  But I know that it has high culinary merits, and I expected to really delve into the nuances given that there was no chance of this tasting like chicken and chocolate sauce and barf.

Ironically, I think I might have preferred the above composite to what I was now subjecting myself to after popping the bottle and taking several small sips.  I'm thinking that the base beer is a Brown Ale and it had a very strange complexity to it, like thin diet-cinnamon syrup and grilled peppers, which I found completely unappealing.  It only got more astringent as it warmed.  It was kind of gross, but I really tried to taxi past it.

Despite my immediate and ultimate opinions of the beer, I finished the bottle, and then went on with my life -- and another beer.  It was a big swing and miss for New Holland.  It was the alcoholic equivalent of an Animal Collective b-side -- strange and complex and over-blended -- offending the senses in a way that makes you wince a bit, despite your love for the band.

ABV: 8.o%
Acquired: New Holland Brewery

So, after that experience, I naturally became a bit gun shy about picking up gimmicky beers resembling something out of a stainless steel Rick Bayless Airstream rather than a stainless steel brew kettle.

However, browsing the Spec's aisles one night, I did decide to give a mole beer another shot for three reasons: 1) New Belgium Brewery has rarely let me down in any capacity, 2) I love LOVE their Lips of Faith series, which includes one of the more accessible and delicious sour beers around: La Folie, and 3) My neighborhood Spec's tends to go through some severe dry spells as far as stocking a regularly new, exciting, and interesting beer selection.  Seriously, they're like the college sophomores of the liquor and spirits distribution world.  New Belgium Cocoa Mole appears to have been a slump-buster for them, as it was literally the most interesting thing they had stocked in weeks.  Hell, three extra reasons to buy a beer are three more reasons than I usually have, so I just went for it.

As you can surmise from the bottle here, New Belgium essentially expects you to consider this a party in your mouth -- or in a more traditional mole sense -- a wedding of flavors; chocolate and caramel and mild peppers; consummated between your palate and cranial nerves in a heap of mariachis, pistols, and gold-toothed grins.  I would even go so far to say its like a plethora of beautiful pinatas, each in their own little storeroom and filled with little surprises.

Somehow, New Belgium did succeed where New Holland failed.

I think the primary difference between the successful recipe and the not-so-successful was the balance of flavors in such a complex beer.  El Mole Ocho was too heavy on the spices, like cinnamon and ancho -- whereas Cocoa Mole had those ingredients, but were leveled out by chocolate, vanilla, and doughy Mexican pastry.  It was well-blended and smooth and respectful of the target of which it attempted to imitate -- not so obvious as the New Holland recipe, but a suggestion of what liquefied mole might taste like.  It was really well-executed.

I've always told Melissa that if we ever started a brewery, I wanted the first beer she brewed in my honor to be a Churro Porter, given my nasty streak for those delicious little Mexican donuts.  I think New Belgium might have beat us to the punch.  ¡Pendejos!

ABV: 9.o%
Acquired: Spec's

Sunday, March 18, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Collaboration Not Litigation Belgian Strong Dark Ale | Avery Brewing / Russian River Brewing | Boulder, CO / Santa Rosa, CA

Inebriation not incarceration.
I have severe waterbrain after a prolonged, 10-days-worth of SxSW, spring break benders, evaluating show matrices posted on bar fa├žades, out-of-town guests, playing the brew stock exchange, jangly guitars and hip hop shows that made my brain deploy out of the back of my head like an airbag, and long limps home from the Metro Rail after 10 hours of standing and drinking corn beer.  I'm tired.  I don't want to write.  And I especially don't want to expend the energy it costs to think about anything. 

So, in the interest of brevity -- and I hope that you like Hick-Hop puns -- this beer is Big and Rich.

Two of my favorite breweries came together to ferment a haymaker -- Collaboration not Litigation -- a wordplay on Russian River's -tion series, and the fact that both breweries sell a beer named Salvation.  And because Russian River has neither the desire nor the capacity to enter the Texas market, this is the best we can expect here in the Great State when looking for Russian River in our booze stores.

