Friday, June 29, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Einhorn Berliner Weisse | Austin Beerworks | Austin, TX

Buzz is an unpredictable beast made even more capricious by something as fickle and competitive as the Austin beer market.  I am sort-of in awe of the madness it would take to run a brewery especially one susceptible to such extreme hype that the demand far exceeds the supply.  But because craft beer is still by-and-large a niche product, one still is having to chase money up the ladder in order to stay on top of the game in terms of relevancy.

Enter the buzzy brewery that has been contradicting the grueling calisthenics of running Austin's eponymous beerworks.  So, maybe they haven't figured it all out yet, but they sure as shit are making things look easy.

For most brewers, caring about beer is nice, but caring about beer is pretty easy.  Brewing is a lumbering dinosaur of non-glamour and continued education -- the way most of our shitty, alcohol-free jobs are -- but with a much more discerning and unforgiving audience.  A misstep is recoverable, two is a Flying Wallenda swan dive into the abyss.  As Mark Renton says, "It's a tightrope, Spud. It's a fuckin' tightrope".

What impresses me most about Austin Beerworks is the sophistication in which they credited their market with from the get-go.  They were going to attempt a trickle-down from the most cogent of beer dorks and build their campaign from superb branding and word-of-mouth from your most obnoxious friends.  I know, because I'm one of those people.  Combined with the first-rate talent of their brewers, Austin Beerworks blazed onto the city's #trending beer market with four, exceptionally-tasting, oil-canned hydraulics.  While people around the state were elbowing in the aisles for their final, legal cans O.G. 4Loko, Austinites were being introduced to an O.G. formula brewed without any kind of palatal prejudice.  It was the most successful entry into any kind of Austin retail outside of the highly-ascendent, but short-lived Free Money Emporium and Brothel.

Most people would bite their own hand off to make just one successful beer; by their first few months in existence Austin Beerworks had four.  That is precisely the apex at which most humans would relax and count their millions.

But at the risk of over-fellating with prose, Austin Beerworks motored through the bright lights of triumph with several exceptional seasonal beers, worthy of exceeding the baseline measurement for 'beer-trading bait' had they only been able to can the stuff.  


Did you know that the intended theme to the TV sitcom Cheers was to be a song originally penned for a Broadway musical called "People Like Us"?  Not until all sorts of litigation threats and alternate version denials was the universally recognized and beloved "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" approved.  The world is better for it.

In an alternate universe, people gather around bartops in this country and sing about pearls and ascots and other kinds of tomfuckery related to the original Cheers song.  In that variant landscape, success is not measured by "who knows your name" because walking into a familiar bar either 100% guaranteed that everybody already did or 100% guaranteed that they did not -- if that makes sense.  You didn't have to earn your recognition based on merit and consistency the way Norm did.

But in this very correct, and very reputation-forward universe, everybody could potentially know your name because you fucking earned that shit through achievement and dependability.

When I walk into a bar in the future, and I say, 'Barkeep' pointing downward towards the vacant drink coaster in front of me -- the way Norm did on almost every show -- I would like for that to gesturally refer to this beer.  I want its reputation to precede me.  I want everyone to know its name.

Einhorn is pound-for-pound, pretty much the best summer beer I've ever tasted -- and that is comparatively assessed against the giants of summertime like Bell's Oberon, Boulevard's Tank 7, 21st Amendment's Hell or High Watermelon Wheat, Dale's Pale Ale, Dogfish Head Festina Peche, and so on.

The immediate tenor of the beer is that it is superbly tart and deftly citrusy -- not in the clumsy way I find most brewers who've rushed a sour to market.  Einhorn had the dextrous finesse of apples, pineapple, citrus, and other subtle palm tree fruit mingling with fancy champagne notes.   It was gentle on the palate and crisp at the bookends of my articulators.  It was sweet without being either sugary or syrupy -- and most importantly, it hit the key characteristic of any worthy summertime ale: cold, bright, and effervescent.

Should I ever be stranded on a desert island, or if I'm ever called upon to answer such an immediate question during a round of what people call shooting-the-shit, I'll call upon this like the goddam fatman walking into his local: "Einhorn!"

ABV: 3.5%
Acquired: Billy's on Burnet

Thursday, June 28, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Inebriator Imperial Stout | Sonoran Brewing | Scottsdale, AZ

Basically, the underlying motivation behind starting a beer blog and prattling on and on about something so subjective, is the general feeling that ‘fuck this is so good, everyone has to try this!’

The two main focuses of [AA] are the topics of beer and music, subjects so widely variant and the spectrum so broad, that one can find an approachable niche and style that appeases their sensibilities without feeling intimidated by a segregate force.  Diversity is what makes these two categories great and worth discussing at length because opinions are so particular, yet variegated.  Above all, the best thing about enjoying particular kinds of beer or music is just about ways of expressing your love for it and trying to spread that message as far and wide as you can.

