Monday, December 31, 2012

[An Avenue]'s Best 101 Tracks of 2012

This isn't a beer post.  This post, it's not about beer.

What it is about, is beer's best mate, for there is nary a better time to consume heavily than in the supportive embrace of music.  Its a daily tradition at the offices of [AA] to consummate this bond between beer and tunes every night in large doses by regulation of the Canon Law of St. Augustine the Blessed.  And it gives us something to ruminate about besides the trillionth discussion on hops or farmhouse ales.

Then, at the end of the year, we try to make some ordinal sense of it all.

This is list season!  Oh, how its powers are untold!

Best of!  Top 10!  Editors choice!  Pee drinkers on the internet box offering humorously disturbing reader picks!  I don't care who you are, lists are just addictive by nature.  Our brains love organizational outcomes, neatly packaged next to ascending numerals and made to create order amidst chaos. Who amongst us doesn't love poring over the subjective opinions of total strangers in a manner that makes you fume and writhe when the author isn't even answering the fucking question correctly?

The answer is: none of us.

If somebody in my general proximity is in need of immediate or urgent assistance, they had better hope I didn't just start reading a list of rankings pertaining to just about anything -- food trailers, liberal arts colleges, Bollywood actors under 3 feet, whatever -- because it is an unnatural act to quit on a list before reaching  climax.  Lists are brain sex!  But because there is very little intimacy between the author and the reader, its like college brain sex!  The quickies of the literary world.

Unfortunately for you, pal, this list goes to 101 -- so I'm gonna take my time here and have you think about NBA scoring leaders since 1965.  I think it will be worth your time getting to know it, in an "Oh no, I love you" sort of way, especially because I don't patronize you by ranking anything to do with Jack White or Tame Impala, since I tend not to habituate with utter shit.

Sure, it might not be great, but there's a lot of it.

The 8th Annual [An Avenue] Best 101 (v. 2012)

101  All Wash Out | Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
100  Seven Stars | Air
099  Apocalypse Dreams | Tame Impala
098  Do Ya Thing | Gorillaz ft Andre 3000 and James Murphy
097  Heavy Metal | White Rabbits
096  Let's Go | Matt & Kim
095  October | The Helio Sequence
094  Rembihnútur | Sigur Rós
093  Without You | Lana Del Rey
092  Breakdown | Gary Clark Jr.
091  Angels | The XX
090  Primitive Girl | M. Ward

089  Sisterly | Fang Island
088  The House that Heaven Built | Japandroids
087  Noir Blues to Tinnitus | Of Montreal
086  Old Friend | Sea Wolf
085  Fate | Young Man
084  What The Eyeballs Did | Atoms For Peace
083  Under the Westway | Blur
082  Serpents | Sharon Van Etten
081  How Long Have You Known? | DIIV
080  Youth Is Wasted On The Young |  Young Galaxy

079  Baby | Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
078  Fingers Never Bleed | Yeasayer
077  Friends of Friends | Hospitality
076  Spiteful Intervention | Of Montreal
075  Would That Not Be Nice | Divine Fits
074  Octopus | Bloc Party
073  Enjoy Yourself | The Dandy Warhols
072  Petoskey Stone | Dana Falconberry
071  Sweet Life | Frank Ocean
070  Madness | Muse

069  Ruin | Cat Power
068  Everything's Gonna Be Undone | Band of Horses
067  Pretty Girl From Michigan | The Avett Brothers
066  Desperation Breeds... | Andrew Bird
065  Beatcha | Dinosaur Feathers
064  Empty House | Delta Spirit
063  Stay Gold | The Big Pink
062  Deconstruction | Fanfarlo
061  Sleep Alone | Two Door Cinema Club
060  The One | Kanye West, Big Sean, 2 Chainz & Marsha Ambrosius

059  Let's Go Home | Best Coast
058  1904 | Tallest Man On Earth
057  Parted Ways | Heartless Bastards
056  Lazuli | Beach House
055  Ho Hey | The Lumineers
054  Rubbernecking | The Big Pink
053  Looking Through | Nada Surf
052  Ayla | The Maccabees
051  Sedna | Efterklang