What Collaboration not Litigation is, is the merging of both breweries Salvation recipes to complete a full-bodied, delicious Belgian strong dark ale complete with spicy hop notes, baked bread, and a syrup-y finish.  Collaboration not Litigation really camps out on the tongue and delivers a sustained experience.

Also, it should be noted that this was batch #5, bottled in January 2011 and enjoyed a year later in March of 2012.  It aged very VERY well, and provided a much mellower alcohol burn than it did when we tasted batch #5 in March of 2011.  I don't think I tasted batch #6, but I look forward to #7, as this collaboration appears to be fiddled with in just the right way from year-to-year.

ABV: 8.72%
Acquired: Spec's

Saturday, March 17, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Sam Adams B'Austin Ale | Boston Beer Company | Boston, MA

Say hello to ya mutha fah me, okay?
I take way too much joy in ridiculing the Sam Adams Boston Beer Company for their ridiculously inane television commercials, lame branding, overproduction (Well over 50 styles, best I can count -- suddenly their "170 beers at the House of Beers" commercial with that terrible Eastern-Continental accented woman sounds like a major self-parody), and the fact that Jim Koch wants us oh-so-dearly to hang on to the notion that they are a small micro-craft brewer

But Sam Adams BBC plays the percentages like the slimy drunk you knew in college -- sometimes their very wide cast nets a decent fish.

I only really enjoy a couple of Sam Adams BBC varieties -- and nothing on their permanent list.  Their Noble Pils is an outstanding beer -- and only available for too short of a time.  Their Chocolate Bock is nice at the beginning of the season before you start participating in real craft winter seasonals, and their recent Oak-Aged something-or-other was decent when I had a sip of someone's somewhere.  So remarkable, I can't even remember the style.

Sam Adams BBC simply out-witting themselves by blanketing the market with a bunch of highly mediocre beers and expecting us to be impressed.  They are simply not.  I can't name a single person who prefers a Sam Adams varietal to an equivalent style from another brewer.  Hell, they were handing out free Sam Adams Boston Lagers and Latitude 48 IPAs the other day at the SXSW Paste Magazine party and we couldn't even be enticed to stay for free beer.

All this said, however, there is a really neat program that Sam Adams BBC sponsored for their "fans" and offered to brew a "crowd-sourced" beer that let participants determine the profile of the beer using an interactive system of rating hops, malt, color, and all the other essentials.  When the voting was over, the results were brewed and we were presented with: Sam Adams B'Austin Ale, "a slightly hazy, medium bodied, amber ale with a spicy hop aroma, notes of toffee and a smooth, yet spicy finish", according to their press release.  Then, they launched it at SXSW in Austin, hence the name B'Austin Ale -- a play on their original homegrown roots and the further raping of Austin's SXSW platform.

You're a beer, right? What's that about? I produced Entourage.
I can't deny that I was pretty excited that Austin (and selectively in Boston) would be the only two places you could get this beer -- so I really wanted to try it just to say I did.  Sucker. 

Also, even though it debuted here in Austin, it still would only be available in a limited amount of bars in the city -- and really, so far, I've only heard of one. 

So, despite being overdosed on warm Miller Lites all day, I walked over to my little local to try one of these and catch the end of the ND-Xavier NCAA game.  I'll tell you what, B'Austin Ale goes great with east-coast basketball and hugging up to a small-pub bar stool.  I was very surprised how much I enjoyed this beer -- primarily, I'm guessing, because it was an ale, and not all that malty, bogged down, oily junk that Sam Adams BBC does all the time. 

B'Austin was clean and crisp and tasted excellent at serving temperature -- then got progressively more complex as it rose to room temp.  I was very impressed -- and it was cool to hear others around equally impressed.

I suppose the best thing for Sam Adams BBC to do would be to relinquish brewing rights to their fans -- I guess there are a few out there -- and the majority of them apparently know how to build a recipe.  Something this company could learn a thing or two about.  Either way, on this occasion, I give Sam Adams B'Austin Ale high regards.

ABV: 5.o%
Acquired: At tha bah

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Wanderer Session IPA | North Peak Brewing | Traverse City, MI

Lake Michigan, IMO.

The greatness of this beer is in its first descriptive word: Session.