However, sometimes a bit of guidance is necessary, because when the masses are allowed to make a collective decision, then we get fucking Bud Light Platinum and Kid Rock beer.

The reality is, there are a ton of choices out there, but only so much time and disposable income.  Beer is expensive.  Beer is tricky.  Above all, beer wants you to take it home and violate it.  Those are three concepts dangerously close to a tranny hooker (I'm only assuming!).  And nobody wants to go home with a tranny hooker (Again, I'm only assuming!)

So, when we're talking about risky investments involving your hard-earned cash and the momentum of your post-work evening, one should have a good reference point on which to rely.  Even more so when discussing very small brands that haven't paid for (read: can't afford) prime real estate in your local booze dealership. 

This is why I want to talk about a spectacular brewery that very few people outside of Arizona have heard of -- and because of that fact, are missing out on a very nice risk:reward investment ratio.

Sonoran Brewing is a tiny (by comparison to other breweries talked about on [AA]) brewery housed in a restaurant in North Scottsdale.  However, Sonoran has also been making craft beers since 1996, which was like the Stone Age of brewing, and therefore, archeologists have descended upon their brew house to study how they've come so far without being recognized nationally.

So, when I opened my care package from my friends in Arizona, I was exceptionally beside myself to see that this was one of the goodies.  I was in danger of being blown away from just the labeling.

If you are a frequent reader of [AA], you would kinda-vaguely remember that imperial stouts make my emotions pique like the opening two minutes of Arcade Fire's Wake Up.  I hesitate to call anything my favorite, but they are up there with The Smiths and College Football Saturdays. 

I didn't get to this beer right away, as I thought this could use a little nap in the Cellar after traveling so far and being completely out of its desert environment.  It was also a rarity in my personal stash, and I always have a bit of a hard time uncorking those.  But I thought that a good time to unfurl this would be with the fam on my wife's first Mothers Day at a very, very gratifying outdoor restaurant in our neighborhood on what would be the last pleasant-weather day in Austin's history.  That was a chewy sentence, but then so was this beer.

Inebriator Imperial Stout tasted like it had been steeped in a coffee pot for hours, while you sat reading the morning paper.  It was the first bold characteristic I noticed, but certainly not the most overt, as I would come to find out.  That characteristic would be the 70% dark chocolate notes that popped up right between the sweet cream of the coffee and the perfectly muted semi-sweet roasted nuts and slightly bitter hop profile that comes along with its 75 IBUs.  

This made me think of some kind of rapscallionery going on in the minds of the brewers here, like it was one-part Dry Irish and two-parts American revival stout.  This beer had origins in the Old World, but came to the Southwest of America to hide from its demons back home.

Many imperial stouts seem like they're trying to imitate the big, boozy cliche of other imperial stouts, but Inebriator really leapt out on its own.  In the modern era of American stouts, Inebriator was heavy on the characteristics of the Big 4: body, color, flavor and ABV -- the starting Center that you would want your NBA expansion team to be built around.  This beer does not listen to Brit Pop, it does not listen to Math Rock, it does not even listen to Thrash Metal.  It listens to the sound of your soul being sucked through your liver like it was shrouded in a cheese cloth.

Very nice work.

ABV: 9.1%
Acquired: Beer trade from PHX (Thx Whitney & Scott!)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Small Batch No. 1 Oak Aged Rye Oatmeal Pale Ale | Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling | San Antonio, TX

Somebody much wiser than myself once uttered these words, 'Writing about music is like dancing to architecture'.  Its a very stark theory strongly indicating that one medium cannot crossover to another because scribed missive is without similar and relevant emotions to an aural score.

This reminds me of a conversation I had recently with a local Austin brewer regarding the feeling of beer, or as he explained it, emotive terroir.  This descriptive is to suggest that beer can wildly alter its visceral make-up depending on the immediate geographical environment of its consumption, the company in which it is being shared, its sequentially consumable competition, and other factors influencing how you enjoy a beer.  Writing about beer, in this subjective and highly variable regard, is very much like dancing to architecture. 

The first of anything I tasted from Ranger Creek was their Oatmeal Pale Ale (OPA) while snorting to the pre-feature shorts at The Alamo Drafthouse along with my wife, on what was probably the bookend of a cozy winter Sunday.  For anyone who frequents The Alamo for their film-screening needs, there are certain rituals that make it one of the best places on Earth to be at any given moment.

One of those things is the muted 15-20 minutes of movie build-up while you sip your first pint in the dim glow of the screen, next to a carefully selected companion whom also enjoys the same rituals of watching movie in this type of environment.

