Friday, April 27, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Pale Dog Pale Ale | Hops & Grain Brewing | Austin, TX

Being sick has been kicking my ass like a bastard the last couple of weeks, and that has significantly impeded my desire to break into the vault to free up some vintage beer.  My limited olfactory, gustatory, and -- in a weird way, auditory -- abilities have impacted the way I drink beer, and I'm really unwilling to crack something so limited in the name of blandness.

I feel like Nuke LaLoosh, panty'd on the mound, eyelid breath-holes jammed, unable to inhale like the lava lizards of the Galapagos.  I'm unable to throw anything right down the middle.  I need a live rooster to take the curse off my palate.

I'm dealing with a lot of shit.

But in the interim, I've had to appease the gods in my gut with a stop-gap remedy able to conspicuously penetrate through a fortnight of sickness.  In this, I turned to many-a-crafty beers, but the one I kept returning to with the gratification of solid results was Pale Dog, from local brewists Hops & Grain.

To liberally paraphrase a quote about baseball in one of the greatest films ever made: Beer is a simple game. You boil the beer, you ferment the beer, you bottle the beer. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. Think about that for a while.

This is not more evident than with the recipe of pale ales, a style that I would estimate 90% of American small brewers batch into a sellable product.  Pale ales are the baseball of beers, a traditional formula that has triumphed through a hurricane of changes in the brewing world, and one that readily appeases like an old hound that will chaperon you for two weeks during your illness.  It is THAT reliable.

That said, you would imagine that most micro brewers do a pretty good job at their attempted pale ale -- and yes, that's pretty true.  Its a product that is hard to fuck up.  However, by that same rationale, its also a product that is difficult to make outstanding.  This is precisely where Pale Dog transcends.  Its flavor profile is extremely pervasive, as the hop-malt blend really chews through the papillae, and finishes as clean as a handful of snow.  There are some very nice, subtle, melon fruit notes that provide additional complexity to the formula. 

Pale Dog is certainly a reliable beast.  Its ushered me through a cold that manifested into the flu, and then took a hard right at a double ear infection.  Its been miserable -- in relative terms; not in real, actual life-threatening terms -- and you would think that maybe I'd learn to recoup by drinking a shitload of orange juice or something.  Fuck that.  Being sick sucks verily already.  I wasn't going to let it ruin my life.

ABV: 6.o%
Acquired: King Liquor

Friday, April 20, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Bitter American Extra Pale Ale | 21st Amendment Brewing | San Francisco, CA

21st Amendment is a brewery that doesn't get nearly as much attention from me as it deserves, given that it adds a whole lotta water to my mustard seed.  Its like being too lazy to open another window in Chrome to send your grandmother a Happy Birthday e-greeting, and just opting for a week-late phone call.  Well, this all ends today, Nana.

There is a nice collection of prefixes that have been set by the world-populace which is used to describe our American culture as a whole, e.g., "Ugly American", "Stupid American", "Fat American", et al.  Mind you, as individuals, we are, for the most part, some of the most apostolic, least assuming, and willingest to assimilate denizens on earth.  But somewhere along the way, our collective social-credit defaulted as being the most curmudgeony, helpless, and affronting assholes on the planet.    

But, because we are a creative and enterprising nation, we have used most of these affronts to our society to our advantage; "Bitter American", for example.

The sensory integration of bitterness into a favorable spot on our tongue is an interesting evolutionary progression in that most bitter compounds found in nature are known to be toxic.  We are disrupting our own innate objectives for sustainability and multiplication in the name of a learned felicity to the palate.  In other words, the flavor -- and moreover, the enjoyment -- of bitterness is an acquired taste, like Americans.

And, when you attach these two adjectives at the hip, we are essentially reaching an echoic redundancy: the Bitter American.

But when you multiply those perceived toxic forces together, would they not cancel each other out as if a ballast of dignified potency?  Of course.  We sell this theory of acceptance right here in our own beers!  Ergo, bittered beers, such as IPAs, DIPAs, Pale Ales, and Extra Pale Ales are the defacto AMERICAN beers!  Is it all making sense now?