Session beers offer sustained drinking: typically your Millers and Lone Stars of the beer world.  It implies that one or two or a drinker's dozen won't work you over during tailgate season.  The common denominator of these types of beer is the low ABV -- there for sustained drinking without a trip to the emergency room, and then eventually, County.  But typically, you give up flavor in lieu of extending your drinking session.

But North Peak -- and recently, other Midwest brewers like Founders -- have developed a way to combine the greatness of these two ideas.  A session IPA is exactly what one would prefer when watching the sun take 48 hours to set on Lake Michigan, as I was attempting to do here before the northern summer chill took over my sensibilities.

Beer tastes infinitely better on the lake, as it turns out.  Growing up, I didn't have the luxury of partaking in this ritual.  We could only take our beer to the desert and start a fire -- and in place of a lake, its a suitable replacement -- but let me remind you, fire does not have the same thirst-invoking qualities.

Therefore, Lake Michigan, IMO.

As in, find a session craft beer and a lake.  A warm one.

ABV: 4.2%
Acquired: Ludington (MI) Market

Monday, March 12, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Roswell Alien Amber Ale | Sierra Blanca Brewing | Moriarty, NM

One of the fun things about collecting, sharing,and ultimately drinking beers from around the country is how excited I get when I see a new label from a company that has recently entered my market.  Melissa sometimes asks me if a Beer a Day is even sustainable as a topic -- and I always remind her that there is so much going on in the craft world that I'll probably burn out before I even get to the back-logs of my pictorial inventory.  Its seems as though a beer-a-day has been breaking the boundaries into the very important and profitable Texas market (thanks Jester King!), and in the interest of practicing and honing my aptitude in written composition, it is essential that I pick up as many new six-packs as possible, yer see?

Anally probed.
During the latest evening walk around our rapidly trending neighborhood, I stopped in one of the indy corner stores to pick up some grillin' beer ...

But let me get tangential for just a moment.  During our previous evening walk, we were waved over by some of our down-the-street neighbors to help them finish off some keg beer that was left over from a SXSW event she had hosted the night before.  These selections were Live Oak Big Bark and Independence Pale Ale. Apparently, a random block party with great beers and happy midwest hipsters can break out at any time in this hood.  Also, just two blocks away from where I type, sit two craft beer bars that pull pints with the best of the city's ale houses: Drink.Well and The Workhorse. 

To end that little anecdote with a point -- its pretty obvious that the neighborhood knows and cares a thing or two about craft beer -- and the two corner stores in the North Loop district appear to be privy to this information as well.  And so, this is the part where I just buy the fucking six-pack.

I just positively LERVE amber ales.  Its one of my favorite styles -- however, a lot of breweries totally miss the mark -- and typically, I'm left disappointed.  Live Oak does it right, Independence does not.  Alaskan does it right, New Belgium, Brooklyn and Bell's -- but this one ... oh man. 

I really did have to look up what Sierra Blanca Brewing says about this beer in order to detect what was so off about it.  They claim, "We have blended eight different types of barley to create this amber ale.  It appeals to the largest segment of craft beer drinkers who enjoy a smooth, malty ale with no hop bitterness."

Well, no kidding.  This thing was basically the universal opposite of a hop-bomb.  It tasted like a bread sandwich -- as in, four slices, hold the mustard, cheese and ham.  Sure, It was amber in color, but not in style.  There were very few caramel notes and tasted very astringent, like generic over-the-counter medicine.  There is some decent stuff happening in New Mexico, but it ain't this.

ABV: 5.2%
Acquired: Snappy Mart

Sunday, March 11, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Convict Hill Oatmeal Stout | Independence Brewing | Austin, TX

It is fairly common knowledge around town that Independence Brewing is a minor disaster.  Ambitious as they are with their Brewluminati Series, and as much as I love that they re-brand their Austin Amber as Oklahoma Suks for two weeks in October, there is nothing particularly special about their beer -- and many of them even limp into the compass of undrinkable.

But what Independence Brewing does do, is brew one of my top two-or-three favorite local beers in their oatmeal stout called Convict Hill.

