Wednesday, August 29, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Black Butte XXIV Birthday Reserve Imperial Porter | Deschutes Brewing | Bend, OR

I.  Kill for Love

Excuse my perseveration on this topic, but I'm still chuckling over here about the hysterical herd mentality brought forth by the tubbied commune of beer harvesters; a collection of cargo-jort-wearing guppies, cluelessly swimming in vaguely the same direction, pretending they are part of some sort of complicated strategy, tipping each other off with pointers and locales and idiotic bleat before the casual fans have a chance to descend on what they believe is their 'rightful' crop.

Then they all pat each other on the backs for mining all the great beer out of this city, all while reconfirming their their dedication to beer advocacy.  What a joke.

That these fuckers have essentially declared beer fatwah on the lesser-informed by accelerating the mentality of The world is fucking ending! Run everyone run! Fuck the women and children, save yourselves! and keeping the craft beer conversation alternating between doom, hype, and in-depth pointing of the finger to go along with their idiot wind.  It is enough to swear off the whole hobby altogether.

To paraphrase the great Herman Blume, my advice to the rest of you: Take dead aim on them. Get them in the crosshairs and take them down. Just remember, they can buy whales, but they can't buy backbone. Don't let them forget it. Thank you.

The issue with having a partisan-dominated hobby -- like this one for example -- is the lack of social and pragmatic calibration from an opposition, a spectrum of quid pro quo between oppositional forces.  Its the reason why we laugh at first -- then stare agape in horror at our televisions during something incestuously bawdy like presidential nominating conventions.  We are witness to a frightening swell of the willing provoking the horny;  glazed-over faces, too-wide grins, awkward eagerness.  This is the new culture of beer practicum.  And it is unfriendly.

As you may have ascertained, Black Butte Porter XXIV tripped the jort-signal, and so out came the squealing and snorting beardos to flashmob every Spec's and indie bottle shop in town with Oops, I Did it Again.  Only this time I was at the ready.


II.  Growing Old

The other day, Mrs. [AA] and I were sitting around in the backyard due to an unfortunate breeding incident which has confined both of us to the house -- and we were applauding our kickass idea to begin a cellaring program due to our impending nights-out being limited to in-house pub-crawls and the Junior Boys Pandora station.  As we approach the nadir of IPAs and other traditionally hot-weathers in favor of far more sexier beers like Black Butte Porter XXIV, this is exactly what we intended to do with our program.  Age.

Interestingly, XXIV does not have an annotation pressed onto its over-garment denoting a 'Best By' date.  Instead, it has a dark warning that lets us know when XXIV is 'Best After' -- and in the case of this twin-set, the ideal time for the brewer's handiwork and vision to mature in its oubliette was sometime after July of 2013.

But since we were just sitting around thirsty and friendless in the garden, we thought it best to dismiss all bottle demands and just get to crackin' one of these, and yes, put the other away until it acquired a reasonable self-esteem and a sense of purpose. 

III. Youth is Wasted on the Young

My only other experience with the Black Butte Reserve series was an un-aged XXIII -- that would be last year's edition for the non-Roman, non-Super Bowl crowd -- and I found it particularly fan-fucking-tastic.  The spices, chiles, chocolate nibs, and oranges were effervescent, playful, naughty, all that other wordplay shit that makes it sound dope to death.  It beasted the hell out of me on Christmas Eve, thanks to the generosity of my brother-in-beer, Ken -- making the goddam Family White Elephant charade a bit more bearable.  But just a bit more.

Therefore, I had big expectations going into the eye of the XXIV storm.  I noticed somewhere online that the recipe had changed a little bit -- from chiles and oranges, to figs and dates.  Okay, but man, I really loved the acidity of the last version.  My socks could not be found afterwards, they were blown so far.

After the first sip XXIV, I absolutely realized that the date-stamp was completely necessary.  My experience with imperial porters and stouts told me that XXIV still had a VERY young profile, and was a bit thin in the nose and alveolar.  Where most imperials are fat-tongued, dense, and resin-y, XXIV was still toying with the joys of youth.  Its elements were separate, distinct notes -- much like my interpretation of Sierra Nevada/Russian River's Collaborative Brux

While XXIV did not give me that initial, boozy nipple erection that XXIII did, I thought that it was still very composed for such a young beer, containing only momentary weaknesses that will surely remedy with experience and age.  The chocolate nibs were downright regal, and where the oranges of XXIII left off, black cherries and figs became suitable deputies.  A final push of roasted espresso and smoky bourbon finished the wash with a little bit of a novice slur -- but nothing that couldn't be remedied by next July.  XXIV was a total, sultry package that is just realizing her potential.  As of now, drinking XXIV is like holding hands with Anne Hathaway, but next year -- after a full year of soul searching within -- will be like tongue bathing Eva Mendes.

ABV: 11.o%
Acquired: East 1st Grocery
Musical Paring: Tom Waits | Small Change (1976)
(in 2012)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Bonnie the Rare Berliner Weisse | Jester King Brewing | Austin, TX

Meanwhile, back on the farm, Jester King would like everyone to know that shit is still goin' gorillas for them, and they would like to summarily put all of their glassed-over fanboys of The Brand® on notice, by keeping an ear to the ground and casual men's bags full of foldable currency.  Shit was about to get bananas.

Jester King earnestly implored for these extremists to start planning their weekday LARP events, Second Life meetups, and Quiddich fantasy drafts accordingly because when the rumors of their latest release of limited edition litter start appearing in the rumor threads on Beer Advocate, one will want to make himself available.  Available TO THE MAXX!  