Is 21st Amendment's Bitter American the exhibit A for representing a bitter nation?  Not quite ... but its on the spectrum.  With a name like Bitter American, I was unabashedly expecting a quadruple hopped cereal with a hop nugget keychain lingering at the bottom of the packaging as a prize.  It wasn't quite there -- being that its not really a Pliny the Elder/Hopslam style of beer.  But what it is, is a wonderfully crisp representation of an American IPA -- as solitary representative of an approximation of what it intends to be -- a Bitter American beer.  This is who we send to Europa, and Asia, and the Moon as an ambassador of our American brewing philosophy.  Bitter American does a remarkable job of that.

And meanwhile, in the homeland, Bitter American stands on its own as a bright, lemon-and-orange citrus beer that is competently hoppy, but dances in accordance with its malts, making it a very rounded beer.  Bitter American is really full-flavor considering its genre typically tends to be trademarked with a thin weight and a lack of balance.  Bitter American is easily the best I've had of its class.  And that's pretty sweet.

ABV: 4.4%
Acquired: Hang on Sloopy, sloopy hang on ...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Samuel Adams Noble Pils | Boston Brewing Company | Boston, MA

Happy fucking congratulations, Mr. Adams.  A 0.032% batting average earns you the cleanup duty for the Pirates AAA.
Hold on to your monocles, Apple elitists, Instagram reviews are not just for the nerdcore anymore!  Droid users, with our electroclash life-subtext, Camel Crushes, and smarmy Midwestern micros -- as opposed to your nu-rave, Camel Wides, and Midwest macros -- are about to abuse the SHIIIIT out of Amaro, Rise, Hudson, Sierra, X-Pro, Lo-Fi, Earlybird, Sutro, Toaster, Brannan, Inkwell, Walden, Hefe, Valencia, Nashville, 1977, and Kelvin.

But the reality is, we're not that different from each other at all, yer know.  We are like a broad spectrum of the Boston Beer Company's 31 Flavors, each of us unique in our own way, and probably too full of ourselves to notice that we're all just pretty average.

There are but a few amongst us who are true standouts -- The Noble Pils of fanboys, if you will.

Samuel Adams is like the country music of beer: evidently, its a very popular selection, but not a single person I know actually drinks it.

But Noble Pils changes the genre for me.  Noble Pils is the dubstep of the Sam Adams lineup: pressing my buttons like a bro in a mouse head, expounding a WTF? of the mind.

Noble Pils is uniquely (I guess, since no one else seems to be bragging about it) made with all 5 of the noble hop varietals of the brewing game: Hallertau Mittelfrueh, Tettnang Tettnanger, Spalt Spalter, Saaz, and Hersbrucker (spoiler alert!) -- and placed into a 12oz vessel, because any more than that could cause some serious side effects lasting longer than four hours.  Its a fantastically hopped beer that is not bullied by bitterness, but restrained with an equilibrious grain to hop ratio that is just super-great on a spring day.  It literally (ok, figuratively) tastes like the sun and a baseball had an orgy bender with The Cape and Bickham Script font.  It is by and far, the most confident beer that BBC makes, and I fucking love the shit.

Sadly, BBC replaced Noble Pils as their Spring seasonal with Alpine Spring, a beer so poorly named, it sounds like Tim Tebow's ejaculate.

However, the good news is -- its a regular on the rotation now -- which knowing BBC will completely dilute the product like the 'droid/Facebook machine will to the once virginal Instagram app -- which is just more bad news after all.  Sorry.

So, drink while the gettin's still merry, you hipster fuckwads.

ABV: 4.9%
Acquired: Hyde Park Market

Saturday, April 14, 2012

[A Beer a Day] 2012 DIPA horizontal: Founder's Double Trouble (Grand Rapids, MI) | Bell's Hopslam (Kalamazoo, MI) | Sierra Nevada Hoptimum (Chico, CA)

One of the common themes that I expound about on on here is the subject of balance -- and the thought that anything that disrupts the scales too far in one direction must expect something to counterbalance in the opposite direction.  Its all about Earth's weight distribution and keeps us from flinging into another solar system, a far-off place much too hot to listen to The Rapture and day drink.

Take this, for example:  Last night, Melissa and I broke into The Cellar and relived three of these spectacular Double IPAs of their stand-by duties by doing a horizontal tasting, maybe one of the better ideas we've had since agreeing to meet for happy hour at Casey Moore's that led to a lifetime of having a drinking buddy.

But then, this morning, during my usual weekend walk around the hood with Enzo, Not one, but TWO Sublime songs assaulted us on my TuneIn Radio app.  For all of the glory that comes with sampling three exceptional, fresh, and highly sought after beers in the nerd-dom, comes El Jefe strong with a counterbalancing double-shot of What I Got and Wrong Way.

