Wednesday, October 31, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Chocolate Six Pack: Chocolate Ale | Boulevard Brewing | Kansas City, MO ✦ Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence Dark Ale 10th Anniversary (2007) | Ommegang Brewing | Cooperstown, NY ✦ 2X Double Milk Stout | Southern Tier Brewing | Lakewood, NY ✦ Chocolate Sombrero Imperial Stout | Clown Shoes Brewing | Ipswich, MA ✦ Black Chocolate Stout | Brooklyn Brewing | Brooklyn, NY ✦ Dark Angel Cherry Porter | North Peak Brewing | Traverse City, MI

Trick or treat?  How about fuck off?  Lets just drop all the shallow platitudes so I can give your child his charity tooth decay while he rots his teeth down to nubs, and then you and your family can just leave me to punching my liver in commemoration of the start to holiday season with candy-flavored beer, comprende?

Its not that I'm grumpy.  I'm not.  I'm just lazy.  I just want to relax ... ALL the time.  And you're making me get off the couch every two-and-a-half seconds.

And seriously, is it really fucking Halloween already?  Coming off of GABF and Austin Beer Week in consecutive weeks, someone is just taunting me to kick my sobriety while its down.

Ah, yes, Halloween: the truist of patriotic due-diligences; gorging, drinking, carousing, ogling.  Its like we're practically the founding fathers. And now that everyone is making alcohol with chocolate, its total validation to commandeer this children's holiday into our own, because, well, we are certainly not the greatest generation.  Nor where our parents.  And so somewhere between these two biological eras of selfishness, Holloween became a nocturnal decline in moral restraint before the Winter 20 craps on our Spring Break pool time.

Son of a ... I.  DO NOT.  want to go to Target tonight and rummage through all the terrible bags of sweets that the boxed-wine moms have left for us lazy fuckers to fight over.  I'm expecting a few more tricks than treats after bashfully handing out the Necco Wafer/Good n' Plenty oh-your-neighbor-is-a-timely-fucker-mix to all the local kids in the hood.

But despite all that rubbish, I actually do love Halloween in its current state -- mid-week porch drinking, handing out socially accepted enamel poison, eating candy for dinner, and littering my own yard with mini-Nerds boxes.  Those who know me well enough will know that I quite simply could not have forced myself to do anything if I didn’t enjoy it.


One of the staples of our Halloween -- and holidays in general -- is surrounding ourselves with those we love, and by that I mean seasonal offerings from the beer companies.  And, so, to make this all come full circle and remain topical, All Hallow's Eve means chocolate ales.

Boulevard's Smokestack Series is exactly what makes me excited about being a beer-ghoul.  Its a smartly conceptualized series of large-format beers made by one of the most underrated breweries in the country -- and released at timely point in the year with only mild-to-moderate hype depending on the release.  Certain bottles are not so sniped by the nerds, that a little pre-planning can't nab a casual fan a chance at a great, limited release.  Two of my favorites in this series are Tank 7 and Love Child #2 (with more discussions of other Smokestacks on the way when I have time to write more about 'em).

But in almost a direct contradiction of the previous paragraph, Chocolate Ale was one of the more difficult Smokestacks to find -- and to further complicate -- Boulevard unknowingly bottled and released a couple hundred spoiled bottles to the Southwest region, making the hunt all the more unusual in that Boulevard wanted its consumers to find them and report them based on a serial number.  Total pain, so when I caught up to a store with enough to spare, I just bought 3 bottles because I was too lazy to check the numbers and went on the percentages.

For me, Chocolate Ale was kind of like figuring out if the band you just discovered will be big in 2012 or not -- I guess kinda like listening to an average band with a lot of hype like The Alabama Shakes along with 300 other people during SXSW.

This beer has a similar vibe -- you suspect there's something pretty good there, and you know the masses would probably consume it like fun size Butterfingers, but its hard to be completely smitten about it.  Chocolate Ale was a catchy product with a buzzy reputation, but if it wasn't from Boulevard, I would have simply skipped over it.

And to top it all off -- and this is probably the primary scar on my memory -- is that one of the three bottles I consumed was from that rancid batch.  It tasted like fundraiser chocolate that you sold out of the cardboard boxes in elementary school than a collaboration with a highly-regarded chocolatier.  Okay, the acceptable bottles did contain a nice, charming light-bodied ale, which is unusual for the chocolate beer style, but I just couldn't see this one really having much of a career after winning the Grammy for Best New Artist.

ABV 9.1%
Acquired Sunrise
Can I Find This in Austin? Yes, but its seasonal and limited, usually hits market for Valentines Day.
Album Otis Redding | Pain in My Heart (1964)

We drank this almost a year ago, and my memory of it is so old, the damn thing needs a bus pass.

What I do absolutely remember is Mrs. [AA] pairing this perfectly with a Christmas-dinner-concluding pomegranate parfait that kicked the ever-living shit out of my palate like a drunk Liverpool fan.  I'm not a huge beer-food pairing advocate, but 10th Anniversary Chocolate Indulgence was one of two beers that I remember very fondly as being extremely food-friendly (the other being this one, which I talked about back when I was less wordy).

The Belgian chocolate itself deserves its very own, holy shit!, paragraph.  And there it was.

At the time of consumption, this beer had been given four magnificent cork-and-caged years of aging in a combination of store-shelving and personal cellaring -- of which, did nothing but complete justice to a product that developed as gracefully as Diane Lane. 