049  Disparate Youth | Santigold
048  Silent My Song | Lykke Li
047  The Wave | Miike Snow
046  This Is Not A Song | Islands
045  I'll Be Alright | Passion Pit
044  Heartbreaker | The Walkmen
043  The Base | Paul Banks
043  Dance For You | Dirty Projectors
042  Applesauce | Animal Collective
041  Motion Sickness | Hot Chip
040  Genesis | Grimes

039  For A Fool | The Shins
038  Call Me Maybe | Carly Rae Jepsen
037  Give It Away | Andrew Bird
036  Flaggin A Ride | Divine Fits
035  I Will Wait | Mumford & Sons
034  Five Seconds | Twin Shadow
033  End Of The Line | Sleigh Bells
032  We Can't Be Beat | The Walkmen
031  Marathon | Heartless Bastards
030  California | Delta Spirit

029  Tuck the Darkness In | Bowerbirds
028  Lucky with Disease | Elbow
027  Nancy from Now On | Father John Misty
026  Lonely Love | Islands
025  Manhattan | Cat Power
024  Kill for Love | Chromatics
023  Brains | Lower Dens
022  Wild | Royal Teeth
021  All Of Me | Tanlines
020  Oblivion | Grimes

019  Take A Walk | Passion Pit
018  God Help This Divorce | Miike Snow
017  Fineshrine | Purity Ring
016  Everything is Embarrasing | Sky Ferreira
015  A Simple Answer | Grizzly Bear
014  Hold On | Alabama Shakes
013  Chum | Earl Sweatshirt
012  We Are Young (ft. Janelle Monae) | Fun.
011  Wild | Beach House

010  Time to Run | Lord Huron
009  Feathers | Fanfarlo
008  Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe | Kendrick Lamar
007  Love Out Of Lust | Lykke Li
006  Pique | Menomena
005  Danse Caribe | Andrew Bird
004  My Better Self  | Tennis
003  Heaven | The Walkmen
002  Impregnable Question | Dirty Projectors
001  Myth | Beach House

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Well-Ordered Enumeration of 2012s Best Beers

The Criteria 

There will probably be some obvious omissions from this list because it's not truly a roster of my favorite beers that I dabbled in during 2012.  Instead, this is a list of my favorite beers that I drank during the calendar year BUT ALSO were brand new to my palate.  That is, if beer was newly minted and released to the public in this year-- or if a beer that had prior distribution, but was previously unavailable to me in some capacity before January, then it was considered for a spot in my top 10 beers of 2012.

Vintages were also left unlisted -- even if recipes were altered from years prior -- so as to eliminate powerhouse verticals, like Sputnik, La Folie, or The Abyss.  That would be a boring list, and would look very similar from year-to-year.

These were the 10 best beers that were sampled by me in 2012 -- typically in the company of my amazing wife and a variety of outstanding pals -- then presented to you all, my internet drinking buddies.

I hope you will have something to comment about, because lists tend to rouse -- so, de-lurk, un-lurk, ex-lurk, whatever.

(note: each listing has the active link for its respective [AA] article.)

The Results

10 | Labyrinth
Uinta Brewing | Salt Lake City, UT
Labyrinth's trademark isn't in the oaking of the beer, nope.  It is Uinta's actual adherence to clever ingredients which ultra-forgiving whiskey casks can't help to elevate: molasses, anise, cocoa, espresso, and yes, the very subtle rye itself.  The result is a sweetly spicy beer that smells like a conversation with your anti-prohibitionist grandfather and a dense gravity that tours and branches through all of your sensory receptors like a stout maze.

New Belgium Brewing | Fort Collins, CO
[The] draught version was crisp and smart and nuanced.  I loved it so much I thought about ordering another one immediately -- which, if you've been drinking with a beer nerd at a venue with a superfluous beer menu, is pretty much as unlikely as catching two homerun balls in consecutive at-bats.

Sun King Brewing | Indianapolis, IN
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 highlights 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.