What you see before you are three big bastard beers.  Officially, they are labeled as Imperial Indian Pale Ale, but colloquially, the term Double IPA, or DIPA, is preferred 'cos it pretty much indicated double the fun.  They are also typically the most unbalanced beers in the entire beer universe.  That is, unless the universe it trying to fabricate the most perfect concoction. 

DIPAs are a style steeped in legend -- and, along with the Russian Imperials of late winter -- are the most hotly anticipated releases each year.  Of the top 10 rated beers in the world, 40% of the list is occupied by DIPAs and another 30% by Russian Imperial Stouts.  So, these gangsters are kind of a big deal.

The three beers before you are the 1927 Yankees of DIPAs, minus the Murderer's Row, clean-up hitting Pliny the Elder, which continues to be evasive in my quests to procure, outside of the occasional bottle share.

Starting at the front of the order, Founder's Double Trouble presents with a POUND of booze and finishes with an insanely spicy alcohol wash.  There are the huge, but balanced hop notes that dance a bit with the malts, but then ultimately persevere through the palate.  If you've had Founder's Devil Dancer, it is a muted version of this, which makes it actually drinkable.  Last year, Devil Dancer burned a hole in my lower intestine and pocked my esophagus like the Flint portion of I-75 after sampling at the brewery.  I had to seal it all with the triglycerides of Detroit square pizza and Coney Island dogs.  I'm not about to go down that road again.

ABV: 9.4%
Acquired: Jack's Market

Batting second in the lineup is Hoptimum, a solid line-drive hitting DIPA from Sierra Nevada that bats righty as a fine west coast, piney-resin imperial, but also can switch hit as a balanced Midwestern double.  The hops are definitely steeped in this beer, but not pungent or too bitter.  In keeping with a traditional IPA, Hoptimum is floral and crisp, with a nice alcohol back, and despite having the highest ABV, disguises it very well.  Hoptimum also win 10 internet points for the best beer label -- a very stately hophead greeting his thirsty constituency.

ABV: 10.4%%
Acquired: Sunrise

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

ABV: 9.4%
Acquired: Jack's Market

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

[A Beer a Day] The Stations of the Cross: An Easter Bottle Share

Holiday weekends are poison for the personal narrative.  LONG holiday weekends are its death.

When I have all the time in the world to write -- why in the entire fuck would I want to do that instead of drink gallons of research over four days?

Beyond eating handfuls of pink, seasonal variations of my less-than-favorite candies, cruising Michael Ian Black's twitter feed, and going outside for one minute to squint at the sky in consternation of a blazing, hot-as-shit summer, the rest of the holiday weekend is just free for drinking like a villain.

I'm pretty sure I'm still on Catholic probation, stemming back from when some buddies and I crashed our senior year Conformation retreat with Beedi cigarettes, and evidently corrupting the next generation of budding Catholics, because I remember being scolded for holding one at arms length, and in return, the whole religion forced us to cook 450 heavily-processed, muskrat meat "hamburgers" for hungry church campers -- as if that wasn't hastening their deaths quicker than natural tobacco.

I dunno, but, what I do know is that I did not participate in the ritual of Lent -- whatever that may be -- but I hear tales about giving up bubble gum and ginger ale for weeks on end, and possibly having to deal with other zealots at Jason's Deli for Friday salads.  Nope, not me.

What I did participate in, was the merciful retreat of taking the bookends of Saturday and Sunday to jam my face with more beer.  So, beyond the pervasive blue Nerds-phlegm, my fam and I disguised an entire bottle share based around the pretense of Easter brunch -- the spring Thanksgiving -- except without the acid trip of watching Case McCoy take charge of my favorite football team and derp all over my TV.

La Grange Farmhouse Ale | Rahr & Sons | Ft. Worth, TX
After we stood around and shrugged at each other for a bit, and maybe gave a welcome side hug to acknowledge weeks of familial neglect, we started out with Rahr & Sons La Grange Farmhouse Saison.  A bit of a slurp in both name and body, but overall, it was quite memorable beer.

I was really surprised how much I enjoyed this beer, being that I find Rahr & Sons generally substandard -- but then I remembered that, like God's second born, Tim Tebow, Rahr & Sons are good for a surprise outta-the-arse on occasion.  Snowmageddon is one of those rare victories, but La Grange is like "vs. The Steelers in the playoffs-good" ... well, not so much good as lucky.

