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.

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