Thirsty Planet Brewing | Austin, TX
While Jittery Monk emphasizes its coffee notes, the brilliance is in the use of a cold-pressed coffee supplied by local roasters Kohana Coffee.  In doing so, the coffee is never introduced to the heat element that tends to drain the flavor of the bean itself.  Instead, the cold-press makes the product far less acrid and presents itself as a naturally sweetened and very noticeably smoother liquid.  With Jittery Monk, that charred bitterness never presents itself, and instead, you are left with a very well-bodied coffee beer that finishes on the palate with a sweet cream and expertly placed hint of smoke, spice, fresh baked bread, malt, and Belgian chocolate.  Its a complex beer without being fussy.  Its clever without being exaggerated. 

Funkwerks | Fort Collins, CO
It is very obvious that the flagship beer of Funkwerks is brimming with pride.  It is very well-executed, satisfying, and thoughtful -- rich and cozy.  The exposition of this saison is that of a brightly-steeped lemon and ginger tea.  Then, there is crisp pear and citric acids exposing shrewd carbonation that boils on your tongue like cauldron spill.  Over-ripened guava, alfalfa hay, pepper and cloves impart before finishing with biscuity malt notes.  This beer was kicking some serious ass. 

Harviestoun Brewing | Alva, Scotland
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.

Hops & Grain Brewing | Austin, TX
If you've ever tried the base beer -- H&G's Baltic Porter -- you would remember that this was already a massively complex beer, with roasted coffee, cocoa, toffee, vanilla, and burnt malts -- but in this iteration, the Baltic Porter was further enhanced by age in Maker's Mark barrels, then imparted with black cherries to add luxurious, muddled Old Fashioned flavor profile.  Altogether, this beer is as graceful as it is playful.

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

Jester King Brewing | Austin, TX
[Buddha's Brew] is both discretely saccharine and devilishly tart -- a clandestine sour ale with surreptitious balance, it is truly the first recipe from the brewhouse that I felt was under their absolute, expert control.  That is not a jab in any way -- instead, a huge ovation for their practices and tuned technical refinement, since they are most famous for using such highly volatile brewing methods and ingredients.  And that does not even mention the confident use of a monstrously unpredictable focal ingredient, kombucha tea (from Austin's Buddha's Brew, natch), which in and of itself is riddled with wild yeasts, bacteria, and other ferementable variables.  Buddha's Brew was soured and bright and complex, yet deftly clear in focus.  It was refreshing, but worthy of late-evening, fireside enjoyment.  Lemons without insistence on lemonade.  Really, just perfect.

01 | Einhorn
Austin Beerworks | Austin, TX
Einhorn is pound-for-pound, pretty much the best summer beer I've ever tasted -- and that is comparatively assessed against the giants of summertime like Bell's Oberon, Boulevard's Tank 7, 21st Amendment's Hell or High Watermelon Wheat, Dale's Pale Ale, Dogfish Head Festina Peche, and so on.
The immediate tenor of the beer is that it is superbly tart and deftly citrusy -- not in the clumsy way I find most brewers who've rushed a sour to market.  Einhorn had the dextrous finesse of apples, pineapple, citrus, and other subtle palm tree fruit mingling with fancy champagne notes.   It was gentle on the palate and crisp at the bookends of my articulators.  It was sweet without being either sugary or syrupy -- and most importantly, it hit the key characteristic of any worthy summertime ale: cold, bright, and effervescent.

The Conclusion

The overall, 2012 conclusion is this: 40% of the list is made up of Austin brewers.  In my best rah-rah-we-moved-to-Austin-just-before-it-got-too-crowded-and-therefore-we-have-local-opinions-dammit impersonation, this means that 1) There is explicit talent in the local brewing industry within this underrepresented, but blossoming state (and more expected in 2013) 2) There is an identifiable growth in the sheer number of breweries in Texas, and Austin is leading that movement.  3)  40% of the sample size covering dozens of excellent, worthy, and rateable beers are brewed right here in Austin, therefore 4) The best beer in Texas is being brewed right here in the Capitol City.

I think its a fair summation.