My favorite part of this brew is the barnyard hay-and-grass funk that is difficult to nail, though seems to be a requisite that every brewery lately tries their hand at it.  This was like a more finely-tuned Jester King Noble King, which tastes like a bathtub drain in comparison to La Grange.

ABV: 7.2%
Acquired: Chris

After getting a bit of a colloquialistic workout describing La Grange, I felt my mind was just ripening enough to move on to a more adventurous beer.  The next in the lineup was Oskar Blues' Deviant Dale IPA.

Deviant Dale's IPA | Oskar Blues Brewing | Longmont, CO
Lots n lots of people crap their beer guts praising Oskar Blues, but I think they're just aight.  There are probably somewhere in the neighborhood of half-a-dozen-to-a-full-dozen Colorado brewers that I'd rather give my money to in return for hoppy goodness, but Oskar Blues in particular appears to bring out the biggest fanbois.

Deviant Dales, itself, presents with a bit of an identity crisis -- caught somewhere between San Diego and an aggressive pine tree (like 100-times more aggressive than the pine tree that instantly made Chaz Bono the man of the house).

Deviant Dales is an obnoxious IPA.  There is no subtlety and very little nuance -- like an atomic hop nuke that leaves a mushroom cloud of disappointment.  This is very obviously their measuring stick between them and the entire region of Southern Cal. 

The difference is, the bright, floral, citrus-y notes work very well as a sun-brew within the temperate region of the southwestern American coast.  But Deviant Dales just felt like a cheap knockoff; a vocalist whose cover of "Let's Stay Together"disappoints because he's just mouthing the words without feeling.

ABV: 8.o%
Acquired: Spec's

At this point, we collectively decided it was time to sweep the lingual legs, like "Johnny" William Michael Billy Zabka in The Karate Kid.  We needed a swift kick to our gorges to knock out the calamity of Deviant Dale's.  What we did, was open up what people might refer to as Jesus Juice -- 9.2% of the most dangerously fruited beer on earth. If this stuff was served at the last supper, all the rest of the disciples woulda been like, "ok, fuck it, I'll do it too, bro"

2011 Blushing Monk | Founder's Brewing | Grand Rapids, MI
My love for Founder's is pretty well documented on [An Avenue].  Of the big brewer states like California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, this is Michigan's Big Three, with Founder's playing the role of Dwyane Wade.

Last year, when Melissa and I visited their brewery in Grand Rapids, Blushing Monk and Devil Dancer left the biggest impressions, so I threw down for a to-go bottle, then evidently forgot about it until just last week when I was searching for tasting bottles.  Like a resurrection from its 45° tomb, Blushing Monk had risen.

IMO, Michigan does the best fruit beers in the country since their berry crops consists of my favorite Starburst -- cherries,strawberries, raspberries, etc.  In this case, the raspberry was VERY provocative, while maintaining the integrity of a true Belgian Ale.  The smoothness of the beer combined with the liveliness of the raspberry puree made this both a dangerous and delicious mid-day aperitif.  It made everyone's brains go cuckoo -- even those not fully participating in the tasting --  which was totally cheating since they didn't have to endure Deviant Dales.

ABV: 9.2%
Acquired: Founder's Brewery

Bam Noire Dark Farmhouse | Jolly Pumpkin Brewing | Dexter, MI
Since decisions were getting easier and easier at this point, we decided to keep with the Michigan theme, and opened up the Chris Bosh: Jolly Pumpkin's Bam Noire.  

I am a huuuge fan of Jolly Pumpkin for three reasons I can think of immediately off of my head (and prolly others I will come back to edit): 1) They are one of the original, American farmhouse-style breweries that are undoubtedly inspiring a whole brewing movement, including Austin's own Jester King, 2) Because they are practically the grandaddy of US farmhouse/belgian/wild ales, they have a LARGE and nuanced variety of a very niche beer style, which makes them incredibly brave, and 3) Their brewery in Northern Michigan and their brewhouse in Ann Arbor are undoubtedly the best places to drink beer in Michigan. [edit: 4) four, four, I forget what four was for].

I'd had several varieties of Jolly Pumpkin's Bam series, including my personal favorite, Bam Bière, but I hadn't ever had this varietal before.

