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.
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)