Cheers and happy holidays!  Thank-you for reading.  See you in the New Year when the whole process starts over again.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Sputnik Russian Imperial Coffee Oatmeal Stout | Austin Beerworks | Austin, TX

Before we get into the tedious ritual of me exaggerating about another great beer I've been drinking this week, and you ungrateful fuckers not commenting any of them, I felt the need to talk about how spectacular its been discussing micros and craft with you as the first anniversary of [AA] approaches.

Most of the drivel I've rabble-rabbled on about on this site has been largely embraced by the brewing industry, both locally and nationally (sometimes, internationally), and I'm humbly grateful that many of my readers have taken me seriously in regards to a subject I only marginally know about.

I am not a brewer.  I am not a writer.  I am not a sociologist.  I certainly didn't start [AA] to espouse those three ideas together into a prolonged beer discussion about craft culture as it pertains to the art of beer making.  Yet, somehow it became that -- and so it became a stable fusion reaction to honor the greatness of small-brewing in America as a whole; but most especially, to commemorate our local Austin brewers as they stitched the rows of creative yarn into my head through their astonishing talent in brewing.

One brewery (amongst several) whose practice has inspired [AA] verily, is Austin Beerworks -- the gilded and important gentlemen of brewing consequence residing in the northern borough of its eponymous city.  At this point, Austin Beerworks are shit hot, and are outpaced by the city's total frenzy to procure their goods from any gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, taphouse and doghouse.  The fugitive's name is Austin Beerworks, and everyone is out to get 'em -- and this is just for their regular rotational accouterments.  They've given themselves quite a few challenges by simply being so great at what they do.

But when Austin Beerworks decides that the challenges of appeasing Austin's everyday thirst isn't enough, then they brew a seasonal -- because, frankly, who doesn't love a good mania in their city?

Along with their assemblage of leggy Baltic lady scientists wearing lab coats and thickly rimmed glasses (to make them look even more sciency!) who observe the nobs and rods on their state-of-the-art engineering machines, the team at Austin Beerworks has created a beer that makes the most Slavic of Russian imperial stouts seem like lightly-entertaining fluff.

Sputnik is brewed in the Fall to the sounds and sights of John Cafferty's Hearts on Fire and the Rocky IV Siberian training montage (but into the fermenter before the final scene when Rocko SCREEEES Drago and all the geopolitically sensitive Rooskies in the crowd go all 'Merica! 'Merica!).  When its ready to rock-n-roll -- 80s Cold War style -- in the dead of Austin's arctic 80° winter, Sputnik "poosh eet to leemit, every time" because "no pain, no pain".

And if Einhorn is Austin Beerworks' masterpiece, then Sputnik is their manifesto.  It's creed is recited when November dissolves into December, and the Autumnals are replaced by Christmas Ales.

Sputnik is the contradiction to Einhorn's bright and clean summertime exemplar.  It is the baddie villain that strokes a white cat while watching you wonder just what the fuck are you are in for this time around?  Sputnik's Eastern aggression meets our Western ethos right at the mid-line of cultural wintertime joy -- dark roast coffee, coffee liqueur, sweet cream, almonds, and a very subtle milk-foam -- like a Matryoshka nesting doll of complexity and character that fits perfectly together into one vessel.  If this wasn't called beer, it would be called Sunday Brunch in Saint Petersburg, and it would be hanging in the Hermitage.

As the official Christmas post of [AA], I'm imploring you to seek out Sputnik for whatever shenanigans goes on at your family's house on that contrived day; or as a supplement to your lame, paper-plates-and-HEB-cookies contribution at your office holiday luncheon; and yes, even for the intellectually dormant New Years Eve party at the friend's house you've yet to visit in the three years since moving.  It will be the gift that gives. 

ABV 7.9%
Acquired Black Star Co-Op
Can I Find This in Austin? Only on tap, so knock the dust off of those growlers.
Album New Order | Power, Corruption, & Lies (1983), or, you know, John Cafferty.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Bourbon Barrel Aged Baltic Porter on Cherries | Hops & Grain Brewing | Austin, TX

Hops & Grain makes beer for people who like The National and fog.  They are the Pandora of brewing -- suggesting a spectrum of beer that you hardly knew even existed based on a template of shit you already knew you liked.  Their beers make a collective sense -- two perennials in Alt-eration and Pale Dog (with a 3rd regular on its way!) -- and then, a series of small-batch, experimental beers that utilize a filter bubble algorithm, opening the eyes of this city to a brewing philosophy seen mostly in the Northwest and Colorado, but scant in Texas.  All together, its one hell of a playlist.