... otherwise, succumb to the continued humiliation by everyone else that has had or has been having a life.  Amirite, Jesterheads?  I'm right.

Yes, this past week was 'freak-the-fuck-out,-everybody' week in Austin -- and that is because Jester King baited their cult with, not one-, not two-, but THREE limited releases of their 750mL Kim Jong Il ego trip.  The only one I'm talking about in this post, however, is their Berliner Weisse called Bonnie the Rare, and if you recollect from prior entries on [AA], you will have noted that I've already tested positive for OBD: Obsessive Berliner Disorder, which makes this whole seek-and-destroy mission a bit more intense for me.

In reality, It was pretty easy to secure as many Bonnie the Rare bottles as I wanted to by remaining calm, and remembering my survival techniques in the event of an apocalypse.  When 24 hours elapsed after initial refrigeration and I was able to appropriately open its vessel -- as per the instructions printed right on the bottle from the Jester King overlords -- there was fresh, cold Berliner Weisse to soothe my fevered brow.  I was ready to bone.


But first, I want to explain to you why Jester King -- and the obnoxious Jesterheads, alike -- were making such a fucking fuss about a beer with a harmless font and tranny mascot.

Jester King notes on their blog that this specific batch of Bonnie the Rare was ready in May of last year.  But then, they thought, not ... quite.  According to the details on its progress, the lactobacillus infused into the beer had not quite made its marked impressions on the beer's character, and so they let Bonnie the Rare sit bottled at the facility, allowing it to further condition in order to bring out its trademark notes.

And so it sat.  And sat.  And then sat some more.  This shit waffled more than Brett Farve, and presumably had his charmless, soft-dick idiosyncrasy to boot.

And so it sat some more.

That is, until a couple weeks ago when the Templars Brewluminati at Jester King said that it may be bequeathed unto mankind.  It was ready.  So it was whispered, so it was done.

And here I sat on my porch with my 39° beer and long-stemmed tulip (Again, as per bottle instructions. Fuck.) of Bonnie the Rare.

---

I haven't been more 'meh-ed' since hearing Lana Del Ray sing that song that goes something-something-something.  Deserved or not, Bonnie the Rare was being compared to Austin Beerworks' Einhorn and Black Star's Waterloo.  Descartes and Locke themselves didn't need to tell me that I was in fully conscious comparative mode when measuring the penises of Austin's big time brewers.

Straight away, I noticed the trademark lack of ass-puckering tartness.  Bonnie the Rare was much more sodden, like it was strained from an old farmhouse duvet and built to be Americana in nature, rather than Old World European. Yes, there are overt similarities, but nuanced, latent differences.  I was expecting lemons and granny smith apples and a nice, rewarding wheat garnish to finish the flavor relay.

Instead, Bonnie the Rare was much more subdued in tartness -- yes, the sourness was somewhat present, but too rounded -- and took on notes of herbs and yeast funk and disproportionate wheat.  Sigh.  It was Jester King's cliched farmhouse ale all over again.  Just a farmhouse ale.

Usually, the brewers with the most endowed chest gets to make all the rules, and in this region of Texas, that brewery is Jester King.  In fact, they may be the most widely recognized brewer in the entire state and are very deserved of their accolades.  They are a wonderful brewery and I respect their entire concept amorously.  However, sometimes, with their limited releases it feels like they put in all of the subtle distinction and effort of a megastar's Christmas album.  They aren't making the rules for Berliner Weisse in Central Texas.  They just aren't.

Look I love Jester King's vinyl.  I celebrate their entire catalog.  But the quality of Bonnie the Rare was not quite up to their standards, even a year later behind a watchful gaze.  It didn't prick up my tongue and make me demand to know who was responsible for this fucking drunk Prussian doing a 4/4, followed by a quick triple time dance in my mouth.

So, maybe -- and I'm just blueskying here -- Jester King should have just pulled the plug on the whole experiment before I shivved three muggles.

ABV: 3.7%
Acquired: Spec's
Musical Paring: Kings of Convenience | Declaration of Dependence (2009)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Pale Ale | Jay Shambo Homebrew | Ft. Collins, CO

As a beer fan familiarizes himself (ZOMFG, totally sexist!) more and more with the craft beer scene in the United States over the course of several months, there is a subconscious, yet common, practice to ditch his gateway beer in favor of testing his palatal threshold with other styles.

More often than not, these entryways into geekery are Pale Ales, popularized by the flagship beer of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, which are considered one of the premium-standard for its particular beer style.  I'm thinking through a catalog of friends, acquaintances, family members, and pets who could have possibly missed out on trying a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and the number I come up with is zero.  Zero is the number people or things who have not tried Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Therefore, it is my theory that Pale Ales are the pater familias of American craft beers, treated summarily as the foreboding father left to deal with the grief and loneliness of seeing his beer brood move on from the nest in pursuit of an advanced education in lagers and recreational experimentation with Double IPAs and Belgian Tripels and other illicit ales.  For those taking the plunge away from the seemingly boring, meat-and-two-veggies serving of Pale Ale, there is a belief that those simplistic beers are unsuitable for an advanced palate.

The irony is that Pale Ales are extremely refined, variant, complex -- and I feel that it takes a few other relationships to realize that perhaps your first love was your true love.  And if not that, at least coming to the realization that perhaps you were a bit to harsh on the lass, and maybe its time to re-evaluate your perception of things (cliché alert!) going forward.  I call this phenomenon, the Pale Ale bump.