ABV 7.o%
Acquired Spec's
Can I Find This in Austin? Found it in Austin last year, and was store-aged. Prolly long gone by now.
Album Bon Iver | For Emma, Forever Ago (2008)

As a superfan of stouts, my range of favorites begin with dry Irish and ends with boozy Russian Imperials.  Otherwise stated, I celebrate stout's entire catalog.

Somewhere right in the middle of that widely nuanced spectrum is the smoothly-sweet milk stout.  Fans of Mrs. [AA] might recollect her devotion to Left Hand's Milk Stout -- and as a huge fan of her's I agree with her discerning tastes.

Southern Tier's version is better than decent, bordering on very good.  Its not as rich, creamy, or chewy as Left Hand's version, no -- and that's a bit of a buzzkill coming from highly-coveted Southern Tier Brewing -- but  2x Milk Stout, makes up for it with perceived chocolatiness.   And its mightily there.  If Left Hand Milk Stout is fresh glass of lactose, then Souther Tier's 2X is a heavily-spiked YooHoo.

ABV 9.1%
Acquired Sunrise
Can I Find This in Austin? No, the closest Southern Tier distributes is Missouri.
Album Wolf Gang | Suego Faults (2011)

The reason for the dual-paned picture is because I want you to notice the stemware used to drink this beer.  On the left is a goblet, while the one of the right is a snifter.

As snobbish as this may sound, this is a beer that absolutely proves the theory of 'glassware matters'

When sampling with the goblet, Chocolate Sombrero -- a Mexican-style chocolate stout -- was quite tasty -- tons of chocolate notes ... and then, well, that was it.  I didn't really get what was Mexican about it, other than being another gimmick from overtly-gimmicky brewers Clown Shoes (something that I generally despise in the craft brewing world).  So, I tried it in a snifter, and really, the reaction was somewhere north of "fucking hell, this is amazing".

This is what this brewery meant by "Mexican-style chocolate stout"!  There were the chocolate notes, still prevalent and large, but there was also ground cinnamon, roasted nuts, cloves, Mexican canela, and bread crumbs sitting right there at the back of the palate.  It was truly exceptional.   

Moral of the story: learn your glassware. 

ABV 9.o%
Acquired Spec's
Can I Find This in Austin? Yep, easily.  In liquor warehouses and bottle shops, not grocery stores.
Album Vampire Weekend | Contra (2010)

God help our livers, 10%!  My go-to post Halloween stout.  Only I can never wait until then.  There is nothing I want to add to Black Chocolate Stout's reputation, only to insist that you consume this in large quantities.

ABV 10.o%
Acquired East 1st Grocery
Can I Find This in Austin? Easily. The furthest state west to receive all Brooklyn Brewing's glory.
Album Santigold | s/t (2008)

While Dark Angel is not officially a chocolate beer, its portfolio of tasting notes includes hints of black-chocolate covered cherries and burnt molasses, making it damn near perfect for Halloween consumption if you love things like being better than everyone else in the world.

And, from what I've long-dubbed North Peak as The Most Photogenic Brewery ever, you will look absolutely stellar holding this while yelling at kids to 'get off your lawn'.

ABV 5.o%
Acquired Jolly Pumpkin Traverse City
Can I Find This in Austin? Probably the hardest of this bunch to find anywhere in the US.
Album Camera Obscura | My Maudlin Career (2009)  

Cheers! and have an absolutely safe Halloween!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Man o' War IPA | Pinthouse Pizza | Austin, TX

I'll say this about Austin Beer Week, it is like the post-break-up sex of GABF, following just one abbreviated week after it on the events calendar -- and at just the cusp of time when one is easing out of those liver pangs that have been troubling you since two Thursdays ago.

Whoever conceptualized the timing of a week devoted to the Austin beer scene is a bleeding genius on account of the timing of this thing; one more caucus of the willing without having to delve right back into the deranged commitment of another beer festival of such GIANT proportions or worse yet, swearing off getting wasted forever.  Its just one more hit, one final hit while the Valium takes effect; the casual buffer between pandemonium in Denver and the dying of the light in Austin.  The party is crashing us, and we are thankful we won't have to move very far at all to enjoy it.

The timing is also very punctual in that everyone around town associated with the industry -- in whatever capacity, large or small -- is still plenty abuzz with enthusiasm following the high school senior trip, grabassery that is GABF.  Its as if those of us who were present for those few days in Denver witnessed a legendary Donkey Show that we couldn't wait to share the details of our with our less fortunate friends back home.

What is more, is this is about the time when some of Austin's -- and by extension, the rest of the US -- best beer styles are made: pumpkins, porters, stouts, old ales, imperial reds, autumnals, rauchbiers, and Pre-Christmas ales; chocolate nibs, hazelnuts, coffee, malts, figs, cherries -- you dream it, they make it.  If any of these styles make you feel like bundling up in 79° weather, than your well will surely be poisoned during this week.

And around town during this magnificent décade of beer events is something to be keen on behind every heavy wooden door: rare-beer tappings, one-off specialty casks uncorked by local brewers, panels devoted to specific beer styles, collaborations between innovative local brewhouses, noteworthy appearances by legendary sensory specialists from historically important craft breweries, anniversary parties for iconic beer bars, the grand opening of others ... and so on.

One of these events that I was particularly fortunate to attend due to a generous friend in the brewing industry, was the pre-screening, first pour, and IPA panel at the newly rooted Pinthouse Pizza, which sits amongst the polished grime of Burnet Road like a handsome ex nihilo basilica to beer worship.