Its this environment in which I imagine film producers -- like the previously alluded to, record producers -- wish their final product to be enjoyed, a ceremony of pomp, with their art and exhumed energy as the headliner.  Record producers and music artists, likewise, want their audiences to listen to their carefully engineered albums in sequential track order for lack of losing their interpretation of the music; then listen to a live performances with scattered spontaneity in order to capture an emotional connection between old material, new material, and the anticipation of an invigorating encore containing both.

In a way, I think brewers are like these industry producers.  They rely on your immediate glandular sensations to impart affection and desire in a new product, then impart loyalty by playing the old hits.  In the case of Ranger Creek, they captured my loyalty with their OPA, the perfect movie time terroir, then inspired some suggestive throes with the release of their Small Batch No.1, a mysteriously shrouded Burnt-orange bottle invoking sexual commerce from their fans.  Labeling a beer 'Small Batch' amongst the bottle-share crowd, is as imminently dangerous as shouting "Fire" in crowded theater (unless its at The Alamo, of course, cos then they'll just remove you for being a loud asshole).

In what was a trouser-wetting move to a smartphone populous of beer dorks, Ranger Creek provided the full description and tasting notes embedded in a QR code on each of the bottles' suitcoat. You want to be the first to know what this stuff is all about -- including the all-important information of beer style?  Catch me if you can.  Beer nerds are notorious "Me first, me first" people -- like all those trolling comments on your local paper's online site.  This was the ultimate in industry producer build-up.

Given that I really liked OPA, I thought there was a pretty solid chance that I would really love the oak barrel-aged version of it.  I was right.  The first thing I noticed* is that it had a very nice weight without being cluttered -- like the OPA with more guitars.  The entire palate retained that nice, original creaminess from the OPA oats, but also healthy tree bark from the rye bill.  I was just a tiny bit underwhelmed by the oak-barrel profile, as I thought it didn't really impart anything exciting to the recipe -- probably because it only marinated for one month in the barrels (a very abbreviated amount of time in the brewing kingdom).

Despite that, I definitely understood Ranger Creek's objective here: a muddled Texas tree fruit, slightly Bretted, earthy, smoothly hopped finished, summertime drinker.  It tasted like Texas.  Terroir.  Long may it continue.

ABV: 7.o%
Acquired: Central Market

* Okay, I thought this could be the first review that didn't mention the wax seal, which smells like like UT's Jester Dormitory in April, but it didn't bother me unless I actively put my nose on it and sniffed.  It was fun suggesting my unsuspecting wife do that too.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

[A Beer a Day] More Black Than Brown IPA | Stone/Ninkasi/The Alchemist Brewing | Escondido, CA/Eurgene, OR/Waterbury, VT

I will apologize in advance for the blatant themery that will be going on in [AA] this week, and this is because this is the seven-day advent that not only commemorates my wedding anniversary, but also contains the calendar week in which I met this love assassin, as well as the week that I asked her to spend a lifetime of rabble-rousing in breweries and scummy concert venues with me -- all in successive years, of course -- this isn't the 1950s, where all of that was done between coffee break and lunch.

In honor of our alliance as master collaborators in life and love, I present to you [An Avenue]'s Collaboration Week.

Part I.  Part II.  Part III.

Part IV of IV.

Stone is the pantheon of wondrousness.  It is one of the breweries who's candidacy to be cast onto the Rushmore of Craftery would not be disputed with much fervor. Like the first generation before them -- and with peerage like Dogfish Head, New Belgium, and the similar brewhouses --  the path that they've illuminated for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th generations of micros in the United States is, without question, heroic.

For this collaboration -- as is the typical theme for Stone's Collaboration Series -- they invited two other renowned brewhouses to their workshop in Escondido to conjure up another unique recipe to represent this spectacular series.  In this case, Stone colluded with two evasive (in Texas) breweries from Oregon and Vermont on a wintertime, dark IPA.  This collaboration was very well represented in name:

... but would it hurt anyone's feelings if I said I wasn't particularly convinced of this beer's ambition?  More Brown than Black IPA tastes like a rushed experiment that didn't meet the expectations of any of the brewers involved, but decided to just go with it anyway.

Incidentally, the name of the beer itself kinda conjures up the idea that their original pursuit was not realized, aiming for the wildly trendy black IPA, but instead coming up short in both body and color.  Should I be more offended that a semi-clever re-branding was a major bluff by these super-brewers, or the fact that I impulsively paid $5.99/ea for four 12-ounce bottles because I'd been delighted with this series in the past?