On a Saturday night, an assembly of beer jury sat in the Casa Del Roble barrel-aging room of Hops & Grain to hear the testimonials of three local artisans representing a range of disciplines, discussing altruistic topics like fermentation in consumables and craft culture in the community.  Those of us in this temporary Saturday guild were treated to the spectrum of Hops & Grain's indie hits -- including the aforementioned base-beers -- Alt-eration and Pale Dog -- but also some of their barrel-aged, barrel-fermented, and otherwise flavor-tripping incarnations, scaffolding the evening like a listening party of High Violet at The Bowery Ballroom.

Though the central thesis of the panel was 'Fermentation in Craft', the yeast in the room rose prominently when the discussion of craft culture came up -- and because of the fundamental brewing theme of the evening -- reached critical reaction during the beer culture interactive.

Beer culture is, in fact, the topical emphasis here at [AA], and it was a delight to watch Joe Mohrfield of Pinthouse Pizza field beer-culture-related questions like Omar Vizquel at an Astros batting practice.  The dude loves to talk about beer, and he does it very well -- a skill surpassed in talent only by his ability to actually make the stuff.

As the dialogue continued between the participants and panel (which also included Simon Perez of Baked in Austin, and the formerly-hidden moderator talent of owner/brewmaster Josh Hare), I thought the most poignant comment of the night was courtesy of remaining panelist Ben Runkle of Salt & Time Salumeria.  When asked to describe how his very-nearly-completed brick & mortar butcher practice fit into the community's overall culture on the East Side of Austin, he responded with an interesting comparison of culture vs. community.  Pardon the pun, but I'll probably butcher Runkle's quote -- so to approximate his statement, Runkle intonated that 'Culture' is where one has been, while 'Community' is where one intends to go.

I thought it was provocative definition of the two buzzterms in that these artisinal niche specialties, like meat cutting and brewing, stem from a common, humble practices, and cannot insert itself into an accepting community until there is objectivity, comradery, accessibility, and collective goals.  Therefore, craft culture becomes less about exclusivity and industry, and more about functionality and exercising one's instinct to dismiss social stratification.

This is how something like craft beer culture is harvested from the Big Beer feudelists and distributed as an economical, social, and societal movement.  This is why craft beer is so insanely popular in The US at the moment, and to an equal degree, places like Grand Rapids, Portland, and Austin.

This is also why people write blogs about shit they can't even do, like the entire staff of one here at [AA].  I am here to merely DJ the hit singles of breweries like Hops & Grain, while being daft and using fashionable grammar to rouse the potential market, because everyone wants to be a small part of the PR machine in their own individual way.  But craft beer is not here to whore it up for Super Bowl ads -- not yet -- because it hasn't emotionally invested in the community of football watching, corn-and-rice beer drinkers just yet.  Let them fully convert the hipsters and the academics first.  But as it stands right now, we are sitting on a huge industry outbreak here in Austin.

And with that, came the nichiest of niches -- the hen's teeth of Hops & Grain's rare one-offs, fermented right here in the room in which we sat -- a Bourbon Barrel Aged Baltic Porter on Cherries.  Its a mouthful to even say, and it only gets more difficult on the second and third samplings.  The fourth request is simply the glassmouth pointed at the tap handle.

Therefore, it is my feeling that this beer should have a much more assertive name, like Laryngeal Kick or Wolf Bear, because this stuff is steady with the badassery yet bristling with indignation.  This beer's slogan should be "because why the fuck not, that's why".  It is that cold blooded.