In my opinion, Pale Ales are like the Alt Rap of beers.  Not that analdouching, cross-genre Rap-Rock abortion of the early 00s, but the genuine underground hip-hop movement of infectious exuberance with an amalgalm of De La Soul and OutKast weirdness to its sound.  In other words, Pale Ales are the kind of beer that allow you to know just exactly you're getting into within the first few minutes of sampling -- and though there is a subtle complexity to the baseline -- the beat never really strays too much.  If you liked all of its funk in the beginning, you will still like it in the end.

A well-balanced -- and in my opinion, perfect -- Pale Ale satisfies the hop heads, but is sensible enough for the casual drinker.  And although there are many interpretations of itself, the appeal is that Pale Ales are intended to be refreshing, flavorful, even-handed, low alcohol, and altogether wholesome drinking.  Also, Pale Ales are dependent on geographical characteristics -- and so, if your teeth were cut on West Coast Pale Ales, you will likely enjoy a hoppier version, but if bred in the East Coast, a more malty, English version is probably your flavor.  If you are lucky enough to be middling somewhere between the coasts, then there is a blended spectrum of those two.  That is my style.  And is lucky.

So, when my buddy Dean and his wife Tanya informed me that they were bringing, what they believed was one of the best Pale Ales (EVAR!!!) from Colorado, I naturally got a bit tight in the pants. 

But what was surprising was that they presented me with label-free hooch -- a beer that was not commercially available at all (at least not yet, anyway) -- and only available as gifts from their small-batch-brewing neighbor, Jay Shambo.

Ok, so what?  A homebrew? Where have I stumbled upon, you ask?  A dorky homebrewing diary?

Well, no, not really.

Shambo has been quietly collecting an arsenal of Pro-Am brewing crowns in the very competitive brewing region of Neckbeard-orado.  This is like being the best high school quarterback in the state of Texas, and Shambo is possibly their state's #1 recruit.  He has been offered to take his talents to such big time programs as New Belgium and Odell for the purpose of sharing a few recipes with them, a Belgian Blonde and a Session IPA, respectively.  That is kind of a big deal, especially when one is now dealing with imperial gallons and not fluid ounces.


In my opinion, brewing is very much like no-limit Texas hold 'em and writing, in that the brewer is presenting a narrative from a personal prospective and it basically takes an entire lifetime to master.  There is danger in gaining a reputation for being too clever, as with every move, there are expectations that can outpace your game -- but conversely, playing too tight forces you sit around waiting for pocket aces.  There is a cautious balance to the art, since you don't just want to be a favorite amongst the students and the homeless, but worse yet, the beer dorks.

All told, my grasp of brewing is tenuous at best, and, to me, it all seems a bit like beer tribalism.  Fortunately, there are already people who will do all the work for me and all I have to do is offer a trade of hard currency with them to receive it.  However, I can understand the sense of value and accomplishment one must feel when hand-crafting a batch that just exceeds expectations.

And this is why receiving a few bottles of Shambo's perfectly brewed Pale Ale is discussion-worthy.

If I were to make a very amateur attempt at guessing the specific varietal of this Pale Ale, I would speculate that it was made using citra and cascade hops, as it was very crisply introduced to the taste buds ('no, taste-bros') with fruity and citric hops and a light, sweet, and biscuity malt profile.  It was hoppy, but not bitter; bready, but clean; bright, but not stringent.  This beer reminded me very much of a freshly-brewed iced tea with an unsqueezed lemon wedge dropped into the fancy tulip of a nice restaurant.  It was a fantastic mid-summer beer and reminiscent of an authentic mountain west Pale Ale.

For lack of a formal name, Shambo Pale Ale is ready for public consumption -- but since that might be as unlikely as [An Avenue] receiving a publishing deal based on kickassery alone, I will say that Jay Shambo himself is ready for public consumption.  And that will very likely happen with the aforementioned breweries in the semi-near future.

I was reading a favorite blog of mine the other night called Beertography written by John Kleinchester, and he mentions some words spoken to the group at an event he was attending by Brooklyn brewmaster and craft legend Garrett Oliver.   In his quote, Oliver said:
"[Beer] really isn't about the first taste. Once a customer orders a beer, they've made their decision. The brewery has made its sale. What it's really about is the last sip, as that is when the consumer decides whether or not to have another one."
I thought that was pretty damn profound, and something I had never really considered before.  My impression is that people like Oliver -- and to a limited extent, Shambo -- are completely confident in their ability to make consumers into fans.  I know that at this point, I am ready to be a fan of Shambo's, if only I could make an executive decision to have another.

ABV: ~5.2% (estimate)
Acquired: Hand delivered from CO
Musical Paring: Gorillaz | s/t (2001)

Monday, August 20, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Yogi Chai Spiced Amber Ale | Rogness Brewing | Austin, TX

I wouldn't presume to call myself an expert in anything beer related, and I am a total non-professional in regards to writing.  I prattle on this page for the sheer love of music and beer, in that order, so my opinions are solely those of a fan and consumer.

The last time you and I were discussing something important related to the local beer scene, we were talking about the self-mutilation of Saint Arnold's vanity project -- The Divine Reserve Series -- and the scission of achievement vs. hype in regards to special beer releases, a current phenomenon that has driven a contaminate spike between beer enthusiasts and beer trolls.

One important thing to note is that all of those sons-of-bitches who requested Tickle Me Elmos on their fifth Christmases are all of legal drinking age now, and therefore in their able-bodied, endurance-queuing brains, Demand is a verb that is commanded, not a noun that is stipulated.  From that lot, I expected to see some gnashing of the keyboard in response to my opinions about DR12.