I did not particularly fancy the pine resin notes and felt the base was too watery. The color seemed clumsy and the flavor profile was not as nuanced as you would expect from these brewers.  For a west coast IPA, this was not very assertive.

Stone is certainly allowed a misstep every now and again in the opinion of this fanboi -- and I'm certainly not a Stone acolyte by any means -- but typically they are a very disciplined brewery who work their asses off to maintain their cache. More Brown than Black hasn't changed that opinion, but I am just more aware that their collaborations are not always the carnival of masturbation they present themselves to be.

ABV: 7.4%
Acquired: Side Door 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Drink'in the Sunbelt (2011) Wheat Ale | Jester King / Mikkeler | Austin, TX / Copenhagen, DK

I will apologize in advance for the blatant themery that will be going on in [AA] this week, and this is because this is the seven-day advent that not only commemorates my wedding anniversary, but also contains the calendar week in which I met this love assassin, as well as the week that I asked her to spend a lifetime of rabble-rousing in breweries and scummy concert venues with me -- all in successive years, of course -- this isn't the 1950s, where all of that was done between coffee break and lunch.

In honor of our alliance as master collaborators in life and love, I present to you [An Avenue]'s Collaboration Week.

Part I.   Part II.

Part III of IV.

In the year of its infancy, Jester King opened their farmhouse gates to Danish gypsy brewer Mikkeler to make beer and make merry.  Since Mikkeler is in the business of providing sketch-ups to masterpieces for many, many artisinal brewers around the US and around the world, I thought -- at the time when I procured this bottle -- that it was quite the score for the cache of Jester King, and honestly, for people like myself who are positively crazy about this kind of shit.

Famously, amongst my beer friends (which is only a collection of like two or three people -- the rest just look at me like I'm syndromatic), I claimed Jester King as a brewery way above their heads as a start-up, and I really couldn't see eye-to-eye with any of their lineup for a long time.

But, when they started bottling their beers, I felt that they had turned a very sharp corner by bottle conditioning their goodies the way St. Augustine intended them to be.  I switched my opinion about Jester King, and started stalking shelves for everything I could find with this Mephistolic logoswag and syncopathic verbiage.  I was hooked.

When I first sampled Drinkin' in the Sunbelt last year at the spectacular Black Star Co-Op -- which was debuting the first pressing of this beer -- I was woefully disgusted to the point that I would have storm-drain poured the rest of the pint had I wanted to contaminate Austin's drinking supply.  Instead, I suffered through an infected, cardboard-flavored boner-killer.  It was fucking terrible.

But, as mentioned above, the plot twist in the second act was that I ended up hunting for the vessel'ed version because Jester King and Mikkeler put some gnarly-assed artwork on it.  That was pretty hard to resist.  So, I bought two bottles in hopes that bottling had done some hocus-pocus to an otherwise horrible beer the same way it did Wytchmaker and Black Metal.

It was no better than Okay.

Grassy and thin, citrus-like yeast, and some muddled hops (which is entirely my fault, which I will later discuss).  The body was saison-esque, which I really liked, but the punch of collaborative excitement just never really emerged.  It was locally good, not internationally great.  But, had this beer gone to market even as recently as three years ago, it would have been the best thing brewed in Austin -- but currently, as a beer culture, we have already bypassed the threshold for this beer.

Jester King wears the family crest of farmhouse ales, which is a wonderful niche in a budding market, but their beer also has the tendency to all taste very similar to each other -- too similar, I think, when recalling your gustatory memory.  Jester King, in this regard, is in danger of becoming a cliche.

I'm not gonna have a tantrum about it -- but this beer was pretty disappointing considering the arrangement of architects behind its construction.  I will admit that, 1) this beer could have stayed cellared for too long, which killed its hop profile (as I mentioned earlier, my fault), 2) there was an astronomical improvement from that pint at Black Star to this one in my backyard a year later, and 3) at the time of production, Jester King were just working a lot of newbie things out, and with that consideration, it was a pretty decent, drinkable beer -- despite being a girlie 4% ABV.

Getting anywhere in the business of brewing is hard work, so I'm in no way disparaging what Jester King is doing.  We should preserve the craft of farmhouse beer made famous in the Walloon Region and Northern France.  Just not the shitty ones.

ABV: 4.2%
Acquired: Spec's 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Van Twee Cherry Belgian Strong Ale (2009) | Bell's Brewing / De Proef Brouwerij | Kalamazoo, MI / Lochristi, BEL

I will apologize in advance for the blatant themery that will be going on in [AA] this week, and this is because this is the seven-day advent that not only commemorates my wedding anniversary, but also contains the calendar week in which I met this love assassin, as well as the week that I asked her to spend a lifetime of rabble-rousing in breweries and scummy concert venues with me -- all in successive years, of course -- this isn't the 1950s, where all of that was done between coffee break and lunch.