Past its distinguished façade from street level is a narthex of spotless steel kettles before giving way to a positively stunning nave emulating the flirtiest of Munich bierhalls.  Here, the open and vaulted interior is very obviously devoted to communal gatherings amongst the familiar and unfamiliar.  Get friendly because you will likely have table mates -- however, for the proximately-challenged, there are a couple of bar stools for semi-private imbibing.

But the message here is very clear: Don't be a pussy.  Visit your neighbors.  Drink fine ales.  Be jovial.  Its the message that Crown & Anchor, another legendary Austin beer bar, preached to us as far back as the ancient American era of the 1990s -- long before the avante-garde practice of communal situating amongst strangers was a concept cautiously accepted in this city.

And if sharing personal space with strangers intimidates you, then there is somewhere in the galaxy of 50 beers on the tap wall from local, regional, and national craft brew houses sure to get you feeling more comfortable.  More importantly -- and here is the subject of this article before I start to Yelp it into shit -- there are four mainstays from former Odell (CO) brewer Joe Mohrfeld, which I consider amongst my favorite breweries in the country due to my belief that they make their staple beers better than anyone else in the industry.

The beer I had the privilege of tasting on this night was Joe's Man o' War IPA.

One thing we talk quite a bit about on [AA] is the concept of beer culture, and like any other concept that suggests an exclusionary lifestyle preceded by a modifying noun, it tends to sway dangerously close to dickish marginalization, like hipsterdom, or to a nerdy social disadvantage, like being a Jimmy Buffet fan.  But what beer culture means -- at least me -- is the simple ideal of classic antiquity, using quality substances to promote progressiveness beyond just beer, but also things like agriculture, transportation, horticulture, architecture, and so on.

And what propagates this cultural movement towards better standards -- particularly for Americans inundated with fillers and additives, mollifying the tight fists of cheap detriments, like glass buildings and macro brewing, is the simplest, most unintentional, and least assuming of premises: better beer.  The style that beget this beer culture: The India Pale Ale.

While IPAs remains craft beer's most popular -- but also most-polarizing styles -- there is enough nuance and variety for everyone in this country to have a preferential style, which is typically based on region (West Coast IPAs tend to be heavily bittered by hops, while East Coast IPAs tend to be more traditionally in-line with English Ales deported to India during colonialism).

The style that I prefer is somewhere in between those two regions -- the Midwestern IPA -- and Joe's Man o' War IPA was right in my strike zone.  Man o' War only dips its big toe into the warm piney resin of the Pacific, while also resisting the urge to dive full on into the malty Atlantic.  Its nose was as bright as a Colorado pale ale, but had the nuanced malt bill of a Michigan IPA.  The front was deftly citric and finished with a carefully hopped and lightly floral note (I'm guessing Citra and Cascade hops?).

One can taste the master-work of restraint and quality ingredients by a knowledgeable brewer from an esteemed brewery; classic antiquity, control, quality ingredients.

My immediate impression was to think and feel very fortunate to have this brewer land in my town.  And that frequent visits will be necessary.  I haven't even tried the fucking pizza yet.

Glad tidings to you on this 2012 Austin Beer Week.  May you track all the whales you intend to hunt and may you spear them dead in their wake.

ABV 6.5%
Acquired Pinthouse Pizza, derp.
Can I Find This in Austin? Yeah, starting today!
Album Akron/Family | Set 'em Wild, Set 'em Free (2009)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

[A Hundred Beers a Day] The Great American Beer Festival: The Gritty Recap

I have seen heaven.

And it looks like bitchtitted beardos in post-ironic tees handing me sample after sample of one ounce beers in a giant beerhall of unrestrained libatious disorder.

I have heard heaven -- the almighty afterlife -- and it sounds like Highland bagpipes and the deep, throaty overtures of collective male enthusiasm.  It sounds like dudebros, guffawing and whooping like fishcamp Aggies on their last night of indoctrination, brainwashed into the belief that the plot has not been lost; but that this is the plot.  The mindless luxury of automatism.

I have sensed heaven -- where the deities reign -- and it feels like state pride; the inertial mass of environmental stimuli pinging your internal receptors like the hormonal radioactivity that comes with anticipation and the contemplation of things.  It felt like home.

I have smelled heaven.  And this was not it.  This was not heaven.

But I tasted heaven, processed the textures, parsed its complexity -- and it tastes like the Great American Beer Festival.  Every bit of it; the spectral variety of 580 visionaries who plodded their wares onto whichever vehicular means necessary in a dauntless and concerted effort to give 50,000 beer fans accessing Denver as a means to sample the country's greatest liquid commodity.



As attributed to Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm II of Germany in every publication I searched, it is said that he uttered the consequential words, 'Give me a woman who truly loves beer and I will conquer the world.'

And this is how the father of one highly-energetic 10-month-old boy and husband to a really busy wife ends up in a Denver rental flat during GABF weekend without either of them, and instead with my beer-loving compatriot, Mike, ready to conquer sobriety.  Yep, Kaiser Wilhelm through some kind of apparitional intervention, hinted to our wives that making this trip would be just the kind of familial challenge that each of them needed on that weekend.  Naturally, we were up for the challenge, and we accepted on all accounts.