But what I discovered is that many of you shared the same concerns about 1) the mad crush of neurosis and anxiety from procuring that beer from the shelves, and 2) the quality of the beer itself did not match that coda.  Both took quite the opposing trajectories in terms of achievement vs. hype.  As a fan and consumer, I think that this type of brewery-sponsored behavior leads to an acute case of combat fatigue from your servile customers when asking them to knuckle lesser people out of the way in pursuit of the prize.

Yes, I admit that the idea of small-batch beer is indeed exciting.  The notion of something hand-crafted with special ingredients, treated carefully with expertise and style and controlled flare, then delivered to a modest sanctuary in your city until you are available for pick-up is quixotic poetry.  And sure, rarity adds incredible appeal and personal value because, well, that is part of our self-satisfying, peer-affirming human nature.

It is my belief that there is a brewhouse living up to the challenges of this production/consumer philosophy in the correct, elective way.  Their name is Rogness Brewing.

And while Saint Arnold is Texas' largest and oldest production microbrewery, Rogness might very well be Texas' smallest and newest -- making the execution of this project all the more impressive.

Rogness Brewing is the progeny of the same Rognesses responsible for the rebirth of Austin Homebrew Supply.  If you've ever visited their retail shop, you would notice that despite being a strangely neckbearded niche culture and total sausagefest, the folks there make brewing an accessible hobby for novices and future Fritz Maytags, especially in the case of one extremely local homebrewer, my wife.

So, one recent Friday night, Mrs. [AA] and I decided to dabble in a little light, West Coast 90s gagsta rap on the porch and open several bombers purchased earlier in the evening from one of our favorite bottle shops in the city; Friday's being New Bombers Night, and the next day being Mr. Gorbachev, Open This Cellar Saturdays at the [An Avenue] household.


I admit that other beer nerds do not tend to see amber ales through my eyes.  The other week, I even attempted a microbloggin' 140 character persuasive essay to unconverted amber ale dissenters on Twitter.  Maybe my love stems from growing up with Dr Pepper intravenously injected through my circulatory system, and the amorous affinity comes from the constant drip of caramel-flavored drugs.  Amber ales are like my current version of adult Daddy Pepper crank.

I will say this about purchasing Rogness at the premium booze outlet: It was not my first choice.  And being further candid, it was not my second or third choices either.  When I ran out of options for additional large-format bottles that both piqued my interest and agreed with my price point, I kind-of begrudgingly picked up Yogi as a final resort.  Why?  I'm not exactly sure why.  In the past, I enjoyed the hell out of their Ost Porter during trivia night and likewise their polarizing Rook Scotch Ale.

But there is the rub for small brewers -- the need for extensive conditioning of your audience's frontal cortex, prompting that your product should be immediately recognized as a great beer.  The Big Boys at MillerBudCoors brow beat us with amusing campaigns that imply these notions of satisfying beer, and many take that bait --  however, without a multi-million dollar budget to blow on hookers, coke, and ad space, small brewers rely on the bottles packaging to look like the hottest pledge at a Chi O rush and then really impress us with what is behind the label later on.

My hesitation, I think, was two-fold.  One -- and it says right on the bottle -- 'Hand Crafted Small Batch Beer', which if you've been paying attention to this article is skillfully coded language for limited bottle runs and fistwads of loot.  Second, Rogness' beer philosophies are variant when it comes to beer style.  Unlike a recent trend in Austin brewers like South Austin Brewing and Adelbert's to focus on a provincial style, they are targeting all kinds of beer -- something American micros have traditionally done, but are lately going away from this method in favor of insular styles.  Sometimes conjugate breweries like Rogness can do lots of things good, but nothing necessarily great.

So, after handing over my seven quid to the shopkeep, I felt things were leading in the right direction based on value thus far.  That is a remarkably scant fee for craft beer, particularly small batch craft beer, and so I motored home feeling pretty cheeky about that whole transaction.

From the onset, my wife and I were immediately impressed with Yogi.  It was the same reaction one gets when his Secret Santa ends up not being a total fuckwit, and appears to have actually listened to your very interesting thoughts and interests during those tedious lunch hours and staff parties -- and here you are opening up something genuinely relevant and thoughtful.   This was my reaction to Yogi: genuinely relevant and thoughtful; Rogness just extreme Secret Santa'd us, those sonsa-bitches.  Now I'm embarrassed about my measly return-gift.  Motherfuckers said the limit was $7.

It is a very obvious connotation, but Yogi tastes just like Thanksgiving -- and in these parts, Thanksgiving is the crux of our year -- Texas football, family, friends, gorging on delicious meats, and more football.  This beer is analogous to all of that and it reflects the flavors of fall, as if the brewers found a method to bundle up the tablecloth and wring it out into a single vessel.  This beer is just good for our cultural souls.

Yogi cleverly imparts a beautifully blended caldron of spices, indicated on the bottle as Saigon cinnamon, ginger, clove, cardamom, and black pepper. Though heavy-handed in verbiage, it drinks deftly, like a chai latte.  Its a very festive beer, and my ultimate impression is that Yogi is an amicably priced, medium powered, and delicious reason to give thanks.

