Monday, January 7, 2013

Horchata Milk Stout | Hops & Grain Brewing | Austin, TX

I recently read that Texas drank 45 million gallons of beer in December of 2012.  We have always been considered a state of debauched madness -- and it was the season for self-medication into a civilized and generally obedient family member -- but that statistic is simply fantastic.  Even if craft beer accounted for a modest margin of that total, it still indicates that there is a progressively growing interest in casual beer, particularly when traditionally, December calls for big Malbecs, fortified wines, rum nogs, and other seasonal spirits.  Moreover, last month was a non-music-festival, non-college-football month, which makes the idea of each Texan consuming almost two gallons per, even more astounding.  The implication here is that adjunct beer from the Big 3 may have even been a sort-of afterthought in favor of large-format craft beer at the Christmas dinner table.  And that makes us go all Judd Nelson at the end of The Breakfast Club.

I think that this statistic resoundingly suggests that beer is now an appendage of the holiday season -- friends not only sharing, but spreading the social anthropology of beer during important events besides the parking asphalt and the 3rd Sleigh Bells show of SXSW; and that is something that we fully endorse and promote on [AA].  But what is most remarkable about this stat, is that it suggests the beer movement is not only an organic one, but one that is approachable.  This is a huge transition for a traditionally craft-deficient state.

And when The Austin Chronicle intimates that two of Austin's Top 10 food blogs of 2012 are sites that singularly concentrate on beer, and when internationally recognized food sites, like Scrumptious Chef, suggest that one of the Top 5 blogs of 2012 was not a food site at all, but a beer blog, and when host sites like The Daily Meal contact beer writers directly to request content, it can be deduced that craft beer is being taken much more seriously as an artisinal consumable than it was even just one year ago.

The success of this communal movement has its roots in modest, but resolute sites like the Austin Beer Guide, You Stay Hoppy Austin, and Bitch Beer Blog, while major beer sites like Beer Advocate, ironic as it is comical, serve to ridicule it with their insular mindset of England for the English!  It invalidates the ideas of inclusivity for the casual beer-curious person and promotes insular groupthink by shutting out pesky newbs -- a subsequent betrayal of the principles we all thought we had signed up for. 

This behavior, naturally, is spearheaded by founder and woeful lunkhead, Todd Alstrom, whom also happens to  be one of the most repellant people on the face of the earth.  His actions and flippant attitude towards other beer enthusiasts is one that can be interpreted as beneath him, which is an attitude that trickles all the way down to his community forums and user-scribed aggregate reviews, thus making it the YELP! of beer -- but with a community of less stable-minded users.  Imagine the horrid place where Yelpers are considered reasonable.

This is why few of industry significance associates with the site or its owners more than they have to, treating it like a rest stop bathroom where one is bound by the emergency of business, but not eager to hang around or really touch anything while inside.  And this is supposed to be the internet home of craft culture.

After some casual sleuthing on the Googletrons about Todd, it turns out that he makes the entire beer landscape fucking sick all over.  I thought that I disliked him with a deranged passion, but I couldn't possibly do so more than Clown Shoes microbrewery or the family he ridiculed as Hurricane Sandy approached the East Coast.  Reading around the web, it is a possibility that you haven't really delved into craft beer until you have a negative association with Todd.

Some of the opinions I've read express that Todd can "do whatever he wants ... because it's his site", which is a dangerous and lazy consideration of the subject.  Unfortunately, Beer Advocate is the digital face of the craft movement, and therefore, his responsibility to present its tenuous progress as approachable, welcoming, and warm are ideas that have befuddled him.

Thankfully, there is an equally large and influential counterbalance to Todd's menacing act, and those are the breweries themselves -- headed by figureheads of ambitious entrepreneurs and clever brewmasters.