Oatmeal stouts, incidentally, do not have the flavor of oatmeal, but the addition of the flakes to the mash provides a beautiful smoothness and sweetness that is unrivaled.  A properly brewed oatmeal stout will have the flavor suggestion and tactile profile of a thawed mocha frapp.  Sounds delicious because it is delicious.

Convict Hill is a year-rounder, and is completely suitable for what could be perceived as out-of-season consuming.  Rain, swelter, snow, -- usually all in the damn day in Austin -- I really enjoy sitting down with this one.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Convict Hill, however, is its outstanding value.  At 8% alcohol, beer accolades, steady local demand, and overall craftwork, a Convict Hill 4-pack carries a scant price at your local market.  It is perhaps the best fiscal deal in a town known for bargains.

ABV: 8.0%
Acquired: Available everywhere

Saturday, March 10, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Phoenixx Double ESB | Real Ale Brewing | Blanco, TX

Real Ale is one of the grandaddies of Austin(ish) craft brewers, setting up shop in Hill Country centuries ago in 1996.

Most people who come to visit Austin will get initiated into our drinking culture with one of the three primary beers: Shiner Bock, Lone Star, and Real Ale's Fireman's #4, before branching out to the more ambitious offerings by other beer mills.  All three of those are a solid foundation and sold at the right price, but they all get a bit boring over time, unless you are slumming it on the East 6th bar district.

Knowing this, the dinosaurs of Austin brewers started concocting some rather interesting and inspired seasonal options before those new brewers on the block could lure everyone away with their fancy new shwarzbiers, DIPAs, and stouts.  Things really got kicked off at the Real Ale Brewing Company -- a brewery that everyone in Texas agrees is a damn solid brewhouse -- with their Coffee Porter.

With the new realization that limited, special, and limited releases make your beer brand get fawned over, Real Ale mobilized with this epiphany and began brewing even more adventurous stuff; enter Phoenixx Double ESB.

The ESB in Phoenixx ESB stands for Extra Special Bitter: a bit of a misnomer since the IBUs are relatively tame.  I will give Real Ale accuracy points for "special" though.  The brewers have managed to honor a traditional British-syle ale that nobody in The US craft scene is really clamoring to clone.  Real Ale took a bit of a gamble that fans would respond positively to a steeply malted brew that kind-of coats your tongue in biscuity residue.

I find Phoenixx Double ESB remarkably charming in that it is very reflective of the several pints I had in London the same year Real Ale Brewing was founded.  They did a great service making this taste like an entire beer culture -- comfortable and hearthy; smooth and mild -- along with caramel and molasses overtones.

I'm particularly interested in drinking this beer on damp day, allowing it improve in complexity as it warms.

ABV: 7.2%
Acquired: Spec's

Thursday, March 8, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Noble King Farmhouse Ale | Jester King Brewing | Austin, TX

Shoulda name it Zombie Lion.
Booyah! Another instillation from our little, local do-no-wrong brewers, Jester King.

If you could project a camera into the think-tank offices at the other dozens of brewhouses around Austin upon receiving the news of TWO more Jester King releases, you might see a bunch of stares that would melt Alaska.  They are a very difficult brewery to keep up with in terms of stock, even as a casual drinker and impulsive collector -- I couldn't even imagine being their direct competitor. [Note: I'm sure all Austin brewers are friends and supportive of each others' efforts; and have all their wives make shortbread cookies for all the other wives, too.]

Here is yet another limited release by the farmhouse brewery that uses four ingredients to make almost all of their beers.   Noble King, by comparison, is a bit of a middle-weight ABV contender in the family of Jester King beers.  Because they are a traditional farmhouse brewery, they manufacture very low ABV beers that top out around 2.8%, and because they are fucking Rock n Roll, they produce beers that make your face melt at about 10% alcohol.  Noble King is right in the middle of that, at a happily quaffable 5.3% -- about the same as your typical American Adjunct Lager

No, this beer will not gut rot me the way I typically like, so, the promise of a better day will have to be displayed in the craftistry of Noble King, itself.  In other words, I'm probably not gonna drink 20 of these, like a day-session of drinking Lone Star by the smoker, so Noble King's nuances will have to be the star of this show.