ABV: 5.2%
Acquired: Sunrise
Musical Pairing: Dr. Dre | The Chronic (1992)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Divine Reserve 12 Old Ale | St. Arnold's Brewing | Houston, TX

The way I feel about this beer is the same feeling I get every odd-numbered-year when I'm watching Texas get mounted like a donkey-show hooker in the Cotton Bowl by a bunch of land-thieving, cousin-kissers.  In every one of those bad-timin' years, with five minutes to go in whichever particular massacre it happens to be at that time -- all the excitement of the day finally drains from my soul and the frothing bile recedes from my yell organ into the pit of my stomach.  At this point, in what is the most anticipated day for a Longhorn fan, one has to lethargically admit to imminent defeat as Oklahomans holler in the seats with their UncleDads. 

And if Divine Reserve 9 was the 2005 Red River Rivalry, and Divine Reserve 11 was the 2008 iteration, then Divine Reserve 12 is the awful memory of 2003, a major letdown, a 65-13 hurting at the hands of former Texans and a puppy-eating head coach.  Not even Vince Young could help us that day.

And there is nothing VY could do to improve this beer if He Himself blessed it with his magical touch.

It appears that the focal message of St. Arnold's Divine Reserve Series is to create a horrific hysteria used to panic beer nerds across the beerscape by making this special release as rare as October Cotton Bowl tickets, promising an emboldened product, and, in the case of #12, letting all of its fans down with a spectacular crapping of the crib. 

Nonetheless, histrionics always win out, as the rank and file would rather fellate August Busch IV's beer bottle than miss out on snagging a single six-pack on the one and only day its offered at the suggested retail price.  

Then there is the matter of hoarders trolling those unlucky few who have silly subsidiary responsibilities, like jobs and families, offering it at offensive prices on the secondary market to the "desperate".

In other words, there is so much build up, so much hype and aggression towards this series that it strolls into the arena brimming with confidence -- and any mistakes are going to be magnified by a lathered populous.   And in this arena, on this big stage, assigned with a high ranking and an inflated 15-quid price point, Divine Reserve 12 swagged out of the tunnel and got summarily mounted by failure.


In the days leading up to Divine Reserve 12's release, I read something in the Houston media that kind of caught my attention in the wrong way.
"This beer is designed to age and will shine after being cellared for a year or more," said Saint Arnold founder Brock Wagner. "The aging process will allow sherry notes to develop which will balance the spicy malt/alcohol flavors that dominate when this beer is young." Wagner recommends cellaring the DR No. 12 cold for best results."
Now, I'm certainly an advocate of cellaring beer to discover the ancillary characteristics of its evolution, however, this practice should be a voluntary action, not a requisite.  What St. Arnold's is telling me about this beer is that its undrinkable under its present condition.  I don't think I've ever heard a brewer just come right out and suggest not drinking his beer.  Its just not a righteous practice. 

But another interesting point to be made is this: how does one know it will get better with age in an across-the-board practice?   Will every beer in this release behave the same way, under certainly suspect conditions based on the level of "cellaring abilities" of the patient few?  A few peeks at former 'Horns QB Garret Gilbert told us that aging couldn't improve EVERY product, particularly with so many inconsistent, uncontrollable variables.  Garret Gilbert couldn't be cellared and improved because the base model lacked promise to begin with.

And despite Vince Young being a part of the '03 debacle, one knew straight away that he could use some development and improve exponentially.  We all saw how that ended in 2005.  His talent was overwhelmingly obvious.  Number 12 is the Garret Gilbert of the Divine Reserve series.

Look, I wasn't exactly expecting live hot sex in regards to this beer, but the prior installments of the series had been very-good-to-great and there was no reason to expect that St. Arnold's would fumble this infrequent release (DR 11 was dispensed a long, 15 months ago).

So, then, what makes Divine Reserve 12 so below-average?

First, it displays so very few characteristics of a traditional old ale.  It is not deep or dark or lush or emotive.  It is only slightly candied, but not in a complex way.  There is nary a glimmer of caramel sticky buns that are reminiscent of old ales.  There is no buttered brown sugar, raisins, dark fruit, oak, scotch, or finishing rum.  In fact, without these complexities, Divine Reserve 12 is just a very thin, very uninspired beer.  I don't even know what style to call it; I can't really put my finger on it, but it reminds me of being in a Swedish dance club that is playing Canadian Polka -- just a truly unusual beer mixture.

Yes, I'll admit that Divine Reserve 12 is drinkable.  No, you will probably not water your plants with it -- but it is just an overall disappointment, and I suspect the brewers even thought so too, particularly with the whole "just age it!" mantra.

I do feel a bit remorseful giving Texas heroes St. Arnold such a terrible grade on their efforts, but then I remembered that in no way could this ever effect current or future sales.  That cash boat has sailed back to Houston weeks ago with the clamor of weaponry and fisticuffs in the aisles of the megastores.  But if you see one emerge at some point -- maybe the requisite year from now, I guess you can ask it how its enjoying things over at SMU.



ABV: 10.o%
Acquired: Spec's

Monday, August 13, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Berliner F'n Weisse! Style of the Summer: Oarsman | Bell's Brewing | Kalamazoo, MI ✦ Festina Pêche | Dogfish Head Brewing | Milton, DE ✦ Waterloo | Black Star Co-Op & Brewery | Austin, TX

A subject I harp on about all the time on here is the matter of weather, because frankly, subjective temperature so judiciously determines my mood when deciding which liquid I am going to kill myself slowly with on that day.

Because I live in a place with weather that is so spectacularly shitty for up to a full 6 months, I'm kind of a miserable fucker because the kiln of Austin lures me away from drinking stouts, porters and barrel-aged mood-boosters every day.  For those untrustworthy non-drinkers, I'd imagine it being similar to the denial of coffee until the mercury recedes to somewhere below 160°.  