DAY 1: Top Left/Clockwise 1) Bagpipes + Curious Bear is curious 2) The Great Hall of Fatsos 3) Austin Beerworks Einhorn made from Unicorn Skittles 4) Jester King Uberkind and 4th Grade Pep-Rally Art 5) Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head averting his eyes from my World Wide Stout pour 6) Falling Rock Beer Bar, Falling Eric Beer Drinker 7) The (Texas) Beerliner parked and distributing free TX beer near Falling Rock 8)FiftyFifty Brewing going all in 9) Deschuttes Abyss 2011.  Stuff of Legends.

Thursday: Day 1 was very kind to us in the same way that the Friday afternoon of Austin City Limits Fest is only pleasantries and breezy sunshine.  Denver is such a fucking awesome city.  Never been in my adult life -- though I passed through the area several times during my budding 1980s youth for soccer tournaments, and one of my first memories of rapscallionism was all our fathers taking us to tour the Coors Brewery in Golden as, i dunno, 8-year-olds or some impressionable age.

But having returned so many years later to such a different landscape, I may as well have been visiting an entirely different continent.  Denver is the case study for new urbanism, particularly new urbanism in the Western United States with their brilliant approach to resident infill, warehouse refurbishing, and most importantly -- historical preservation.

And the beer that dominated our iced-down hotel bathtub in 1986 is now a flitting afterthought compared the enormous influence of actual, well-made craft beer in the region.  So much so, they decided to make Denver the permanent bachelor pad for beer dorks like myself on this one week in October.  And all of us were here, breathing in the fresh air of democratic progressiveness.

The first move we made after entering the sheer mind-blowing amplitude of the great hall, past the bagpipes and picture snappers, beyond the regional segregation of the power-players like the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and Mountain regions, was to pay homage to our home-breweries from Texas.   Mike said that on his past visit to GABF in 2010, the Southwest section of GABF was essentially a flaccid penis representation of what was going on -- or maybe better stated -- what was about to happen in Texas.  This year, 20 breweries from The Great State represented its citizens in all their buzzy glory, and it made for a hotly embraced reception from the rest of the festival-goers.  It was spectacular to run into our friends from Austin Beerworks, Hops & Grain, Thirsty Planet, Black Star Co-Op, Jester King, Circle Brewing, and (512) -- the same way you would feel about a Christmas bonus.  You just knew something great was gonna come out of it.

After some gladhanding and general highfiving and overly gripped, enthusiastic handshakes, we were off as a tandem to conquer something.  I had made a general list of must-hit brewery booths during the flight, which basically turned out to be a good way to waste a couple of hours and nothing more than that.  It did help us get a general sense of who was at the festival and where, but making a to-do list for GABF is like trying to handwater trees on Pikes Peak.  There's just so much to get to ... and so we just fucking dove right in.

I was out of breath within the first 20 minutes.  All the visions I had of taking tasting notes and staging photographs essentially became shitty blurry pics from my 5-second Android shutter and some basic gestural communication to my friends-in-beer.  There was no time for anything else besides boning this carnival like a Rum Ham.

Truthfully, there was just too much going on to fully commit to memory, especially the swishy recollection impeded by 12% drugs.  It was a world of golden lights and pitchers.  At one point in the boozy night, I am standing in line waiting for Dogfish Head's scripper-like offerings, and Sam MF'ing Calagione himself stood forth to offer me World Wide Stout.  THE Sam Calagione.  THE World Wide Stout.

I had all these intentions about telling him what a hero he was to so many people, not only to those in Denver at that moment, but those in backyards and bars who've received his respite from macro.  I was going to tell him how he was an innovator and a legend, the William Wallace of craft beer.

But all that came from my end was a stupid grin and a long pause of my arm extension.  I'm not even sure I said thank-you.  So, Sam, here it is: Thank-you.  And thank-you for the 18% World Wide Stout.  Easily the highlight -- and standout beer -- of Day 1.
DAY 2: Top Left/Clockwise 1) Falling Rock mobile beer truck is all outta fucks. 2) Bull + Bush Promo 3) Wyncoop Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout (made w/ bull testicles) 4) DESTIHL Reserve Gose. The buzziest brewer this year. 5) The largest private bottle share EVAR!! Post-GABF at some hotel dungeon. At least that's how they lit the place. 6) Founder's KBS, FTFW 7) Goose Island Xocolatl 8) Sun King Pappy Van Muckle -- Best in Show 9) Goose Island Gingerbread Dream

Fuck.  I'm kinda hung over as balls.

We're in search of anything that looks like thick-cut bacon, but we settle for a goddam bagel.  Not hangover food -- but being that Denver is basically a reefer commune, there is excellent coffee, and that pushes me through the morning.

Have you ever ended a night of heavy drinking with more heavy drinking at one of the most notorious beer bars in the country, talking to neckbeards from Indianapolis about who-the-fuck-knows-what, but you remember chuckling and back-patting a lot?  Then settling back into the comfort zone of Russian River's Pliny the Elder and Temptation with the Austin brewing contingency until you can't feel whether your teeth are still in your mouth anymore? 

This is why thick cut bacon is important.

Friday: Day 2.  Yeah, Day 2 of anything strenuous is always kind of a drag.  You feel like you could just get in a cab and go home and still have a lifetime of memories.  But fuck that.  We're here to be 25-years-old and we're gonna BE 25-years-old dammit.