When Melissa and I initiated a household pubcrawl, this was the first beer we uncorked and shared in the adventure around the blue house on Avenue H -- the reasons being 1) Low in alcohol, thus 2) We needed to have an alert palate, and 3) The labeling was so awesome (in-house Jester King artist!), and finally 4) We totally missed on the labeling that said we should wait at least 24 hours to uncork after initial refrigeration.  Oh snap.

What we got out of Noble King was this:  It has that trademarked, barnyard funkiness that reminds me of a horse blanket.  Anyone who has ever walked through a stable will know that back palatal flavor that you get when doing so.   Noble King finishes like that.  At the nose, I got a bit of fresh grass and subtle hops.  The yeast really meddles with the malts and makes this beer really drinkable and dry, like one of those pre-ironic regional beers from the 80s, like Pearl or Blatz.  I haven't had a beer like this in a long time, and I found it rather nostalgia-inducing and pretty tasty.  I'd especially like to taste this in an imperial style in order to up the ABV to around 8%.

Next time, I will follow the rules to see if they were right in scolding me right there on the bottle.

ABV: 5.3%
Acquired: Spec's

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Vertical Tasting: Divine Reserve 11 vs. Endeavor | St. Arnold Brewing | Houston, TX

St. Arnold is definitely not my preferred Texas brewer.

I find most of their regular rotating inventory as uninspired as the Spoetzl Brewery, and I purchase it on free will about as much as I purchase Shiner products.  There's nothing really wrong with them -- its just that there is nothing really right about them either.

However, there is a GIANT exception to this rule -- and that is when I scramble all over the damn place to find St. Arnold's limited seasonal releases and Divine Reserve Series.  Its a pursuit for sure, as they are a very popular brewer in Texas, and even their most casual of fans are pretty versed on their special release dates, making the competition to wrangle this stuff pretty difficult at times.

When Divine Reserve 11 was released in March of last year (2011), I got a tip from my tip-people that HEB had about 12 cases.  By the time I showed up about an hour later, they were down to three, and dudes were scooping them up by the armful, like desperate contestants on Supermarket Sweep.  One good thing about St. Arnold releases is that local grocers will always get inventory -- an oddity for rare beers to be in the common markets -- and that they have no bottle limitations, which is nice if you have large arms.  Most specialty liquor stores in the US will put a cap on the amount of product you can purchase to limit hording and re-selling on eBay.  I know, right?

So, I grab as many as my arms can carry -- three sixers for me and one for my cousin Ben in El Paso, hop head that he is, because DR 11 was supposed to be a superb Double Indian Pale Ale (DIPA) -- a first for this series, as the Divine Reserve recipe changes styles year-to-year.

Now, anyone who is a beer snob has to be initiated into the DIPA club at some point -- beers with Bitterness Units (IBUs) into the triple digits, usually, and an ABV hovering at-or-above 10%.  These trolls of the beer world were first introduced on the West Coast by brewers not satisfied with the bitter qualities of just any regular ol' IPA.  DIPAs tend to get gnarled in the mouth; spicy, floral, citrusy, with a fine alcohol burn in the back.

Divine Reserve 11 turned out to be such a huge hit for St. Arnold, that 12 months later, they released the same recipe in a bomber bottle and re-packaged it as a perennial called St. Arnold Endeavor; so named for Houston's roots as Space City in relation to the Space Shuttle Endeavor.  I picked one up on its Leap Year release date with anticipation of tasting DR11 and Endeavor side-by-side; brewed and bottled exactly one year apart, as this is the true sport of cellar-aging beers (apart from hoarding and selling on Ebay).

One last note before the tasting:  Ironically, DIPAs, and to a broader extent IPAs in general, are meant to be consumed as fresh as possible -- so the closer to the bottling dates, the better IPAs should taste based on the brewers vision.  This is ironic in the sense that IPAs were originally invented by the British during the colonial empire days as a way to (literally) ship (as in, I'm on a Boat!) beer to India  from the UK without it spoiling during the long voyage.  The natural hop qualities preserved the beer -- and obviously, the more hops you brewed with the beer, the longer it would sustain.  In modern times, IPAs and DIPAs will still preserve in a beer cellar, but are meant to be enjoyed primarily for the hops, not because of their secondary effects.  Aging IPAs will mellow out some of their traditional characteristics, but can still be very interesting as the flavors have had time to congeal and make a nice little picnic.