Oh, suuure, you say: ICED COFFEE!! *HEEEEEEEEE*  

But I'd suggest that you'd be some kind of a fucking asshole to recommend such a thing to a hardened chain drinker of delicious, hot, morning narcotics.  The same rule applies in regards to the iced coffee of beers: Never Stouts, which is my definition of everything on the planet that is not a damned stout.

I've somewhat come to terms with drinking lighter-bodied, weaker-potency beer in the summertime, because one would have to be a dismal sort of wanker to deny himself (or hers-) 12oz (or 16-) of bipartisanship while the imperial dark beers take whisky-barrel baths during hot months. 

My trick over the years has been to pick a style and really abuse it with the tough-love style of an Ike Turner.  A few summers ago, it was the pale ale that I was rodgering in the dark corner of the pub, then later, IPAs.  Last summer, I got real freaky with saisons.  All were fantastic summer flings.  

But during the course of this summer, I felt like I really met THE one: a refreshingly tasty little tart that had me trolling the beer walls and bottle shops of Austin like a rival's unprotected Facebook account.

Berliner Weisse beer has been making somewhat of a Leo Manzano-style comeback lately, hustling for life from the long-since-forgotten annals of records-keeping.  This is due to a number of theories I dreamt up in my head, the most obvious reason being that Americans have become fashionably obsessed with the craft movement in The States.  More craft breweries stateside means more competition, and therefore, more competition means more creativity with styles.  Thus, the sudden resurrection of a nearly-lost, five-centuries-old German beer making recipe, cos, well, some brewer had to eventually open up a book.

See also: climate impact, global warming, Al Gore, and the need for Never Stouts.

Berliner Weisse beers are like the champagne of beers, only you can't call it that because that title has been reserved by a few effete assholes at MillerCoors.  But indeed, its is very much effervescent like a nice sparkling wine, and rife with sour notes like lemon, pineapple, and granny smith apples.  Berliner Weisse are typically very low in alcohol (in comparison to its craft brethren, at least) which is great when you want to do things other drinky things later on in the day.  It behaves more like a refreshing lemonade or a shandy than their alcohol-by-volume counterparts in pale lagers.  They are imparted with sourness via lactic acid, or lactobacillus, and take a careful hand to make all of these characteristics coalesce with something more than the grace of Olympic backflopper, Stephen Feck.

This summer, they appeared to pop up all over the place -- which is great for a woeful summer person like myself -- and also appeared to make several pants around town very happy based on their popularity.  I wrote an earlier review on local celebs, Austin Beerworks', iteration of a Berliner Weisse called Einhorn, which kicked off the whole Berliner gang bang in general.  I'll say it confidently, Einhorn was easily in my top three favorite beers this year, Never Stout, or not.


I was unofficially introduced to the Berliner Weisse style two summers ago in Detroit by my beer buddy Antal.  At that time, Bell's had only produced their Berliner Weisse for only a few months with intentions of it being a perennial.  Two-and-a-half years later, its one of the veterans of the style in the USA.  That should give you an idea of how really nouveau this style really is.

Because it was my first -- and you know the saying -- it was automatically by default my OHMERGERG FERVERERT BERLENER EVAR!, until it appears my memory aggrandized it to a reputation it could not live up to when I found it again this summer while leisuring up in the Mitten.

Oh, for sure, it was good.  Delicious, even.  But not quite up to the standards that the boys at Austin Beerworks had recently set.  In fact, I was even thinking that maybe the recipe changed a bit to include a sample of brettanomyces, as the tart is also packaged with a horse blanket character.  It was not as refreshing as I remembered, and certainly not as crisp or sour.  The barnyard funk was, in this guy's opinion, superfluous.

ABV: 4.0%
Acquired: Foods for Living, Lansing, MI



Dogfish Head is a brewery who would naturally tackle a rare style, but then turn it on its ear with enhancements and bolt-ons.  It is quite a lovely beer, but nothing you'd want to marry and have it meet your parents.  In fact, drinking it is probably the kind of information you'd want to keep from your friends as well.

While Festina Pêche is indeed delicious and refreshing like a true Berliner Weisse, it cheats a bit by adding peach juice at bottling to balance the tartness.  So, while you're staying faithful to the style with your personal stout forbiddance, Festina Pêche is traipsing around trying to lure even the most discriminating of corn beer drinkers. You kind-of don't trust it all the way.

So, in a game of Fuck-Marry-Kill ... this one will probably max out in the hay.

ABV: 4.5%
Acquired: Spec's



I was saying in the pub recently that we are a lucky lot to be residing in a beer-smitten city, and one which reciprocates with brewers who love to give us great beer in return.

This is Black Star's Waterloo Berliner Weisse, and as you can see, majestic in appearance and baroque in vessel.  This version actually preceded Einhorn by a full year, which makes it the grandfather of Austin Berliners.

And like Einhorn, Waterloo is wonderfully satisfying and invigorating -- perfectly tart and acidic and fruity at just the right moments.  The best part is, you can feel free to drink six or eighteen of these in good conscience and in good conscious.  The thing steers like an Audi.  Lesser contemporaries fall by the wayside.

ABV: 3.5%
Acquired: Black Star Co-Op & Brewery

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Love Child #2 Bourbon Barrel Aged Sour Wild Ale | Boulevard Brewing | Kansas City, MO

Yeah, so, wild ales have gradually been poking their corked-up little heads around the beer aisles more and more lately, and the problem that I see with that is these things are entering the public perception as if to be taken only as one giant fad that will undoubtedly be crushed by its own bombastic popularity, clamored for- and chipped at- by the philistine masses, just before suffering a demise as sudden and gloppy as Whitney's coronary artery.