It took a total of two ounces to get my groove back in the great hall.  I mean, fuck, the place is so infectious with goings-on that its impossible to be anything but idiotically amped.  I drank a beer that required a bull be castrated.  I stood in line for that. And I liked it.  (It was good -- nutty.  Was that the obvious joke?  Eh, I could be so much better than that.)

We set a game plan to blitz the Midwest like Manny Diaz's nickle formation.  Only we didn't get caught in the bubble screen.  We sacked the shit out of it!  Founders, Jolly Pumpkin, Short's, Goose Island, Bell's, North Peak, DESTIHL, Kuhnhenn, and Sun King -- all our bitches.  There were others, but these were the best.  In fact, the hilights of the night -- maybe the entire weekend -- came from this region on this night.  Out of the possible 100-esque beers we sampled, six of my top 10 favorite were brewed by Middle American brewers.

  Sun King Double Barrel Aged Pappy Van Muckle Wee Heavy Scotch Ale
  Goose Island Elijah Craig Barrel Aged Gingerbread Dream Baltic Porter
  Goose Island Elijah Craig Barrel Aged Xocolatl Barley Wine
  Founder's KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout)
  Destihl Reserve Gose
  Kuhnhenn DRIPA (Double Rice India Pale Ale)

It made for a night that seemingly went by in mere minutes.  Somehow, we ended up at a brewers-only, post-festival event in the basement of the Sheraton, which featured several hundreds of bottles and cans from the judges panel that were extras for catch-and-release.  My brain itself started to ferment -- but not to be outdone by ourselves on night one, we rocked the Falling Rock again, but soon gave up our mission to kill ourselves and opted for street meat instead.  

The Denver area may have the best concentration of great breweries, but they know fuck all about food trucks.  Apparently, I was so pickled that I ordered my shawarma with potatoes in it. But I don't think I did that.  And the fucking hot sauce.  I'm going to have stomach problems tomorrow and I just can't help myself from devouring hot potato shawarma.  Ah shit.

DAY 3: Top Left/Clockwise 1) Russian River Framboise for a Cure 2) New Belgium La Folie 3) Repping The ABGB at GABF 4) Turn out the lights, the party's over 5) The fantastic Great Divide Brewery, Downtown Denver 6) Ballast Point's Victory at Sea 7) North Peak's Hooligan Pumpkin Ale -- Mah Michigan peeps 8) TRVE Brewing Salty Saison at Star Bar 9) Funkwerks Gold Medal Winning Beer: Tropic King

Day 3: Saturday starts off like every other Texas-ou weekend, with UT getting throttled like a Suzuki GSX-R at a steriods convention at the Jersey Shore, and Mike and I are all the more embarrassed for it.  Tell you what's pretty cool -- walking around a large convention center filled with masculine, beer-drinking shitheads while wearing the burnt orange like rape victims.  Also that day, Texas brewers fail to impress many of note at the judges competition and bring home only 9 medals, 3 of which are won by our flagship semi-macro.  Yes, I understand the judging and how it works, but I don't have to like it. 

My buddy Dean who I talk about in this post, texts me with the great news that Jay Shambo, who I talk about in this post, won the Pro-Am gold medal for his collaboration with New Belgium called More Fun Blonde Belgian Ale, beating out 93 other entries.  I also discover that Funkwerks (see the 'Dean' post) wins small brewer of the year.  These news tidbits makes me feel so much better, and so I get over my humbuggery of the day, and proceed to kick this festival's ass one last time.

And so we did ...

and it was heaven.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Pumpkin Seasonal Ale | Wasatch Brewing | Park City, UT ✦ Post Road Pumpkin Ale | Brooklyn Brewing | Brooklyn, NY ✦ Pumpkinator Imperial Pumpkin Stout | Saint Arnold Brewing | Houston, TX

[We are back to celebrate the great beer month of October, a period of 31 days fondly indexed inside my malt-addled brain as the Beer Advent -- an anthology of festivities ranging from the beer-Carnivál known as Oktoberfest, to the SXSW-like, Beer-di-Gras of GABF -- then mercifully ending with the fraudiest-of-children's-holidays distorted to be a massive carousal of adult excess and dumbfuckery.  Typically, that involves feasting on trial-sized Kit Kats and reveling in bombers of chocolate stout while passing out the shittiest of leftovers from my bowl.

[AA] will commemorate The Great Beer Month by discussing Pumpkin Ales -- a polarizing style in the world of craft, undone by the carelessness of particulates handled in bulk by the Big Brewers and their chicanery.

So, welcome to [AA]'s multi-part series called Pumps in a Bump: Ignis Fatuus Drinkus]

PART I: Dogfish Head Punkin.
PART II: Cigar City Good Gourd.
PART IIa: Avery Rumpkin (Re-post).
PART III: Coors Blue Moon Pumpkin Harvest.
PART IV: Ace Pumpkin Cider.

PART V: The Conclusion 

... (and a Round of Fuck-Marry-Kill).

Pumps in a Bump: Ignis Fatuus Drinkus comes to a graceless halt just hours before our departure to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival -- an event I anticipate will consist of three days of putting down as many 1 oz samples of the country's most adored and sought-after beers as our insides will allow, and behaving like the heathen children of the in-school suspension portable.

And as anyone with a sense of humor and an low moral fiber would know, drunk teenage hooliganism is fucking hilarious!

Because last week got away from me, and attendance at two major beer-centric events -- The Texas Craft Brewers Festival on Saturday and the Hops & Grain anniversary on Sunday -- were basically mandatory for anyone who enjoys enthusiastic appearances by both cold weather and craft beer, I neglected my intentions to finish off the series with a double-pump three-pointer at the buzzer.  So, you get this shitty bricked layup of Fuck-Marry-Kill instead.