One example, is Austin Beer Guide's Editor's Choice for Best Beer Advocate, Jake Maddox from Thirsty Planet Brewery who is, without hesitation, one of the most sincere people I've had the pleasure to drink with.  What is spectacular is that Jake has a Jeopardy-like understanding of topics far beyond brewing, which makes him easy to relate to on topics beyond my limited beer expertise.  The entire A-team at Austin Beerworks have the same approachable attitudes, except with a sardonic wit that is as charming as spending an entire afternoon browsing Know Your Meme

Then, there is Josh Hare, owner/brewer of Hops & Grain Brewery, and Austin Beer Guide Reader's Choice for Best Beer Advocate; the consummate earnest-guy-looking-earnest.  You know the one, the dude that makes success look so fucking easy, like 2005 Vince Young or George Strait. 

And despite the accolades, Josh remains humble, approachable, charismatic -- and isn't that truly the mark of beer advocacy?

That is Horchata Milk Stout.  It was brewed in collaboration between Hops & Grain and the winner of this open Greenhouse Series contest where a fan could submit a recipe for a potential future seasonal beer to be made by the brewery if the most people voted for it.  One recipe went 90's NFC East on its competition.  It was like watching an imminent Super Bowl champion move through the playoffs with total dominance.

That winner was my wife.  Homebrewer, ace badass, and, yes, a true beer advocate.  After review of over 70 recipes, fans of Hops & Grain, as well as the brew staff themselves, thought Horchata Milk Stout was worth making and releasing as part of their outstanding small-batch Greenhouse series.

I just about lost my shit, I was so proud.  Over the course of several weeks, Hops & Grain invited her to the brewery to tweak the recipe, replicate her amazing horchata that would eventually infuse the base-stout in the fermenter, stir-in and clean-out, and eventually sample some of the first sips from a mercantile tap.  If that is not the very foundation of brewer-consumer propagation, then such a concept doesn't even exist.

In great company at Drink.Well.
I will be up front and tell you that there is no chance for me to be unbiased in my opinion of this beer.  It is the charming byproduct of sharp intuitiveness and master technique.  It is the adept cooperation between design and execution.  It is the study in the fine art between expert and apprentice.  There is just no way for me to believe that this beer isn't perfect, because beyond the elements of flavor and mouthfeel and other nerded-out beer critique, it was conceptualized with cultural intent as pure as the driven snow.  True beer advocacy.

But beyond all that colloquial bullshit, the beer itself does happen to be fucking amazing.  I was most surprised by its coffee notes and spicy dry cinnamon bark.  There is a subtle sweetness from the rice milk, and a nice, dry finish that implies hard caramel, 70% dark chocolate, hazelnut and dulce de leche.  It reminded me more of an Horchata Latte than an agua fresca, which worked very, very well for a winter seasonal.  And at a clever 7% ABV, it really straddles the elements between the composure of Christmas morning and the depravity of New Years Eve. 

ABV 7.o%
Acquired Drink.Well. American Pub
Can I Find This in Austin? Currently only at DrinkWell and the H&G Taproom (F/2-6, S/12-4)
Album Billie Holiday | Stay with Me (1955)


Austin Beerworks said...

A quick note on those TABC stats: Pretty much all craft beer fits into the "Malt Liquor / Ale" category. That's the TABC's way of labeling anything over 5%ABV, which most craft beer is. And, a big chunk of that category's sales are from the big guys. Mickey's, OE, Ice beers, etc. So craft beer probably only makes up about 6% of the total beer consumed in the state. But, that number is growing fast.

Secondly, your mom is a meme.


Mo G. said...

Thanks for the stats ABW. I think there is something to be said about 6% of that market being during a traditionally wine and cocktail month, and without football or festivals to compensate. I would really like to see the breakdown, tho I think stats like that might be impossible to find.

Secondly, my feelings are hurt.

Jason Lindgren said...

You wife, good sir, is a geeeeeenious.

Chris Troutman said...

Nice post.
I'd be interested in seeing these numbers against March or September.
Also, I agree. Todd is a turd.

Mo G. said...

Chris, I remember reading that last march alone in Austin, there were $55 million in alcohol sales. That is a lot of damn booze. Of course, two weeks of sxsw has a lot to do with that, and not all of it is beer ... but I'm seeing PRIME opportunity between craft and sxsw in the future.

Jason, thanks dude! I guess I'll have to keep her!

Marco Polo said...

Todd is a d-bag and half their members are ass hats. Lately, I've been left with a bad taste in my mouth when visiting BA. Great write up.