I definitely preferred other styles of the series over Bam Noire, but what I loved about this one in particular was the sudden dry finish that you would taste in something like a champagne or, natch, a champagne yeast beer.  It was very prominent and nicely rounded out the beer's raisin notes for a nice pre-summer finish.

ABV: 4.3%
Acquired: Ken

It was about this time that the combination of Texas heat, sudden high-ABV shock-and-awe, and empty brunch stomachs began to take its toll on the boozy participants, so we surrendered to fists of ham, deviled eggs (which should be at every tasting from here til eternity), potato casseroles, and other yeasty grains in order to combat natural effects of important research.

Black Obi Soba Ale | Rogue Brewing/Masaharu Morimoto | Ashland, OR
So, with a pound of salt and glutamate protecting our intestinal tracts, we motored forward with the collaboration Soba ale between Rogue Brewing and Chef Masaharu Morimoto, better known as the only Iron Chef you don't fuck wit. But because we like to accept challenges we decided to get our OBI  SOBA ON! (three words I sadly did not think to say until writing this just now)

Right away, the pour from the bottle to glass reminded the savviest of Easter tasters (which was about 2-3 paying attention at this point) of soy sauce.  Aaand, when you get a suggestion of something pungent like that in your head from the onset, well, good luck picking out any of the flavors besides liquid umami.

Ok, so I was one of the one's who was like all, "soy sauce!" and probably ruined it for others, but the beer did, indeed, have a subtle savory backing that I found incredibly delicious and agreeable.  I'm certain that this would be a super beer to bring to one of those incredibly clever BYOB sushi places that are prevalent in this town -- which is how Melissa typically incites me into sushi dates instead of something with more substance.  But, hey, I love ego tripping on beer pairings!  Damn you.
This bottle of greatness indicates with cartoonish icons that this beer would, in fact, pair very well with a cow's head and also a full pig -- so I will also take note of Chef Morimoto's expertise and have it accompany me to any BYOB chop houses and salumi shops that may pop up within the next several seconds (that's how long it takes for a new place to open up here in Austin).

ABV: 4.75%
Acquired: Spec's

After licking my glass clean, my Boozer-in-Law, Ken decided it was time to present one of the premier beers of the whole backyard event:  Cigar City's Kalevipoeg Baltic Porter, procured from the grips of the brewery itself.
Kalevipoeg Baltic Porter | Cigar City Brewing | Tampa, FL

This was a spectacular contribution in our multi-quest mission to 1) Sample new beers, 2) Sample rare beers, 3) Combine those two elements to sample once-in-a-lifetime brewery one-offs, and 4) Continue to ride the coattails of Easter Sunday as a vehicle for getting hammered.  This one was a Mark Teixeira 4-bagger (because, F the Red Sox).

Kalevipoeg was developed by one of the more remarkable breweries in the States, well-known for brewing unusual batches and extreme beers.  This one in particular was made to commemorate Cigar City's 1,000th batch of beer.

Kalevipoeg featured a very oily pour, almost like grill drippings, and complimented this element with a dense, roasted, and smoky finish -- a seemingly suitable nod to their brewery's name -- as it has big elements of tobacco, leather, and malt interspersed as well.  The huge alcohol content was hidden in its well constructed complexity.  I'm a big fan of rauchbeirs, and this one was possibly the best I've ever had.

ABV: 9.o%
Acquired: Ken

2011 Saison-Brett | Boulevard Brewing | Kansas City, MO
After what felt like an after-dinner digestif in Kalevipoeg,  the progressively more militant gang of heathens moved on to something that would cut the intensifying sun and ham sweats.  This would be Boulevard's 2011 Saison-Brett.

Boulevard's Smokestack Series is positively one of my favorite limited release series of any brewer in the country.  Usually, these consist of barrel-aged Belgian style beers, but this one in particular uses my favorite saison recipe in Tank #7 with additional yeast strains added, dry hopped, then bottle conditioned for preservation.

Each bottle is numbered so that you know that you are drinking something only a few thousand others have tasted, which, of course, makes it even more appealing.

Saison-Brett contained all the awesomeness of its predecessor, but with a very slight acrid finish not found in Tank #7.  It also had the complex citrus-y orange-lemon notes of a great saison.  And similar to the Bam Noire from earlier in the day, Saison-Brett has a dry champagne quality that felt nice and refreshing while hiding the enormous 8.5 % booze notes.

ABV: 8.5%
Acquired: El Paso Spec's (Wait, where? Ha! score!)