Now, for the uninitiated, F-M-K is  raunchy middle school social-rouser where one must choose between the fates of three celebrities who have reasonably similar characteristics for categorization based on your preferences.  The objective is to indicate with which one you would personally like to invite to eat crackers in bed, which you would get wifed for a lifetime of general pleasantries, and which you would like to introduce to the business end of a Leatherman Hunting Knife.

In the case of these three beers, the obvious common denominator is that all three are pumpkin ales, but vary a little bit on style and a whole lot on flavor.  The general principal of the game is determining how shitty your taste is based on your preferences, and this is no different.  However, unlike a traditional game of F-M-K, there is a bit of a twist on the colloquial meanings of each sub-header in this version.  You'll see.

1)  Fuck: Wasatch Pumpkin Ale.

As in, fuuuck this beer.  One of the worst interpretations of anything ever, this cruddy beer drinks like a shitty R.E.M. cover band assembled by three high school burnouts and a cousin to play at their fly-over-state's harvest festival.  The flavor almost instantly disintegrates on the tongue the moment it bleeds out of the bottle in a thin, watery stream of regrettable calories.  At 4.0%, it isn't even worth the effort to rummage through the spatula drawer for the bottle opener.  I'm not willing to give more of an effort to drink this than the folks at Wasatch expended to make it.  This beer is complete shit about nothing much.

ABV: 4.o%
Acquired: Hyde Park Market
Musical Pairing: Ryan Adams | IV (2010)

2) Marry: Brooklyn Pumpkin Ale.

This is a beer that was kinda all excited about the Hall & Oates non-ironic resurgence, likes shopping for her mom, and eats edemame because doing so is like so much fun and weird!  A beer that doesn't get too full of itself, and kind of takes a step back from the other pushy pumpkins out there.  The truth is, this is probably the most consistent pumpkin beer you will find from September to November each year, because in my experience, the recipe has never changed.  It is accessible, and available, and ready when you are to settle down together -- or maybe just watch some recycled comedy on the couch.   

Its mildly spicy and semi-sweet, with a nice base beer that is something between a pale lager and an amber.  In the back half, its full-bodied personality really shines, but don't try to press that issue.

ABV: 5.o%
Acquired: Spec's
Musical Pairing: Phoenix | It's Never Been Like That (2006)

3)  Kill: Saint Arnold's Pumpkinator.

As in, slay the shit out of this muthafucka!  This is Texas' only currency in the beer world -- at least the most obvious one.  It is one of the most remarkable brews on the planet -- nevermind in just its niche goardy category.  Pumpkinator is one of the reasons why I started collecting beer full-time in the first place, and that was to blow off work and hunt these down like white whales; the kind of beer that makes you swear too much and too loudly and wears slouchy jeans and has a nice haircut.

Pumpkinator is just plump with flavors -- heavy malts, chocolate, cinnamon bark, allspice, general autumn chestnuttiness, and, of course, perfectly parsed pumpkin notes that sing the gospel of all Pumpkin Ales like a black church.  It is just fucking heavenly.

Go forth and seek this truth.

ABV: 10.o%
Acquired: Spec's (2012 out VERY soon)
Musical Pairing: Justice | † (2007)

Friday, October 5, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Ace Hard Pumpkin Cider | California Cider Company | Sebastopol, CA

[We are back to celebrate the great beer month of October, a period of 31 days fondly indexed inside my malt-addled brain as the Beer Advent -- an anthology of festivities ranging from the beer-Carnivál known as Oktoberfest, to the SXSW-like, Beer-di-Gras of GABF -- then mercifully ending with the fraudiest-of-children's-holidays distorted to be a massive carousal of adult excess and dumbfuckery.  Typically, that involves feasting on trial-sized Kit Kats and reveling in bombers of chocolate stout while passing out the shittiest of leftovers from my bowl.

[AA] will commemorate The Great Beer Month by discussing Pumpkin Ales -- a polarizing style in the world of craft, undone by the carelessness of particulates handled in bulk by the Big Brewers and their chicanery.

So, welcome to [AA]'s multi-part series called Pumps in a Bump: Ignis Fatuus Drinkus]

PART I: Dogfish Head Punkin.
PART II: Cigar City Good Gourd.
PART IIa: Avery Rumpkin (Re-post).
PART III: Coors Blue Moon Pumpkin Harvest.


One of the things about getting punched in the liver by beer everyday is that getting punched in the liver by beer everyday gets a little old from time to time.  

This is why having a backup plan is always fun and necessary for days I'm being a soft little bitch.  Lately, my safety word has been Balcones Blue Corn Whiskey -- and before that, Redbreast Irish Whiskey (before it became $60/bottle) -- but I've always appreciated when something new, interesting, or unusual captures my attention when I've got hop-AIDS.

Recently I ran into something that covered all three of the 'new, interesting, unusual' bases, and it was Ace's Pumpkin Cider.  I was all, wuuuuuuuut?, like a ticket tree was pulling two luxury box tix for the WVU game out of my ears.  So I helped it continue around that last base and into the last 90 feet towards home.

I had never heard of pumpkin cider, and lo! I'm in the middle of writing a pumpkin series with an acute case of palatal grain fatigue.  So, booya!