Also -- and St. Augustine help them -- so many Sunday drinkers are still delicately coquetting with their IPA phase, so it will likely be a while before they can take another radical style as seriously as this one requires.  This is a style that demands focus from both the brewer and the consumer, and overall, we are being trolled by the lack of dedication by both parties.

The major issue is this: most beer drinkers haven't really experienced a truly inspired wild ale, and instead are resting their opinions on spineless, neutered versions of unpasteurized brettanomyces and lactobacillus affected beers, thereby increasing their faddish expiry.

Let me use this semi-cogent analogy: The modern American music festival is killing the gig-going experience in that their producers are sloppily organizing event space, lazily booking and scheduling flashpan acts, scheduling like-genre'd bands to compete with one another at key times, consolidating a nest of several thousand quarterwits into a condensed area, and then charging an exorbitant fee for the pleasure of staring at a video screen while Chloe Summerbeanie sings the refrain to every shitty Avett Brothers song that ever existed.

Because of overwhelming demand for buzzing bands and the ease of rushing an under-conceptualized product to market, full-set gigs are less likely to return through Schlocky Metropolis, USA for a proper show -- at least until the next album.  Festivals are saturating a healthy, thirsty market with a poor mockery of a good product.

Similarly, many commercial wild ales are being rushed to market with below-average quality, diluting the prestige with mass-production, then overcharging for the entire, banal experience.  Many of these wild ales are about as alluring as Justin Beibers menstruation-drained vagina, becoming popular without becoming deserving; over-expressions of beer; stale hay, foamy rot, fermented fruit juices with its only goal being the shriveling your scrotum with tart.  Not good.

Well-designed wild ales provide only a subtle kerfuffle with your palate, still presenting a pleasant, rewarding, albeit, surprising experience, bringing a panache to its casual vulgarity; the way it should be when seeing The Black fucking Keys at The Mohawk instead of a park with 70,000 assholes.  The expression is Rock n Roll, but the nuance is balance and control.  It is an intimate style of beer, and wild ales -- more specifically barrel-aged sours -- should be treated the same way a beautifully tannic wine is treated; affably and split in two.


OK, so truly great sours are not exactly the will of the miserly, either.  I might have had to forgo basic necessities for a day in order to procure this one from the Beer Yeti at Spec's, but drinking a good sour is like eating your greens, and I'm better having done it.  If you can't set aside a small allowance for minor luxuries, well, you may as well be a fucking Soviet or root for Chinese gymnastics.

A couple of nights ago, the vibe was right for a wild ale sour beer, so my wife and I decided to split this treasure like a couple of distrusting pirates -- one of her favorite styles is, in fact, sour ales, so I have to keep a smarmy eye on her pours.  My favorite part of the experience was asking her to concentrate on the notes so that I could have some relevant shit to write about in this article, and then watching her go into hysterics about it.  Her approximate words were something like, OMFG, The taste lives up to its aroma!, before heading off to presumably take a long shower.  It was a very efficient and precise review on her part.

Boulevard did, in fact, engineer a very astute, finely tuned beer that tasted wild in name only.  Love Child #2 was controlled and beautifully balanced.  It was engaging through its entire lifespan; fussy without being frivolous, the way great wine presents itself.

There was definitive accuracy in the beer, hitting each flavor profile with precision: sour cherries, muddled nectarines, tangerines, hard candy, and finishing with sweet bourbon sugar.  The alcohol presence was more of a compliment than a feature, although, was very prevalent in my post-ingestion speech.  Fashernating!, I thought, which came out verbally more like "Holwry fushing shit!".  Then I went off to take a long shower.

ABV: 9.6%
Acquired: Spec's

Sunday, August 5, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Ola Dubh Special Reserve 16 Whiskey Aged Ale | Harviestoun Brewing | Alva, SCOTLAND

I'm not really denying the skills of Scotland to get me nice and pickled upon request.  To wit, if I ever found myself in a mahogany library or a cabaret, I'd probably be accompanied by a single malt or a Rob Roy.  However, when it comes to lardy-arsed, bearded moonshiners, its the American variety, not the Scots who I turn to for my boiled hops and fermented yeast needs.  But like all rules, there are exceptions -- and where there are exceptions, there is usually a sledgehammer of opportunity that hits you squarely in the frontpiece, declaring its presence at $1.25 per liquid ounce, because, well, frugality is for slappers..

A couple of weeks ago, I'm sitting in a beveraging establishment with my buddy Antal in the Detroit hipster bedroom community of Ferndale, poring over the long and impressive beer menu at One Eyed Betty's, prodding on like pretentious fucks about grain bills and Beach House, while casting the sweet nectars of Michigan down the narrows of our throat.  At some point, we ask the right questions, or unlock the cheat codes for the bar, or something else proper -- and the man behind the bar casually presents us with the tavern's SECRET menu.  So, we begin to dabble a bit in its assertion.  "Shhh", it says.

Oh, nothing.
What is pathetically deplorable behavior on my part is that beer menus and beer walls rarely inspire me anymore -- some of that pretentious dickery I was referring to earlier.  Being unfazed by a large tap wall is like being desensitized to gore because of the dark depths of the internet.  But, whomever wrote this beer menu should win the fucking Pulitzer.