Tripel B | Adelbert's Brewing | Austin, TX
Since we were feeling particularly sprite, we went straight to another Belgian, since we appeared to be experiencing a renaissance in this style at the moment.

Adelbert's is one of Austin's newest brewers, and the one that launched their product like it was shot out of a hand cannon.  

My first experience with Adelbert's was their Scratchin' Hippo Biere de Garde, which was a phenomenal initial effort.  They have only improved since.

I'm a minor fan of Tripels, but mainly only on the strength of La Fin du Monde.  All others are not really my preference, but dang, LFdM is really a special beer.

Remarkably, Tripel B comes damn near as close to LFdM as I've ever had.  It's  buttery, orange-infused, and coriander-spiced.  In a tie breaker, I would give the tie breaker to our boys in Austin
based on price point -- a fee that outpunches its weight class -- especially with the very high alcohol content.  Tripel B will undoubtedly develop into a perennial option for me.

ABV: 9.3%
Acquired: Jessica

Needing to get a bit of the fattiness of the last few selections, we moved on to an IPA from Deschutes' Bond Street Series -- a series that has become recently available in Texas, leading to lots of happiness in the groin region for many local beer fans.

Hop Henge Experimental IPA | Deschutes Brewing | Bend, OR
One of the better selections in this series is the Hop Henge Experimental IPA.  I expounded on the hop profiles of western continental IPAs earlier in this post and their proclivity for measuring their hop-cocks with an atomic blast of bittering agents.  I expected much of the same from Deschutes without really giving them credit for being an eagerly different western brewery.  They don't dick around with ordinary recipes, and after all, they make the singularly best beer on the planet.

What I got from Hop Henge was a very balanced, malty, but hop-forward citrus-and-grapefruit infused floral beer.  Quite a mouthful, but then so is Hop Henge IPA. It disguises its generous ABV very expertly, something that very experienced brewers can make to seem effortless.

It had the IPA-profile that is more similar to a Midwestern IPA (which is preferable to me)  than a west coast/Colorado IPA -- and for that, it has won some bonus 1-Ups for future purchases.

ABV: 9.o%
Acquired: Sunrise Market

... and ... soooo ... that about did it for the tasting ... apart from previously reviewed artillery here and there like Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale, St. Arnold's Endeavor, Argus Cider (loved it, thanks Jessica), and Cuvee des Jacobins Rogue -- as well as the random Lone Star Lites that everyone was using to cleanse their palates with between samplings.

But, in the land of SXSWs, ACLs, and Fun Fun Fun Fests, you always stick around to see if there is a special guest encore that only you and five other punters got to witness ...

Pere Jaques 2011 Belgian Dubbel Ale

        ... and ...

                                            ... Sofie 2011 Belgian Saison

 Yep.  A fucking double-bill closer from Chicago's Goose Island Brewing, like a boss.

Alas, two of the better selections from Goose Island's Reserve Series, a line that is chocked-full of stellar concoctions of Belgian style seasonal ales from Goldens to Tripels.

Goose Island's Reserve Series is one of the crown jewels of American craft royalty, and brewmaster Greg Hall nails his recipes every year.

Pere Jaques is a very ripened beer, with a heaping serving of your daily intake of fruit and malts.  It is rich and syrupy in just the perfect way.

Sofie, however, may just be the star of the entire series.  This is a soured Belgian saison that contains overt notes of lemony effervescence and the suggestion of French oak wine barrels.  Sofie hums a lingual sonnet, like an Easter psalm, all the way through the palate without the shrill of brett and bacteria-sourness.  Sofie was a very satisfactory way to seal the tongue, and end a day of over-indulging and Tebow mocking.


I am more fatigued writing about it than actually drinking it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Common Denominator Imperial Belgian Brown | Thirsty Planet/Hops & Grain | Austin, TX

The universe has such a fucked up way about itself in that it can correct seemingly unrelated outcomes in order to maintain its perfect equilibrium.

For example, just one day after attending one the best and most significant beer events ever to ever be held in Austin, I also attended the worst in its 183-year history.

When word leaked that Drink.Well. would be hosting Austin's inaugural tapping of the city's (and by extension, the state's) first local brewery collaboration, there was a prevalent buzz around the nerd-dom about attending the event that would further seed Austin's blooming beer rep around the country.  When brewers act as integers for the greatest common denominator, the maximum number of beer people will benefit from their efforts.  And when the maximum number of people are enjoying this esprit of craft, is when the city's stature gains momentum as the brewing capital of the southwest -- and one of the major catalysts in the entire country, young as it may be.