It is my opinion -- and it should be everyone's -- that cider is one of the most misunderstood, most under-appriaciated beverages in the alcohol drinkdom.  I know this because I read a lot of British shit, and they're always drinking it -- and hey, they're a pretty drunk and interesting culture -- so if they think this shit's great, it must be the dog's ball, right?  This is typically how I judge shit: Do the Brits think its cool?  Check.  Do the French? Check.  Can I dance to it?  No.  But will it make me forget the day-to-day wankery, anyway?  Check Check.

Conclusion: Drink the shit.

I'll say that one of the most strangely fun moments in my life was killing a 27-hour layover in the Frankfurt borough of Sachsenhausen with my wife, drinking apfelwein and dunkel until we ran out of Euros and finally passing out in tiny hostel with cider-phlegm and hard buzzes.  I have an enormous appreciation for anything endorsed by a legendary drinking culture like that of Ze Germans, and therefore, the consensus is that cider is worthy of its place at the dining table. 

Americans have mistreated cider by inserting it into the same conversation as wine coolers and roofies -- the munitions used against feminine cannon fodder.  It deserves so much more respect than that.  Cider has a venerable history in The United States, and, like Farmhouse Saisons in France and Belgium, is at least partially responsible for the progression of our society when drinking water was unsafe for consumption.  You see, we kind of owe our lives to cider in that it kept our forefathers alive well enough for them to shag our super-great-great-great-great, etc grandmothers.  Thanks cider!

To be completely honest, if not for the packaging, I would have thought this was a straight-forward, traditional apple cider -- but something has to be said for the power of suggestion, and I could somewhat distinguish some light pumpkin and allspice notes that made this a good-time drinker.  And since the whole entire world has been into sour beers lately, a thought came to mind that people who were into that (fucking everyone, though, right?!), would be into this -- a re-fermented sour pumpkin ale.  I really kind-of like the sound of that.

As you would probably suspect, there was minimal head from the pour, even after I slammed it into the glass like a Luis Scola dunk -- and it drank more similar to a sparkling wine than a hard cider -- but I found that it had a great balance and a tart, pleasing finish that made it a nice overall drink.  It was a very decent way to spend an evening in the same way that dinner at Red Lobster, followed by watching syndicated episodes of Big Band Theory on the couch, then maybe a little protected sex afterward would be.

*Also of note:  this beverage is Gluten-FREE, for all you Gluten haters out there. 

ABV: 5.o%
Acquired: Hyde Park Market
Musical Pairing: Efterklang | Magic Chairs (2010)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Harvest Pumpkin Ale | "Blue Moon Brewing" (lulz, whatevs, Coors) | Golden, CO

[We are back to celebrate the great beer month of October, a period of 31 days fondly indexed inside my malt-addled brain as the Beer Advent -- an anthology of festivities ranging from the beer-Carnivál known as Oktoberfest, to the SXSW-like, Beer-di-Gras of GABF -- then mercifully ending with the fraudiest-of-children's-holidays distorted to be a massive carousal of adult excess and dumbfuckery.  Typically, that involves feasting on trial-sized Kit Kats and reveling in bombers of chocolate stout while passing out the shittiest of leftovers from my bowl.

[AA] will commemorate The Great Beer Month by discussing Pumpkin Ales -- a polarizing style in the world of craft, undone by the carelessness of particulates handled in bulk by the Big Brewers and their chicanery.

So, welcome to [AA]'s multi-part series called Pumps in a Bump: Ignis Fatuus Drinkus]

PART I: Dogfish Head Punkin.
PART II: Cigar City Good Gourd.
PART IIa: Avery Rumpkin (Re-post).


It is said that the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.

And in the context of this site, the same deceptive practices can be said regarding The Big 3, convincing the American beer-consuming public that they don't exist.

Each of the Big 3 -- that is, Miller, Budweiser, and Coors -- has devoted a long arm of their installation to mimicking the culture of craft beer and microbrewing, going as far as to erase their powerful and omnipresent names from their respective bottle packaging altogether, in an attempt to disguise the actions of mass-production behind a small-sounding brewing alias.  This is their way of calling their consumer base 'fucking idiots', by attempting to mislead and misrepresent their reputation for bad beer with something as deluded as The Blue Moon Brewery, wink wink.

And Coors is perhaps the guiltiest of them all, prolonging its charade of Belgian witbier since the mid-1990s, when everyone was agog about an exciting new start-up called Pete's Wicked Ales -- one of the pioneer companies of small-brewing -- until Coors was finally able to overtake and absorb Pete's market at the expense of their irrelevancy.  But that was first Craft War.  The rebel craft alliance appears to have redoubled their efforts, and is much, much stronger now in Craft War 2.

Blue Moon O.G. was probably every 14-year-old girl's foray into the illicit world of father-rebelling irresponsibility -- and I guess my junior-high-self salutes the folks in Golden for that -- but the era of Eddie Donkeylips Gelfen, Silk's Freak Me, and pleated jeans is when this fucking crap should have died.

Yet, it didn't.  And what is more, is that almost 20 years later, the people at Coors are offering us variations of THE SAME EXACT FLAVOR AS BLUE MOON, except in different-colored packaging and exciting contrasts like honey, lime peel, and the ubiquitous seasonal offering, pumpkin.

Consuming Coors' Blue Moon lineup is the beer equivalent of drinking Nickelback's musical catalog.