If you've ever tried the base beer -- H&G's Baltic Porter -- you would remember that this was already a massively complex beer, with roasted coffee, cocoa, toffee, vanilla, and burnt malts -- but in this iteration, the Baltic Porter was further enhanced by age in Maker's Mark barrels, then imparted with black cherries to add luxurious, muddled Old Fashioned flavor profile.  Altogether, this beer is as graceful as it is playful.

You could say that I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life.

ABV ~10.o%
Acquired Hops & Grain tasting room
Can I Find This in Austin? The final keg has been tapped in H&G's tasting room
Album Lord Huron | Lonesome Dreams (2012)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Buddha's Brew American Wild Ale w/ Kombucha | Jester King Brewing | Austin, TX

As the Austin beer colony continues to thrive like the beginnings of a fertile Mesopotamian dynasty, Jester King stands as Hammurabi, governors to technique and style progression, while also bearing their trumpet towards the outside lands; allocating a small inventory to leave the city walls before it is pillaged and plundered by dehydrated locals.

As it stands, our local breweries can only narrowly keep up with our hefty demands for regionalistic Jesus Juice; where our most expeditious brewery, Austin Beerworks, is on a Philippides pace to outgrow last year's production by 400%.  Yes, a FOUR ... with TWO fucking zeros behind it.  Frankly, that's too quick for me to even comprehend.  I would need ESPN to do a Sports Science demonstration, with Chris Johnson as Austin Beerworks and my consumption-soaked gastrointestinal tract as LP Field.

And yet still, over the last year, Austinites cannot be sated with just 19 local breweries and brewpubs, a mere dent to Porland, Oregon's or San Diego's battleships.  But the demand for MORE MORE MORE has shifted to BETTER BETTER BETTER, and those who've drank their way through this city certainly know that this is the state of progression in Austin.  Though comparatively in its infancy, the quality of  product is at or near the esteem of the plutocracies in the West Coast, the Northwest, and the Midwest.

Still though, Austin remains on an island of innovation without a realistic means for broadcasting the news of our kickassery by way of a tangible, exported product -- and because so, unless you are a trader or festival go-er, your chances to taste what is offered here is like dialing French Laundry during dinner service to ask if there is a wait.

And where I'm going with this, is that Jester King has begun to make the ballsy tread from the shallow end of Austin's imaginary distribution boundaries.  Reports are, that there is some high quality grade shit as far as Orange County and Chicago. 

That brings forth the question: Now that Jester King is a hotly popular and nationally coveted product, are they still just a beer label, or are they now a brand?

I will admit that when I do write about Jester King, its like major link-bait for the pee sitters over at Beer Advocate, and possibly for others who avoid that site entirely because they already know how to read at an elementary level.  In this way, I consider reputation to precede merit the way any trendy brand might.

Jester King releases beers like the cast of Glee releases pop singles -- and while I can see the indelible charm of having a clever rotation of seasonals and a baiting anticipation of rare one-offs, the grind that Jester King has become, is that few are still giving heed to the beer itself, and are scrambling around town like self-serving jerk-offs because Jester King is their brand.  Its kind-of the same approach one might have towards Russian River, where, regardless of the bottles contents, the fact that it was crafted at the hands of Russian River was 'good enough'.  I'm guilty of it.  Recently, bought another one of these just because it was available to me.  I potentially screwed someone else who may have really wanted it.

So, my hesitation with Jester King is that good is the enemy of great, and often times, I feel like I've spent a minor fortune on just a nice flight of bottles, just not a great one.  Without coming off too critically of a fantastic brewery -- a brewery fast approaching the superiority of one of my favorite breweries of all time, Jolly Pumpkin -- I only want to see more correspondence between consistency, availability, and premium.  In an industry where money and support are parceled out awfully stingily, I do find that Jester King is a place where enthusiasts can gather, and they will shower us with love and generosity. 

But then they took it beyond that.  WAAY beyond love and generosity with the release of this magical thing:  Buddha's Brew.

This beer created my renewed vigor for Jester King.  I wish I could jump through this page to tell you in person how it had done just that, and that I was a giant tit for only grabbing one when so many more were available to me.  This is how far being flippant gets you: one bottle of Buddha's Brew.  Shit.

