Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Farm to Kettle: Shiner FM 966 | Spoezl Brewing | Shiner, TX & Farmhand | Brewery Vivant | Grand Rapids, MI

Farmhouse ales are my fucking jam.  For every winter stout and barleywine I bark about on [AA], there is an equally reactive primal response on this site regarding a great summer saison or biere de garde.

Like the first time I tried an IPA in the long-since-genetically-altered campus Trudy's in the mid-1990s, farmhouse ales give the same suggestion of a big ridiculous mess -- a joyful abandon and rambling digression from the tradition of American brewing.  Whereas over the last decade, so many US micros were integrating massive hop varietals into their pale ales to coax a heavily-bittered nuance, creating their own individualized version of an old British colonial recipe, a few brewing extremists tasked themselves with modernizing the traditional Belgian/French estate-style beer, and making it friendly for the American palate.

In this category, brewers manipulate delicate yeast strains -- and not necessarily hops -- to showcase the style's unmistakable barnyard characteristic.  Because yeast strains are as influential as hops agents, small yeast variants can impose a dialectical change in its entire beer vernacular: earthy, bready, sour, spicy, dry.  Farmhouse beers are tricky, but making one correctly is true love.

Two of these dedicated farmhouse breweries are Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY and Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Traverse City, MI.  Two programs whose wares are as pastoral as they are bucolic, essentially pioneering the American version of the farmhouse ale and heavily inspiring well-known offshoots like Hill Farmstead, Funkwerks, and Austin's own Jester KingBrewery Vivant of Grand Rapids, MI-- one of the subjects of this very piece -- is sworn to the Belgian style ale, farmhouses amongst them.  What they have accomplished in just two dozen months in Western Michigan has yielded impressive accolades from peers and fans nationwide -- not only through some of the finest beer in the country, but with accomplishments like becoming the first LEED-certified brewery in the United States.  Sustainable brewing is the cornerstone of craft culture, and philosophically accordant with the Belgian brewers of the rustic past.

But because of its demonstrative upward-trending popularity in The US, other traditionally American-derived breweries will take a fade away shot at a farmhouse ale just to see if they could opportunely drain one from midcourt.  Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City comes to the forefront of my mind, making Tank 7 Saison seem like a finger roll layup instead of a trick shot.  It is absolutely stellar.

Spoetzl Brewing of Texas -- more famously know as Shiner (and initial provider to Austin's early craft palate) -- is one of these brewhouses taking a shot at a farmhouse ale, because, well, I don't really know why at all.

It is unusual behavior for Shiner in two ways in that -- 1) it is only the second time they've brewed an ale, and 2) the brewery traditionally crafts German and Czech style lagers -- their nod to the Bavarian roots of Central Texas -- and have never really dabbled outside of the styles familiar to this distinct beer making region.

For a brand that appears to be stumbling closer to their craft demise, Shiner appears to be really making an effort to maintain their legendary status as Texas' primary choice for imbibing; not only for the college bros, but for the older, bearded, discerning bro as well.

Because they are the responsible party for Austin's ancient assimilation into craft culture, in my opinion at least, Shiner gets a lifetime pass.  Without realizing it three decades ago, Austinites -- and Texans as a whole -- were becoming a natural fit with Shiner and the culture behind something as atypical as a malty, dark beer in the face of wildly popular low-cal adjunct lagers lighting up other mid-size college towns.  It seemed so unusual to people outside of Austin that everyone here drank Shiner Bock, that the city and the beer practically became synonymous.  To visit Austin was to drink Shiner.  Shoot, between Shiner Bock and Celis Pale Bock, you couldn't throw a Tamgotchi at La Zona Rosa in the 1990s and fail to hit someone double fisting.  And we owe them a lot for that.

Austinites today, continue to embrace the Shiner brand without the same derision allotted to similarly waning companies like Sam Adams or Rock Bottom.

And still, every time I see a new Shiner label at the beer store, its like finding a new e-cards squatting in my newsfeed -- I just know I should ignore it because its total artlessness will just piss me the fuck off, but I can't help but to accommodate the sorry bastard who thought it was a good idea.

I try not to disparage Shiner too much in a fit of hopeless annoyance, because i don't want to meekly come back to it with hat in hand, like the friend who writes off Facebook, only to re-invest in its stupidity a week later.  All Shiner is drinkable.  Good, even.  Shiner serves a purpose, and like listening to music in the car when you're unable to choose it, sometimes it hits you right in the heart.

But what about this Farmhouse?  Will it cause damage to my soul in a fit of flim-flamming what the fuck?

The beer industry is all about underdogs.  Its the very spirit of the industry, actually -- success in the face of poor odds.  In the beer industry, the house often wins -- but sometimes, the small blind pulls rockets against the button.  So, I felt it my due-diligence to take the $2 plunge.

There aren't a whole lot of details to discuss here.  And because I'm always deflecting [AA] as a review site (because we're not, dammit), I want to talk more about the ambiance of FM 966.

Yes, like every other Shiner product I've had, its completely drinkable (hey, I even like Smokehaus!).  Is it going to grace the dinner party table?  Probably not.  But it would likely hold up at a pot luck.

What Shiner FM 966 is, is a lo-fi version of a farmhouse ale.  A rough draft.  Freshman English to Jolly Pumpkin's Master's Thesis.  And that's okay.  Sessionable porch drinking is what Shiner's empire was built around, and this is exactly what you will be doing with this.  In a mix pack.  Because honestly, I probably couldn't finish 6 of these with a serious face.

Nor does it pair well with Elastica. 

ABV 5.7%
Acquired Boring ol' HEB
Can I Find This in Austin? Pretty much everywhere you can flick a pog at.
Album Barenaked Ladies | Disc 1: All Their Greatest Hits 1991-2001 (2001) 

Its almost unfair to legitimately parse Farmhand into this beer article like Jim Duggan AND the Hart Foundation vs. Dino Bravo in Royal Rumble 2.  This is the goddam Pro-Bowl of farmhouse ales -- and none of that selection-refusing, arm-tackling, motion-going exhibition in Hawaii.  This is, like, whatever the first Pro Bowl was like, with hard hits, and game planned complexity, and pride, and whatever mindblowing awe one could muster from the feeling of witnessing a coalition of the planet's biggest, baddest humans paid to kill.

Kill to death.

It is Beethoven reworking Dark Side of the Moon while the USC song girls shoot out a confetti of blotter acid from a t-shirt cannon.  Melt your face, muthers.  Drink this so hard like a boss on a farm.  To death.

ABV  5.o%
Acquired The Big 10 (East Lansing, MI)
Can I Find This in Austin? No, but you can get a bit of an idea by trying their Lips of Faith collaboration w/ New Belgium called Biere de Garde. On Tap at Black Star, or at the better beer outlets.
Album Bon Iver | For Emma Forever Ago (2008), or Beethoven's Dark Side of the Moon

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