In honor of our alliance as master collaborators in life and love, I present to you [An Avenue]'s Collaboration Week.
-- [AA]

Read Part I.

Part II of IV.

Yesterday, I talked a little bit about one of my favorite breweries, Founder's from Grand Rapids, Michigan, being notably absent from Texas booze shelves due to the algebra involved with being a small craft brewery in the United States.  Today, I'm talking about the same thing, except replacing the words 'Founder's' with 'Bell's' and 'Grand Rapids' with 'Kalamazoo.'  Being able to find one of these spectacular breweries in this state as part of a collaboration made me lighthearted with glee, finding both in the span of one week made me positively tantric.

In the four years that I've been back in Austin, I have absolutely raked the Spec's inventory to the tune of three-to-four visits per week.  I've not scratched the surface of their inventory so much as left a giant key-mark on their stockade.  Most of the time, I'm just in for a quick-six with which to accompany our gastronomy and old records for the evening, but I never get out of there without inspecting their disorganized back stock for treasures -- as well maintaining my ever-evolving personal nook, which has been displaced many times over the years like a squirrel's hackberry stash compromised by grackles.  As a result, some bombers that have captured my full attention, but yet to pull the $20 trigger on, go unseen by the innards of my beer cellar.  Van Twee was one of them.

But this bottle had an interesting journey finding its way 'back (kinda) into' my possession, resurfacing three years from its release date and into my accidental gaze like a desert island fifth with a message of hope and rescue from the grave of the Spec's stacks.  So I did.  I rescued it very much.

Furthermore, there was no way I could maintain the security of this VERY ageable beer from a Bell's-thirsty Michigander Goodwife for three years.  So, the separation, though painful at first, was rewarding at last.  I bought it, and maintained it for only three weeks in storage before we were beside ourselves with anticipation (being a a Bell's-thirsty Texican, myself).

Oh, one final, crucial detail: This beer was made once, was subsequently retired from production, and has no anticipatory plans of ever being reproduced again.  It is very unlikely that many of these still exist anywhere in the world.  This is why poring over the Spec's archives like a bridge hobo was invented.


I can't remember how many times I've said this in this blog -- probably a lot -- but this beer was nothing short of masterful.  Tart cherries and fermented sour cherry juice lead the whole parade down the long boulevard, with mild Belgian chocolate and candy sugar trumpeting to the drumbeats of roasted dark malts and nut brown malts.  The cheeky hops of New Zealand's Nelson Sauvin twirled like the batons of booted cheerleaders, and the wonderful Brettanomyces strains of yeast triumphed over the entire spectacle like the Grand Marshal of Kickassery.

This jam was three years in the making; three years of maturing and growing and waiting to become something perfect.  Sounds like a good allegory for this particular week.

ABV: 7.5%
Acquired: Spec's 

Monday, June 18, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Linchpin White IPA | Green Flash/Founders | San Diego, CA/Grand Rapids, MI

I will apologize in advance for the blatant themery that will be going on in [AA] this week, and this is because this is the seven-day advent that not only commemorates my wedding anniversary, but also contains the calendar week in which I met this love assassin, as well as the week that I asked her to spend a lifetime of rabble-rousing in breweries and scummy concert venues with me -- all in successive years, of course -- this isn't the 1950s, where all of that was done between coffee break and lunch.

In honor of our alliance as master collaborators in life and love, I present to you [An Avenue]'s Collaboration Week. 

Part I of IV.

Foremost, the greatest thing about collaboration beer is that the sex between allows for access into the State of Texas for breweries most notably absent -- whether that is because of their limited capabilities of making enough of their product for wider distribution or because of Texas' absurd liquor laws, made especially cumbersome and complicated for beer makers.  If you ever get the opportunity to set aside an hour-and-a-half of eye-rolling, huffing (possibly puffing), and megalolz about the beer industry and its 3-tier system, watch Beer Wars (for free on Hulu!) for further insight.

Though, I will not bore you with the detailed Texas ABC rules on outside breweries gaining access into this market, it should be noted that we as consumers are denied many, many superb choices regarding  products in our markets.

This would be like an arm of our state government denying us ribeye steaks into our borders for reasons like 1) they don't approve of the name rib, eye, or ribeye 2) they demand that this cut of beef be re-branded as chicken (the way that, up until recently, TABC demanded all beers be labeled as ales, even if they were actually lagers) 3) they demand that the small-ranch farmer re-label their new "beef-chicken" product at their own expense before they are allowed to enter the market, and finally 4) they are terrorist-loving jihadists.