Many of you in the audience have already read about my opinion on Austin Beerworks' Einhorn -- I know this because I just checked its readership stats, and it just annihilates the next closest by several hundreds -- and I really haven't had the same immediate addiction to a beer since then until I experienced Buddha's Brew.

There are beers made locally that I love like a beautiful and faithful companion -- Hops & Grain Alt-eration, ABW Pearl Snap, Thirsty Planet Jittery Monk come to mind, and those are all pretty wonderful -- but Buddha's Brew is just gnarly teenage hormones.

It is both discretely saccharine and devilishly tart -- a clandestine sour ale with surreptitious balance, it is truly the first recipe from the brewhouse that I felt was under their absolute, expert control.  That is not a jab in any way -- instead, a huge ovation for their practices and tuned technical refinement, since they are most famous for using such highly volatile brewing methods and ingredients.  And that does not even mention the confident use of a monstrously unpredictable focal ingredient, kombucha tea (from Austin's Buddha's Brew, natch), which in and of itself is riddled with wild yeasts, bacteria, and other ferementable variables.

Buddha's Brew was soured and bright and complex, yet deftly clear in focus.  It was refreshing, but worthy of late-evening, fireside enjoyment.  Lemons without insistence on lemonade.  Really, just perfect.

I was completely floored.  It was fantastic.  This was the beer that could define Jester King's legacy -- an agile and daring wild ale -- all while they continue to accomodate the real world with other nice varietals.

But this was it: the iconoclast to the religious followers of Jester King. 

ABV 4.7%
Acquired East 1st Grocery
Can I Find This in Austin? Good luck. A trade might yield better results.
Album Interpol | Antics (2004)

Monday, December 3, 2012

[A Beer a Day] An Audio Collab: Peach Porch Lounger Ale ft. G. Love | New Belgium Brewing | Ft. Collins, CO vs. Positive Contact Beer Cider ft. Dan the Automator | Dogfish Head Brewing | Milton, DE

I am solidly convinced that 90% of the reason collaboration beers even exist -- and becoming rampantly faddish in the commonwealth of craft -- is to bring notably absent beer labels to a region where the one half of the operation can sneak under enemy lines without receiving official state licensing.  I think this is an excellent strategy implemented by these small-but-wildly-popular craft breweries from places that I assume the owls of the Texas ABC view as far-off, not-America provinces, like Michigan, Oregon, and California.  In doing these collabs, these perceived meek mice of the brewing industry are provided an economical opportunity to scramble past the billion dollar beverage commissions and into the welcoming coverall pockets of us Lennies of the beer collecting universe.

Something that is puzzling and counter-intuitive and altogether ironic about the whole process, however, is that collaboration beers tend to be considerable letdowns.  In the larger picture, collaboration beers suffer from the fragmentation of too many brewers in the kettle -- and honestly -- would be more engaging having Yates write the final manuscript, without the influence of Whitman and Melville affecting the story's central thesis.

But for everything collaboration beers are not, there is one very important aspect of their masonry that makes up for all their unintentionally twisted embellishment; the remaining percentage of 10 for which collaborations even exist in the first place: because drinking them is A LOT of fucking fun.

Apart from the scarcity of these limited releases, the hunt through each shop's beer-brary in search of the rarity, and the perception that two (or three) giants of the industry gathered together in reasonable proximity to make this specialty recipe, it is a most compelling of the collaboration beer for the drinker to pick the nuances of each master's hand that define the beer itself.  Typically, collaboration beers have philosophical landmarks from each brewery's tendencies: Belgian yeasts, bacterial inoculation, bittering hops, and so on, making the beer more like Scattergories than Jenga.

But what is most unusual about the two beers in this article, is that they weren't produced in partnership with people of the industry -- but with musical artists, who before now, I would have assumed, cared fuck-all about the brewing process.

However these relationships came to be, I was focused more on the fact that two of my favorite US brewers decided to honor both the primary and secondary theme of [AA] -- and that is beer and music.  And on a Friday night in Austin, a paring of the two is right in our honey holes.  It is something we like to insufferably blog about.