On it, I am reading an impressive list of rarities, and seasonals, and rare-seasonals, and rare-seasonal-one-offs, and a dozen other interesting extrapolations of the one before.  Its like reading 50 Shades of Gray by the theatre-light of Magic Mike 2.   But it is also something that is, like, "No thanks, unless you're buying", because I was pretty set on tussling with Midwestern IPAs at a fraction of the cost for the rest of the night.

But then, The Sledgehammer: an off-menu indecent proposal.  A rare gem by a brewery called Harviestoun set in the central lowlands of Scotland.  I ordered it straight away, almost without confirming the price of the endeavor, and you know what? I felt freer doing so.


Maybe you've heard me say this about half a dozen beers already, but I hadn't been this excited about an individual in-bar brew like this in a long while.  Especially since this was someone else's very small stockpile and this person was essentially gifting it to me at $15/bottle.  I just couldn't imaging walking into a Tesco and emerging with one of these.

Ola Dubh is an old ale aged in Highland Park casks that held whisky for 16 years and infused with mystery and magic; Highland Park scotch being a coveted brand amongst devotees.  What is imparted in this dark ale is a smoky-sweet sipper with roasted coffee and chocolate liquor notes.  Its is smooth as a Neil Hannon album-ender, and I probably should have been wearing a nice robe de chambre with turn-up cuffs while enjoying this.  It is a beer rooted in geography, and proper respect was to be paid to commemorate its long endeavor from the awful, Gap-swing-revival influence of the mid-1990s to its final flirt with my palate.  Its migration from Midwest Scotland to Midwest USA is a remarkable range, and it felt like its story was a Robert Burns re-interpreted by Tim Burton.

This is truly beer eye-candy, the bottle denoting its individualism by numerical declaration: 5161.  That just sounds scant. It was signed by both the Brewmaster and someone called "Master of Wood", which is an an seemingly indelible title of glory.  I want to be that.  Google me someday. 

This beer is a ruiner.  Can I ever catch up to something like this again?  And at this value?

Romance is not dead.  At least not in Scotland.

ABV: 8.o%
Acquired: One Eyed Betty's (Double Secret Menu)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Pliny the Elder Double IPA | Russian River Brewing | Santa Rosa, CA

Tearing off the day-old sheet of my Cat Facts desk calendar, I'm informed by a Chartreux that today is something called "IPA Day".  Interesting.  Never heard of it.  So, like any bewildered and unqualified American would, I plan to completely embrace it by celebrating another fictional drinking holiday with excessive pomp and cavalcade.

This is also fortuitous for those of us at [An Avenue] Cellars, as we have been trying to unload the IPA inventory for some time now, and its taken longer than expected.  The goal is to relieve the old guard of its duty in the fridge as IPAs have a very conspicuous shelf life as luminous, crisp products, yet worthy of having their own day to keep an appointment with.  This is the Big Dig of beer excavation from the cellar, a style with a Boston Red Sox-like level of passionate followers, given its ability to offend even the most prolific beveragers and gourmands -- and therefore making the imbiber an edge-cutting connoisseur of all things inaccessible to the masses.  IPAs are like loving a band that hasn't even been invented yet.  Hipster beer, if you will.  But I don't discriminate because some of my best friends are Hipsters.

 
My day with an IPA will not, unfortunately, include a kiss on the lips from the Juliet on the left.  Russian River, regretfully, does not ship its wares to Texas, and even if they did, it would be unlikely to walk into any kingly establishment and emerge with a single bottle of Pliny the Elder for home consumption.  It is a difficult hunt, even within the 50 mile radius of its kinda-home in the Bay Area region.

Therefore, procuring one of these beer basters is pretty special for anyone, proximity and familiarity notwithstanding -- and coupled with the instructions demanded right on the bottle: Drink Fresh. Do not Age!, its presence is both revered and ever-fleeting.  This particular bottle pictured, was pimped to us Johns by a local Austin brewer for the sake of a bottle share at The South Austin Trailer Park.  There will ALWAYS be a Pliny the Elder at a bottle share.  Its like a traditional opening ceremony of sorts to announce the commencement of drunkery and sport-gorging.  That day, for example, brought to light the glory of Pliny the Elder and Torchy's fucking Beef Fajita taco, together in arranged matrimony, but living a life in the highest of castes.  Goddamit.  Why can't it be IPA and Taco day?

You may have heard, but I kind of like Double IPAs, like, alot -- even more so than single IPAs -- and one in particular, Bell's Brewing Hopslam, really spikes my nodes to maximum amplification.  Writing about these hop strategists from Bell's and Russian River is like Yelping about Ferran Adrià at elBulli; there's a humor in its ambition, and frankly they are beyond non-expert critique.

Pliny the Elder has been rated at or near the top of any Google-able World's Greatest beer lists and it does (it does!) live up to its accreditation, despite one's resistance to give in to another's subjective opinions.  It just does.  The most stringent of non-believers and hopeful-haters have personally texted me from San Fransisco to Pliny-bomb me with delicious photos.  But its hard to be annoyed or upset when you know someone out there has personally found meditative absorption and has become one with the planets.  The beer is just that good.  It just is.

Tasting notes are irrelevant here for this piece.  Like religion, Pliny the Elder means lots of different things to a lot of different people.  Its an experience that will either capture you or -- or something that is the opposite of that, of which has yet to happen in the history of ever. 

So, cheers to you and yours on this very important holiday.  And why not eat a fuckin' taco too while you're at it?  Next year, I'm doing a write-in for "Sport-Gorging Day" on my Cat Facts.

ABV: 8.o%
Acquired: Brewers always seem to have one on hand, go find one to drink with. Or a Hipster.