First, we tried Endeavor, the fresh-as-fresh-gets DIPA.  I had Melissa look up the stats because I'd forgotten over time what the IBUs and ABV was.  Melissa reports back between sips -- because she multi-tasks that way pretty often -- "IBUs: 78, ABV: 8.9%", she says.  I thought that was really tame for a DIPA -- and to be honest, it tasted like my thoughts.  While very nice and fresh and balanced, I expected way more alcohol burn to let me know that this is a special club for people who like to chew their beer.  I took another sip: floral, but not sweet like most DIPAs.  A little piny, but not really getting any citrus either -- rather a tropical, mealy fruitiness.  The usual characteristics a DIPA weren't really presenting itself and for some reason, I remember liking DR11 much more than I was liking this.  But maybe I'm being a bit too rough, since this was still a very outstanding DIPA with enough balance and equilibrium to help me pass any freeway sobriety test thrown my way.

I moved on to the DR11 -- one of the six remaining in my cellar -- the cap said Drink Me.  No really, it did.  So I poured its brains into a tulip.  Brains.

Most of the astringent tropical notes were gone, and instead, I got more of a muddled fruit -- like apricots/peaches?  Fuck, I couldn't tell cos all those fruits kinda taste the same to me.  DR11 was doing its DIPA thing and still being very hoppy, but it was not a palate wrecker.  It tasted like something below an Imperial IPA -- a single, if you will.  It was still delicious, but very obviously different than I remembered.  I will probably drink the rest of these very quickly before the rest of the flavors meld into Lone Star -- well, okay, not Lone Star, but some shitty brew that Red Hook or Widmer Brothers would make.

Overall, DIPAs are an extremely subjective style of beer.  Some people can pick the nuances out of the beer so accurately that really I'm just envisioning their beer as they are describing it.  Melissa is like this.  I'm pretty sure she's a super-taster with a palate containing thousands-more buds than your typical-taster -- thus, I get a lot of influence from her experiences.  She is saying she likes it, but now my ears are ringing because I've just consumed too much high ABV beer too fast.  I want to sing The Strokes out loud.  Stop telling me about DIPAs, woman. 

In the end, I think that St. Arnold Endeavor/DR11 is very, very nearly a world class DIPA, but I feel as though it needed a bit more ambition to reach the levels of Pliny the Elder , Hopslam, or Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA.

See you in the aisles for DR12.

ABV: 8.9%
Acquired: DR11: HEB/ Endeavor: Spec's
☆ / 

Monday, March 5, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale | Rogue Brewing | Newport, OR

This little piggy made me go wee wee.
One would think that the semi-regular colloquialism -- "Beer, its whats for breakfast" -- would pretty much have its origins rooted in the contents of this piglet-colored beer bottle, am I right?

All the essentials of the holy food trinity are represented - ham, doughnuts, syrup - and it goes without mentioning that all of these ingredients are liquefied amber goodness in the form of alcoholic daddy juice.  All the essentials to the start of a fine day, all before removing your PJs.

But I would argue instead that Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale is less a breakfast treat, and more of the late-night drunk street food varietal.  The kind of stuff that has you traipsing the 2AM street-meat crowd for your insatiable savory/sweet/bacon/beer appetite that arouses itself about that time every Friday night.

When Melissa and I decided to do an in-house pub crawl -- where we opened a new bomber at different, but frequently utilized drinking stations around our house -- we saved this beer for the spot that we call our Dive Bar, the dank, dimly lit confines of our garage where we gorge away on cold nights.  Because this was only the second stop on the go-around from our back patio, to the garage, to the side patio, to the front porch; our palates were still very lively -- an intentional effort so that our palates would cull all of the distinct flavors from this beer.