Fortunately, for those breweries that have jumped through the flaming hoops of the TABC, and have access to Texas, they are allowed to ship their collaborations to Texas, even if half of that brewing alliance has not.

For access to this beer, we have Green Flash Brewing to thank.  They have brought one of the best breweries in the world to Texas in the form of a collaborative brew called LinchPin White IPA.  I talk about Founder's Brewing a lot on this blog, and the contraband in my cellar was all carefully reconstructed to resemble the very beautiful bottle shops in urban and not-so-urban Michigan, Founder's prominent amongst them.

Therefore, i was beside myself when I was tipped to the fact that one of my favorite bottle shops here in Austin was selling this (at a nice markup, BTW, [/c'monGOB.gif]), which made me anxious waiting around for the closing bell at work.

I do wish that I had been able to chill this one for at least a day, but I was entirely too excited to be opening legal Founder's in Texas -- not to mention that Green Flash had rapidly become a regular staple in my Spec's rotation.

I was not displeased. 

I'm always going on and on about my preference for Midwest IPAs over West Coast IPAs for the reasons of flavor profile, body, and nose -- and this was a very nice marriage of the two styles -- as if Western Michigan had a torrid affair with San Diego at a Super 8 in Denver; both styles meeting somewhere right in the middle of that geographical-style spectrum.  It had master-level carbonation that really accentuated the citrus zest and hop notes.  The yeast bomb was unexpected, but welcomed, especially on a muggy Texas evening.  The entire beer made a lot of sense, and also the theory behind its creation: a subtle, kind, and refreshing white IPA for a high desert summer climate.

Also, Linchpin is the Ben Affleck of beers; because, 'you white, then you Ben Affleck'.

ABV: 7.0%
Acquired: Sunrise

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Franklin (BBQ) Smoked Porter | Thirsty Planet Brewing | Austin, TX

One of the misconceptions about brewers is that one doesn't have to be all that professional in order to start slaying beer like Honest Abe does vampires.  And that they don't have any bosses to annoy with Friday afternoon slagging-off on Know Your Meme and BlackPlanet.  And having anything beyond a cursory grammar school education would just simply be frivolous. 

The obvious joke here would be that, if this was the case, 80% of our co-workers could replicate a Pliny the Elder on the fucking onset.  Maybe 90%. 

But in a rather brilliant piece of irony -- the REAL kind, not the 90%-ers kind -- brewers tend to be like the oracles of the culinary arts, often demonstrating incredible prophesy into consumer palates, being that it was an entirely overlooked industry for so many years before its resurgence only a few years ago.  Small, craft breweries had to tap into a test market that didn't even exist, risking and exhausting their financial comfort (and most likely sanity), and convince a populous that they were completely missing out on a cumbrous, indulgent, niche product that would replace every bit familiarity they've ever had with lagers. 

And then they had to start from the beginning explaining ales.

Sometimes -- often times -- living in these fortunate times provides for some very special opportunities.

In the theatre of brewing, this is the story of a two-year-old, small, craft brewery that took on the massive reputation of the world's greatest outdoor kitchen and won.

If you are familiar with the story of Franklin BBQ, then you can pretty much skip to the next paragraph, as this one will continue to pile onto the lore that Mr. Aaron Franklin and his wife Stacy have manifested from a small trailer in just-East Austin.  What began as a couple of punters (hi!) waiting in a small line (srsly, 15 mins) for a secret they selfishly hoped would maintain, the smells of brisket and fresh roast from the neighbors wafting towards, became a merciless algorithm of scene kids, tourists, fat lawyers, and students in a brick-and-mortar in real-East Austin.  There is no reason to pile on the blame for excessive popularity.  It really is the best brisket in America, and by extension, the universe.  The pork ribs alone would build long-standing, acclaimed careers for every other pitmaster who wasn't also making the world's best beef in the same smokers.

When a brewery approaches the Franklin empire with an idea for a collaborative beer between brewmasters and pitmasters, there is a volume of responsibility to make the product, not only outstanding and remarkable, but also worthy of the brand that bears a third of its name. 

How confident would you be petting the lion that is Franklin BBQ, and giving it your best shot to breed a pride of beer cubs from their massive smokers?  This was the first shot any brewer would get to make something legendary with the Franklin name attached -- and possibly the last if the by-product was cold garbage.

As you can see from all the glad-handing and wide-lens smiles above, this was a collaboration in the truest sense of the idea -- both culinary minds contributing to make the most delicious baby they could harvest from malts, grains, and sweet talk.  This was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club touring with Bob Wills.  Americana bipartisan accordance -- the way Rocky and Pele coordinated to kick the puss out of the Nazi's in Paris.  So weird, it may just work.