My first impressions of Peach Porch Lounger was, of course, largely visual.  Holding it in my excited grip I was dizzy with enthusiasm reading its contents:  Peach, lemon, other great shit that tastes great in beer.  And did I mention peach?  This past summer, I really got into the magnificence of peach-influenced beers -- and with this one being brewed under the banner of New Belgium's magnificent Lips of Faith series (La Folie, Tart Lychee, Cocoa Mole) I was ready for some serious alone time with it.

The second piece of visual information came to me in the image of a screen-printed bluegrassy-looking yokel, who, upon further investigation, ended up being something called Garrett Dutton of G. Love and Special Sauce.  What, was Jack Johnson unavailable?

I was genuinely surprised to hear that G. Love still got work, particularly as an interpretive brewer.  So, this restored my faith that I could still play for Newcastle United someday in the future.  But possibly more surprising, was that these delicate ingredients yielded a 9% denture rattler.

It appeared that New Belgium was attempting to intonate southern-inspired, hot-weather beer which would not only replicate something like a sweet tea, but a replacement for porch-tea altogether.  Brilliant, I thought.  All of this really coincides with New Belgium's inward facing determination of their Lips of Faith series -- although I still did have some bewilderment with the inclusion of the dude who wrote a song called Baby's Got Sauce.  (But hey, at least it wasn't Sublime).

My final impression of the beer erased any and all doubts of what New Belgium could really do with this limited release brew.  The infusion of lemon, peaches, and wild brettanomyces gave the sauce a very notable, albeit subtle, southern dialect.  Like 1,000 times better than any accent on The Walking Dead.  Autumn peaches and banana-inspired funk -- much like a fall hefeweizen -- were locked in a romantic hold.  It sort of stupidly reminded me of a mid-mall Orange Julius -- frothy, tropical, creamy -- and at 9.4%, disguised the enormous alcohol content like bluegrass disguises the upright bass -- that is, until you start to feel it thump you right in the head, making you aware of its existence.

ABV 9.4%
Acquired East 1st Grocery
Can I Find This in Austin? Yes, but disappearing quickly.  See above.
Album Charles Bradley | No Time for Dreaming (2010)

Everything that went right with Peach Porch Lounger, took a total, record-scratching halt in Dogfish Head's Positive Contact, which was brewed in conjunction with the shrewdly gifted musician and producer, Dan the Automator -- a man responsible for some of the most ingenious collaborations in modern music: Handsome Boy Modeling School (with Prince Paul), Deltron 3030 (with Del and Kid Koala), and Gorillaz (with an entire spectrum of indie and hip hop demi-gods).  But for every bit of controlled edginess and creative harmony in all of his other projects, Positive Contact was a cacophony of horribly engineered notes, complete with the drummer falling forward through his seven piece kit as a result of a bad Molly bender.

Positive Contact broke a cardinal sin in brewing experimentation -- and when you infuse beer with apple cider, cayenne, and fresh cilantro, thats exactly what one is going for -- experimentation.

The beer was soapy.

Typically this is a result of fermenting the beer in the primary for too long, but because Dogfish Head are scholars of the brewing business, I sincerely doubt that this beer was mishandled.  I just have to believe that this recipe had no chance to succeed and was fucked from the word Go.

But the problems didn't stop there, no.  An acetaldehyde flavor was very prescient -- typically caused by infected beer, leaving a tart, cidery, apple taste -- but again, not because of mismanagement, but because of ingredients.  Whereas wild ales would welcome these sour notes, this beer was not intended to taste like a stocking stuffer from Bath & Body Works.

Mercifully, Positive Contact finished up with itself -- but not before some disconcerting heat from the cayenne to heckle you from the gallery, leaving a trail of Skittle-like lava-phlegm that is damn near impossible to hack out without losing your uvula.

While Positive Contact had all the ambition of Plastic Beach, it all really amounted to a Damon Albarn rendition of Banana Pancakes, and that's just one fucking mess.

ABV 9.0%
Acquired Spec's
Can I Find This in Austin? I wouldn't recommend seeking out the few left.
Album James Blunt | Back to Bedlam (2004)