What we found -- well, at least I did -- was very little Applewood-smoked bacon flavor, but an enormous aroma and palatal notes of maple doughnuts, and something more similarly compared to a Chicken-and-Waffles beer than a Bacon-Doughnut beer.  The beer was very sweet, but not obnoxious.  It was STILL trying to be beer, not a meal -- however, it did trigger something in our nuerotransmitters that made Melissa and I absolutely crave sausage links with mustard -- so we talked about that for a while.  Then we talked about other food because this shit was making us hungry.  So, we ordered a delivery pizza.

In case you were wondering about the unlikely connection between Rogue Brewing and Voodoo Doughnuts -- well its not unlikely at all, given that both of these companies are rooted in the Portland, Oregon metro area, and two of the most innovative consumables companies in the PacNW.  In fact, Anthony Bordain covered this in one of the best No Reservations to date, when he toured the doughnut palace with author Chuck Palahniuk.  (Skip to 2:20)

So, would I seek out Rogue's Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale again?  Entirely.  I plan to seek it as much as possible, and hopefully aging one to see how the flavors marry over time.  I really did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did, and apparently doing so will cost me the price of a pizza as well.

ABV: 5.6%
Acquired: Spec's

Sunday, March 4, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Aprihop Indian Pale Ale | Dogfish Head Brewing | Milton, DE

Hip- ...  Hip hop- ... Hip hop anonymous?
Time to open the windows and let the air waft in to maintain your IPA at a perfect 45° while the records of Duke Ellington and Kings of Convenience spin on the Stack-o-Matic.

Its very nearly time to store whatever porters and stouts you have left over from the winter season and let the wheats, Belgians, and pale ales breath after a season of meddling in the cellar.  

In Austin, that hoppy arsenal might have come out as soon as last week, when temps started spiking at 85°, pretty ridiculous except for the prospect of the seasonal beer rollover.  

This past Friday, Dogfish Head re-entered my psyche with their sublime twist on a fruit beer -- an apricot infused Indian Pale Ale.  I couldn't scream my car out of the faculty parking lot fast enough -- while avoiding small children -- on my way to the bottle shop to get a four pack of this year's offering.  I was pretty bewitched with this beer last year, but was never able to find it in 12 oz vessels -- only the 16oz version at The Draught House.  I've thought about it a lot since.

For those who have enjoyed Pyramid Brewing's Apricot Ale -- a very VERY solid offering by its own merit -- Aprihop is literally nothing like it.  Instead, of the very overt and bright apricot juice of Pyramid Apricot Ale, we instead have the muddled, over ripened meat of the fruit itself, as if mashed into the wort to sit and stew and infuse.  The apricot notes are extremely subtle, but not at all disguised by the hops.  Its a perfect balance of hopped flavor and fruit suggestion -- which is why a fruit IPA is somewhat of a brilliant stroke by master brewer Sam Calagione, where a modicum of craft had to come about in the recipe's design.  I've said it before, but wheat beers are essentially the vodka of beer, where you can manipulate them to taste however you want.  But a fruit IPAs can be better compared to a craft cocktail, which takes a bit of cleverness and skill in making this something worth drinking.  

Its practically Spring, and I will be on the hunt for fresh Aprihop around the city before the summer months horribly oppress us from the outdoors and make Duke Ellington sound like Maxi Priest .  

ABV: 7.o%
Acquired: Here, but not there

Friday, March 2, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Matilda Belgian Pale Ale | Goose Island Brewing | Chicago, IL

Oui, bitte.
Very gone are the days when I would immediately bypass the pub menu's AMERICAN CORN BEER fillers, and skip directly to the IMPORTS table of contents.  Then, I would expeditiously order a Newcastle or a St. Pauli Girl, or whatevs.  If it came from Western Europe, it was just better.  Shit, one weekend in New York in the early aughts, I thought Stella was like the Everest of brewing.

I'm certainly not indicating that I am above drinking those beer, no way.  I will happily accept a gifted beer in the form of a green bottle and skunky odor any hour of the day.  I enjoy them from time to time, but not as I would five or six years ago -- and I generally find myself buying less and less from Europe.