This is exactly the brilliance of Franklin Smoked Porter.  It is all four seasons in one glass: It has a density as casual as Spring; the refreshing quality of Summer vacation; the smoky nose and flavor of Autumn tailgates; and the pitched color of a Christmas roast.  It can be enjoyed both indoors and out -- a special feature of a beer that is not talked about and praised nearly enough in the world of nerd-dom. 

While the roastiness of its malts (smoked at Franklin BBQ) are the most discernible feature, perhaps my three favorite characteristics of this beer are 1) its easy-drinking body, 2) the layers of texture, and 3) the fact that this beer tastes as fucking glorious cold as it does approaching room temperature -- a feature that is dismissed by many brewmasters' visions of their final product.  Sometimes they forget that we still like cold beer. 

As a crude comparison, this is as much a porter as Shiner is a bock -- which is to say, you need to drink this with your mouth first, instead of your eyes and intuition.  Its is a spectacular beer that will only be available in a limited release, unfortunately -- because I would REALLY like to have a go at this one as Summer fades into Fall, and Fall into Winter ... etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Oh, and I'd also like to be that punter, bringing a growler of this to wait in the Franklin line, because fuck you all in front of me, that's why.

ABV: 6.?%
Acquired: Thirsty Planet's 2nd Anniversary (Congrats!)

Friday, June 8, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Scratchin' Hippo Bière de Garde | Adelbert's Brewing | Austin, TX

I've been waiting for fucking ages to review this beer, and the reason its taken so long was because I just couldn't snap off a proper photo of it in any scene I put it into.  It was like the Allison Brie of beerdom -- under the lights, an enigma -- but out on the streets, a positively head-twisting beauty.

From the first moments of spying its vessel, one just itches to know what in the entire hell is behind that dress.  The posture!  The curves!  The glisten!  Allison!

But, yes, it has taken quite a while for me to capture the true beauty of this ale, particularly since my wife and I were some of the O.G. - Original Gulpers of this beer released just weeks after Enzo took a dive in the penalty area back in November.  This was one of the first sharable purchases that welcomed my wife back into my world of drunken mayhem -- at least in my head, and really, its the thought that counts.

Anyway, we essentially tasted Batch 1 as a compliment to a fromage course that we assembled for a gluttonous holiday meal celebrating something or the other.  Maybe it was just a weekday (humblebrag?).  Immediately we were struck with deeply-cut affection for this homage to French farmhouse style ales -- which is a style I would like to see surrender to the confines of my fridge on a more frequent basis. 

I remember thinking that Scratching Hippo was really an exceptional beer -- and not lost on us was the fact that this was as green as beer gets, produced for the first time in large-batch quantity only weeks before.  Lemme put it this way -- any jerk can make a fine, home-consumable brisket -- but doing thirty of them for people willing to part with their disposable currency in exchange for a fickle product, well, that is a bit unnerving.  With that in mind, I felt the folks at Adelbert's were off to a fine start.

I just love what is implied by that photo: The Old World.  France.  Its a breakout role for this starlet.
Lately, I've been picking up these clever little singles at my local bottle shops and (gasp!) Spec's (singles at Spec's? Yes, these.) at the very noble price-point of $1.99.  That is simply fantastic -- a beer that is, in every essence of the word, handcrafted like a nice piece of folk art, and obtainable at colonial bazaar prices.

Apple, sugar, spice, & yeast may sound like a Serge Gainsbourg chanson -- and maybe it is -- but its also the song that Scratching Hippo sings.  While a bit overcarbonated at times (it tends to vary between batches), those are minor, workable, and forgivable issues -- and given that I've had at least a dozen bottles of varying sizes and crop over the past several months, its never impacted the product negatively.  This was certainly the right way to shoot out of the gate for the months-old Adelbert's Brewery.

ABV: 6.9%
Acquired: King's

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Salvation Belgian Strong Dark Ale | Russian River Brewing | Santa Rosa, CA

Momentum is a pervasive quality in the craft brewing business these days.  Its REALLLY kinda fucking hard to keep up with the mass quantity of breweries coming online within this next year (250) and those which are already established and kicking hipster-fatso asses all over the place (nearly 2,000) with constant special releases and series updates.

Assembling a cellar of rare, special, and seasonal craft beers is very much like collecting baseball cards as a kid when the extent of your allowance ensured a few packs-per-week of Donruss, and maybe one or two more if you bypass the sex sirens that were the Slurpee machine and the Galaga station that was housed in that creepy, extended rape lair of the 7-11.   

No matter how many times you were let down by the $1.25(!) lottery for your chance at the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card, the persistent scrapper in you (and you and you) made us all march right back to that lousy corner store the next week with a fist full of ones in search of that stupid white whale.