I read an awesome description of Blue Moon the other day from a dude who has the same regard towards this beer as I do -- and he describes its flavor as being somehow synthetic, as if added by photoshop.  I couldn't have come to a better conclusion myself.

It has the thinnest mouthfeel for something intending to be full-bodied -- like, taking off its bra after a long wrestle with the clasp and discovering that there was some false advertising going on.  I mean, this junk was like an imitation of some kind of skin freshener you would find in that heavily-mirrored section of CVS that has all those fucking nail supplements and foot baths, but with far less aroma and comically bad solvent dilution.  There was very obviously no actual pumpkin that went into this beer -- either in juice or puree format.  I don't think any thought went into this beer for that matter.  Spice?  Nope.  Malt?  Nope.  Grain bill?  Nope.

Hope for humanity?  Never.

ABV: 5.7%
Acquired: HEB (crappy Burnet location, not that it matters.  This stuff is pretty much everywhere.)
Musical Pairing: The Killers | Day & Age (2008)

Monday, October 1, 2012

[A Beer A Day] Good Gourd Imperial Pumpkin Ale | Cigar City Brewing | Tampa, FL

[We are back to celebrate the great beer month of October, a period of 31 days fondly indexed inside my malt-addled brain as the Beer Advent -- an anthology of festivities ranging from the beer-Carnivál known as Oktoberfest, to the SXSW-like, Beer-di-Gras of GABF -- then mercifully ending with the fraudiest-of-children's-holidays distorted to be a massive carousal of adult excess and dumbfuckery.  Typically, that involves feasting on trial-sized Kit Kats and reveling in bombers of chocolate stout while passing out the shittiest of leftovers from my bowl.

[AA] will commemorate The Great Beer Month by discussing Pumpkin Ales -- a polarizing style in the world of craft, undone by the carelessness of particulates handled in bulk by the Big Brewers and their chicanery.

So, welcome to [AA]'s multi-part series called Pumps in a Bump: Ignis Fatuus Drinkus] 



Mrs. [AA] had the best overall observation when I cracked this open on a remarkably exquisite Austin Friday night: Oh, Cigar City ... aren't they the ones that make all that candle beer.

This is amusing in that Cigar City does indeed make products more similarly associated with the Yankee Candle Company aisle of Bed Bath and Beyond instead of at the racks at the bottle shop.  With flavors like Apple IPA, Guava Farmhouse Ale, Sugar Plum Brown Ale, Blueberry Miffin Brown Ale, Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Brown Ale, Cucumber Saison, Chitlin Alfredo Lambic*, and Menudo Kölsch* -- to name just a few from their absurdly large inventory, it is easy to get confused if one is supposed to drink the shit out of it, or put it in a Scentsy widget.

But as you will probably deduce from my imminent enthusiasm forthcoming in this article, Cigar City is really quite adept at brewing these spasmotic-flavored beers -- which are not at all meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek, but very literally according to what is scribed on the label.  There is nothing nuanced about Cigar City beers, and because so, browsing their catalog with my palate is like watching Jennifer Beal do that scene in Flashdance with my five-year-old eyes.  Its all up in your face.

But I ask this, who amongst us hasn't overdosed their fro-yo with gummy worms, candy corn, caramel syrup, and Tang in stupid enthusiasm for variety and maximal sugar saturation?  In that regard, I can definitely sympathize with Cigar City's ambition for interesting ingredients when faced with a buffet of options.

And with that, I can also say that most of Cigar City's beers that I've experienced have leapt beyond the novelty of their ingredients and displayed both technique and discipline withing their glass dormitory.

This question was, would Good Gourd keep that streak alive?

As I alluded to in the first part of the series, I do regard pumpkin ales as a mis-utilized style, as brewers tend to offer more of a pumpkin-pie beer rather than a pumpkin-fruit beer.  Many of these beers tend to be muddled with ingredients that I find too piquant to retain my interest over an extended period of time -- cloves, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger -- the fucking Scattergories of Thanksgiving, all whipped together in a pot-still with a dispassionate base beer.  I didn't order what all those Starbucks-Latte-fellating bitches on Facebook start clamoring about come Labor Day weekend, did I?

Good Gourd started out a lot like a traditional autumnal holiday Pumpkin Ale: saccharine, sticky, syrupy.  Despite that, I did find myself pretty interested in its density of spicy-sweetness (but that's mainly because I'm of Mexican descent and anything that tastes like the diabetic venom of Churros and Big Red makes my heart thump like a 1948 Chevy Fleetline).

Good Gourd, however, did in fact display some great, well-distributed notes.  Honestly, it tasted less like a Pumpkin Ale and more of a Candied Yam Brown Beer.  There was fantastic depth -- though slightly thinner than expected for an imperial ale -- a breadiness that developed into walnutty fattiness. As it warmed, it got sweeter and more complex: cinnamon, spiced sugar, molasses, maple, brown sugar, marrons glacé.  It was hard to be annoyed with the saturation-bomb of ingredients when all of them were working so hard to please me.

Sure, Good Gourd was baked starchy tubers in a bottle, but it was artisanal work -- as if roasted in the kilns of Sucre in New Orleans or Magnolia in New York -- not the ovens of HEB.  Overall, it was like wining an audition for the Pittsburgh Art Council, then giving it the lead in the Conservatory based on its stripper dance moves. 

ABV: 8.5%
Acquired: Gardner Barnes, thanks bud!
Musical Pairing: Travis | The Invisible Band (2001)

*So rare, they don't exist