The reason being is that in many ways, American brewers have surpassed Western European brewers at their own craft.  Specifically, Americans just make better Pale Ales (Indian, and otherwise) and better Imperial Stouts, the cornerstone of British brewing for the better part of 300 years.  That is older than the United States has even been a nation.

Now, our local and national small-brewers are making a run at those uppity Belgians, renowned the world over as the masters of craft brewing.  Austin itself is in the midst of a Belgian beer revolution, but as a whole, almost every major microbrewer is doing some sort of homage to the Flemish, the Wallons, the Brusselois, and so on.  One of those big dogs is Goose Island from Chicago.

Goose Island's Vintage Series is a collection of singularly-monikered and handsome beers that are high-end tributes to Belgium brewing.  Matilda, in particular, is a Belgian Pale Ale that is yeast-forward in the style of European Pale Ales, which are light on the hops to diminish the citrus and elevate the buttery spiciness of 2-Row and Caramel malts.

We poured it into wine glasses on this occasion -- as a New Years Eve toast because in all of our drunken-intellect, we forgot to get champagne.  No worries because Matilda charmingly fills a wine void.  Colloquially speaking, Matilda is just simply lovely beer.  We found it especially exceptional paired with a nice dessert  -- and this from a ravenous beer-drinker who, in ironic fashion, doesn't prefer drinking beer with his meals.

ABV: 7.o%
Acquired: Tha D

Thursday, March 1, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Horizontal: Russian Imperial Stouts | Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti / Deep Ellum Darkest Hour | Denver, CO / Dallas, TX

Picture makes me want hear some Black Joe Lewis.
I've never been able to shoot suitable beer pr0n before -- especially with a temperamental phone camera that takes way to long to shutter --  but I think that this particular photo is fap ready.  Like Drexyl Spivey states in one of my favorite movie scenes of all time -- a scene rife with a lifetime of great assertions in the span of four small minutes -- "Now, I know I'm pretty.  But not as pretty as a couple of titties."

These elegant black beauties are of the varietal Russian Imperial Stout.  I am a glutton for RISes the way James Bond was a glutton for women with hilariously suggestive names and thick 70s thighs.

The one of the left is Great Divide Brewery's Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout and the one of the right is Deep Ellum Brewery's Darkest Hour.  The former is an old-guard workhorse on the original brewing hierarchy, and the latter is a promising newborn hot shot  from the brewing dearth of Dallas. 

I talked rigorously about Great Divide's Yeti Series in a previous post, and this is one of the options in that brilliant series.  Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout is a beastly stout, with heaps of roast up front and all the way back -- with the requisite stout-notes of chocolate, vanilla, and coffee.  The brewers used French and American oak chips to infuse a very woodsy finish, and they succeeded entirely.  As demonstrated by my buddy Chuck, an avid Guinness devotee, upon his first sip of Oak Aged Yeti: "That's a fucking beer, bro!"  Those of us who know Chuck just read that in his voice.

ABV: 9.5% 
Acquired: Hopfield's

What is exceptionally impressive is that upstart Dallasites, Deep Ellum, are brewing with some extreme confidence, coming right out of the gates with a massive beer that typically takes newcomers a few years to attempt, then fail, then attempt again for public consumption.  These brewers are like all, "fuck that", which is exactly the kind of earnest mindset one needs to have to be involved at any capacity with an RIS.  

At a huge volume of alcohol, Darkest Hour did come off a bit on the boozy side, and not necessarily as complex as the Oak Aged Yeti -- but more in the style of the true RIS -- which, like IPAs were packaged in the UK with enough alcohol to make the long voyage across Europe without spoiling.  I felt like this sucker could make the voyage to the moon in a school bus before the alcohol consumed itself.  It could be the Yeti talking, but Darkest Hour gave me a significant buzz, which is a nice return on my investment.

Overall -- and with future potential in nind -- I think that Deep Ellum made a very impressionable beer that I will certainly go back to often -- maybe even moreso than the Yeti.  They stare it off like Drexyl and Clarence Worley, like he ain't got a muthafuckin'  care in the world.  And who know?  Maybe he don't.

[note: dibs on naming my future Russian Imperial Stout homebrew: Mr. Majestyk.]

ABV: 9.5% 
Acquired: Hopfield's