But as the universe corrects for this localized awesomeness, it was required to shit upon its municipal boundaries in the form of The Austin Beer Fest, an event so incapable
and deficient that it had to wear a helmet to keep from hurting its head.  I do not have the finger strength to type out the epic list of problems associated with the "500-brewery-strong**" event, but to generalize the majesty of fuck-ups in one statement; the petite tavern Drink.Well.has more grace in their eight taps than did an entire 25,000-person event. Also, it appeared that most of these "craft-beer loving attendees**" had the collective palate of a 9th grader, because the longest lines of the day were for the $7 InBev/Budweiser sample table.  Read that horrible information again.  This was the lowest common denominator.

So, taking that all into consideration, this beer would basically have to slay in order to appropriately counter-balance the fire breathing monster that was the ABF.

But first, a bit of background regarding the stitching of these two breweries in the form of a singular beer.

The press release (yes, a press release) stated: Jake Maddux of Thirsty Planet and Josh Hare from Hops & Grain, have joined their masterful brewing forces on [...] Common  Denominator, an insightful and invigorating Imperial Belgian Brown Ale. The men worked together, taking raw materials from each respective brewery, to execute a craft beer on a truly local level. The name, Common Denominator, stemmed from the idea that while Jake and Josh are both brewers and peers in this cooperative, yet competitive local craft beer industry, they are also very good friends outside of their breweries’ walls. The two have been wanting to collaborate on a libation for quite a while and when their good friend and supporter of both breweries, Michael Sanders, offered to host the unveiling of the collab beer at his new American craft bar, Drink.Well., the ball started rolling.

So, there you have it.  The confluence of brewing by Thirsty Planet and Hops & Grain, combined with the vehicle to push this skag on to the addicts in the form of the Drink.Well Tavern managed to realign the poles that would shortly be put off its axis by an enormous dump taken in Far East Austin.

Apart from the event being generally spectacular, the beer itself reflected the cosmic effort put forth for all responsible.  Generally, hype exceeds payload in too many instances, but when you have somebody like Vince Young behind the line of scrimmage, you know that there is always bound to be something spectacular forthwith.  This is the case with these two breweries: accountable and engaging; the brewmaster versions of Black Jesus.

Common Denominator tilts Austin's axis, so much so, it must be fully consumed and exhausted in its holster within a 48 hour period (and it was!) so as to prevent further malevolence inside the city limits.  The cola notes and extra carbonation is a very heady, initial touch to begin the whole journey down this glass.  As it warms, the complexity is very prominent -- heavily roasted malts, Belgian yeasts, cocoa, caramel, and a hint of oak undertones -- a winter warmer of sorts, but also deft enough to make the head swim in sunshine. Its heavily boozed, but entirely subtle.  All contradictory integers, sure, but each characteristic cleverly finds that common denominator.

This was truly a mash-up of great minds -- like Dangermouse and James Mercer ... no Dangermouse and Cee Lo.  'Cos that shit made me crazy.

ABV: 8.5%
Acquired: Drink.Well.

** um, no.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Wet Hopped vs. Dry Hopped Pale Ales: Estate Homegrown Wet | Sierra Nevada Brewing | Chico, CA vs. Dry Hopped | Founder's Brewing | Grand Rapids, MI

Pale Ales are the reason why Springtime was invented a fafillion years ago by Persephone and Ceres in anticipation of mild days in collaborative harmony with mild beers.  And when face-painting, chest-thumping tailgaters discuss how American Adjunct Lagers are their default "session beers" while wasting away long days on State of Texas owned asphalt,  what they really should be discussing is which Pale Ale they are currently working on to ride that buzz into game time.

In my personal opinion, pale ales, much like porters, are most valuable as a transitional "flushing of the system" beers inbetween the hardcore beer guzzling seasons of summer and winter.  Pale ales (spring) and porters (fall) act as excellent palate cleansers between the bitter IPAs of summer and the chocolatey stouts of winter.  Therefore, not only are pale ales delicious, but they are utilitarian as well. And, as I've alluded to, drinking one in the 79° weather is like listening to Andrew Bird whistle The Fishin' Hole.