So nice to see you again.
This is why I've been doing some hemming and hawing all week long on whether to write this review for a few reasons: 1) its not a glowing review 2) while not necessarily a white whale, this is a highly sought-after and coveted beer from one of the world's finest breweries, 3) so, who am I to judge these virtuosos?, and finally, 4) it was shared in wonderful company, and therefore, what about my theory regarding beer-as-an-overall-experience, and not just being exclusively about flavor?

The thing is, when I took my allowance to Hopfield's I didn't know the lottery I was about to enter.  Typically, Russian River (and more specifically, their -tion series) provides like a factory set of high-gloss, mint condition, limited edition trading cards.

Russian River's Salvation was one of the source brews that led to a beer called Collaboration not Litigation, a joint venture with another favorite brewer of mine, Avery, as a sarcastic nod to the fact that both had unknowingly authored a Belgian strong ale by the same name -- a surprisingly rare anomaly given the suplus of creativity in the brew-world and the finite number of ways you can use puns.  This was kind of like the error card of beer labeling, and the genius of creating demand over it.

And, while Avery's Salvation is a golden, Russian River's is a dark, and when they were combined to form a singular, mega-recipe, they produced Ken Griffey Jr.

In other words, Collaboration not Litigation is a beer that packs a hitters wallop and possibly one that would make you karate kick a very hard wall

But dividing Collaboration not Litigation by two, leaves Rey Quinones, starting shortstop for the Russian River Salvations; A struggling, line-out hitter that tastes like raisins and cola.  Nobody wants to collect that, not even Lou Pinella.

RR Salvation left way too much to be desired. It was over-carbonated and dry as bark.  It opened up very poorly and never really reached its potential, even approaching room temperature.  This was that stinging walk home, pockets lined only with linen, mitts devoid of Surge Slurpees, and Trapper Keepers languishing for card 1, series 1.

ABV: 9.o%
Acquired: Hopfield's

Monday, June 4, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Two Hearted IPA | Bell's Brewing | Kalamazoo, MI

Awwww, snap.  The 100s are back again, even as I stare out of my office window into the cloudy expanse of Central Texas.

Texas, during the blight of summer, has a way of being both the folksy graybeard and the wily scoundrel who will comfort you with a sympathetic sunrise/sunset fable but then assassinate your spirit with death rays during the daylight hours.  For those of us who believe that you can't drink all day unless you start in the morning, its a bit of an affair matching body, flavor, and ABV profiles across a 30° spectrum.

Lately, breweries in Texas are becoming much more adept at negotiating that precarious temperature range to a single beer vessel, making trips to the liquor store much more efficient and convenient than it was even two or three years ago.  It was always Lone Star for the daytime, and Shiner for nights -- and screw you if you hadn't thought ahead to supply yourself with that continuum, because one would rather die than drink a heavily-malted body when there is a chance that a single sliver of sun could infect your immediate environment.

But there is a place that has dealt with a similar boozing problem during the summer rattle -- and possibly on an even more severe plane of temperature discrepancy than those of us in Texas experience -- that is the Midwest.

This week, the average temperatures in Chicago are projected to be as high as 89° and as low as 52°.  While that is boner-inducing here in Silicon Hells, that is one moody-bitch-of-a-forecast.  The secondary effects of such a phenomenon is that Midwest brewers have the touch of artistry when fabricating a beer appropriate for both temperature flanks, and that is displayed most triumphantly in their homegrown IPAs.

I'm often mentioning my undying, zombie-love for Midwestern IPAs and that is because these brewers have provided for both form AND function, a creativity that West Coast brewers neglected to emphasize (or maybe just emphasizing a different form/function).  Either way, since I spend my summers in Northern Michigan, and not San Diego, it is easy to fall in love with their philosophy.

One of my favorite beers -- not only in the Midwest, not only in summertime -- but anytime, anywhere, is Two Hearted IPA by Bell's Brewing. This is a beer so cognizant, so evolutionary, so accomplished, it makes The Most Interesting Dos XXs In The World seem like a squirt of Octomom's amniotic fluid.  At one point, it was rated the second best beer in the USA -- whatever that means -- by the journal of the American Homebrewers Association.

What you get from Two Hearted is the most perfect blend of hops and malt, interspersed with ripe, small-garden fruit and long peels of citrus.  It is truly one of the only beers that can compliment great Texas BBQ as well as -- well, nothing -- not even Lone Star or Shiner Bock.  And at a nice ABV point, it compliments the delirium of J. Mueller's or Franklin with a nice, smooth buzz.

If you don't feel like drinking a Big Red soda the way God intended BBQ to be paired, well, I hope you have access to Two Hearted Ale.

ABV: 7.o%
Acquired: Didi's Beverage