The primary beauty of pale ales are the characteristic nose and frontal palate hops, their light body, and their typically low ABV.  This means that gardening becomes less of a death wish when you're on your fourth of the afternoon.  Also, you will not likely pass out in the plastic wading pool afterward, drowning like a bloated, sad, and exponentially less famous rendition of Jim Morrison at Rue Beautreillis 17.  So, that's nice.

And because the pale ale is the precursor to my full swan dive into summertime IPAs, I like them to impart a bit of balance between the malts of winter-past and the hops of summer-future.  My favorite pale ales are able to do exactly that.  These are my two of my favorite:

Sierra Nevada's Estate Homegrown Ale may just very well be the most perfect beer in America.

Let me emphasize that this doesn't mean its the best beer in America, but I personally think it may be the most skillfully crafted.  Here is why:

First, every ingredient -- most notably, the hops and barley -- that went into this bottle was farmed in-house on the Chico, California estate owned by the Sierra Nevada brewing company.  There are probably less than 1% of breweries worldwide that could produce this kind of scratch material that would make a commercially available and financially viable beer.

Secondly; despite its luxurious resources, the beer has a price point of just around $10.  And yet, because they are tending to every element of this beer-making process, including farming of the crop, maintenance, and harvest, it is literally one of the most expensive beers to be produced in the entire universe.  You will not find a tastier, better-crafted beer for that kind of foldin' change.

And thirdly, because of its genesis as a literally hand-crafted beer, it is deemed a certified organic ale, which every asshole with re-usable grocery bags and an electric car tells me is the shit.

So, this is why Estate Homegrown is a special kind of pale ale -- and we've yet to have even discuss its magical flavor crystals.

Estate Homegrown is the most perfectly balanced beer I've ever enjoyed.  The combination of hops and malts appear to be in total choral harmony, nuanced by the late addition of wet hops to the fermenter to impart additional aroma and flavor.  And though I'm getting a bit out of my element here with the actual brewing process -- that more Melissa's area of wisdom -- I could definitely tell that this addition of these volatile hop oils during the late stages, while adding very little bitterness, makes the "wet" part of its moniker a very appropriate title.

It is the type of beer that really takes half a bottle to understand its greatness, and therefore you are scrambling to put all the clues together in the final act of this movie so that you can interpret and figure its complexity by the time the big reveal hits the rest of the morons in the theater.

ABV: 6.7%
Acquired: Hyde Park Market

Interestingly enough, hop-head as I am, I really do prefer for my vessels of bittered alcohol to come from the Midwest rather than its ancestral region of Southern California.

The reason being is that I prefer the art of subtlety that the Midwest displays in their IPAs, whereas the Westcoasters enjoy the fine art of clubbing your palate with hop bombs as if clearing the arctic of baby seals.  That's like ten times too much clubbing for my sensibilities.  I enjoy moderate hopcide -- like Zanesville --  not BP oil spill, where the whole ecosytem of my mouth is destroyed by herbs.

In an ironic twist, I don't particular favor Midwestern pale ales because of their lack of hop tits.  They tend to be overly malted, and not at all bright on the tongue -- because remember, we're talking about a spring beer here.  In fact, California pale ales, because of its emphasis on mild, but distinct hops, taste very much like a full Midwestern IPA. But if you can apply that theory to Midwestern pale ales, then they are just really kind of boring and flat -- as if these northfolks don't really understand the blessed nuances of a spring day.  Maybe they don't get it the way those of us in the south don't understand 'autumn'.  

So, I decided to see what my favorite -- and in my opinion, the best -- Midwest brewer could do with a dry-hopped pale ale.

... and what I discovered is that, while nice and easy drinking, it doesn't really elicit the same spirit of a western, wet-hopped pale ale.  It really doesn't even compete with many of Texas' pale ales from breweries still in their infancy.

The dry-hop of Founder's pale ale indicates a lack of freshness to its flavor and body by use of these bittering agents to the nearly final product -- and compared to the egregious freshness of the Estate Homegrown -- its pretty much an unfair fight.

The taste was too sweet -- again delicious -- but not how I prefer my pale ales, and also a bit citrusy without the complex layering.  There were some overt notes of grapefruit, which is a fine characteristic of typical pale ale, but then it kind of devolves in the final palate.  Again, I will emphasize good, but not great, and would probably be much more tastier -- and thus enjoyable -- when its time for jeans and lace-ups rather than chinos and flippy-floppies.

ABV: 5.6%
Acquired: Somewhere up north