Beer and Pavement

Tempering Expectations

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Records by Zac on January 24, 2014

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Hopslam arrived here in frigid Middle Missouri and it brought along with it loads of hype and hops. My love for the beer has cooled but not totally gone cold. I have learned to temper my expectations, not lower them. This is a lesson learned from years of buying records and seeing rock shows. See, this blog’s original premise still works.

See, a beer like Hopslam is almost as much about hype as it is anything else. It’s released only once a year in limited quantities. It’s a beer geek’s beer, loaded with hops and booze. Those bright green labels picturing a poor bloke begin crushed by a giant hop calls craft beer consumers like voiceless sirens. (Can that even work?) The ~$20 makes you think that it’s a big deal. Oh, and it is a pretty good beer.

However, the next Hopslam doesn’t ever taste like the first one. This year’s version never tastes as good as last year’s or the one you drank seven years ago. I don’t know if it’s a problem of drinkers building it up too much in their own minds or something more akin to a heroin addiction. It’s probably a little of both. Either way, the hype and misperception leads to bitter disappointment every time.

Still, Hopslam is an excellent beer. I have come to expect a well-crafted beer that hides an incredible amount of booze while introducing my palate to some sweetness and bitterness without fail. What I don’t expect is the same burst of grapefruit or cat piss or whatever aromas the hops might unleash. It seems that big DIPA’s like this are really dependent on a large amount of hops. If one harvest or another is slightly off or just different in one way or another, the effects are magnified. The beer tastes different every year, but it is always well-brewed and worth a try.

I’m good with Hopslam these days, but that wasn’t always the case. Two or three Hopslams ago, the beer didn’t meet my expectations. I wanted that crazy honey-coated grapefruitiness that smelled of a cat lady’s house sweater I tasted just the year or two before. However, as explained above, the beer was different. On top of this disappointment, I really had to go out of my way to spend a lot of money on beer. Here in Middle Missouri, Hopslam lasts tens of minutes, not days or hours. So, if you want some, you better be prepared to stalk the local beer dealer. Then, you’ll pay $20 a sixer. I used to buy at least two, sometime more. If I had to work that hard and spend that much money on a beer, it better meet my expectations.

Hopslam didn’t meet those expectations. So, something had to change. Last year, I didn’t buy any in bottles, only on tap. The 2-3 Hopslams (plus a bottle from a friend) were more than enough. I didn’t overdo it. I don’t blow a wad of cash. It was a good beer among many. I was satisfied, but my exportations were not lowered as much as they were tempered. “Enjoy the Hopslam, not the Hypeslam” was my new mantra and it worked.

2014’s version rolled out this past week and I welcomed it. I wasn’t going to buy a sixer this year. I have a deal with my mom to grab one in Ohio where it sometimes sits on shelfs for weeks or months. Then, coworkers were running out in the middle of the day to see if the grocery nearby had some Hopslam. I joined them and scored a sixer. One’s enough.

I won’t write a beer review now. You should know that this year’s version is good. I’m glad I bought some and look forward to having more on tap or in a few weeks when my mom delivers the sixer she bought for me.

What I wanted to focus on was the idea of tempering expectations. As I mentioned above, tempering expectations is something I do. However, the ability to do such with beer has been a recent development. No, I’ve been tempering expectations for a long time in terms of what I expect to get from a new record or rock show.

I realize that it’s semantics and someone will undoubtedly argue that tempering expectations is the same as lowering them, but this is my blog post and I say it isn’t the same. Tempering expectations considers contexts and past experiences. It keeps me in the moment and more mindful of what I am experiencing. Tempering expectations doesn’t allow those expectations or preconceived ideas to taint reality. Instead, I can enjoy the experience in real time.

Take Stephen Malkmus’ new album Wig Out at Jagbags as an example. I loved, LOVED Mirror Traffic. My expectations were high for Jagbags, but I realized that this was going to be a different record and it needed its own opportunity to win me over. Of course, the album didn’t have to impress me at all. Malkmus has done enough in Pavement and with Jicks to earn my loyalty. Still, I listened with anticipation. To be honest, the first few listens didn’t impress. It took 3-4 concentrated listens for me to appreciate this record, but I did. Is it as good as Traffic? I don’t know. Does it have to be? All I know is that it’s a good record at this moment and I enjoy listening to it.

See? It’s all about tempering those expectations so that we can enjoy what’s right in front of us. Stay in the moment. This year’s Hopslam doesn’t have to be last year’s or the version bottled six years ago.

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Craft Beer’s Hipster Problem

Posted in Beer, Video by Zac on January 23, 2014

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I bristled at the idea of writing yet another post about hipsters, but I felt this had to be addressed.

First, let me say that I am decidedly pro-hipster at best or ambivalent toward them at worst. It’s a label placed on certain stereotypes that I don’t feel like getting into at this point. All you should know is that being a hipster is relative and that we’re all hipsters compared to someone.

When I say that craft beer has a “hipster problem”, what I am referring to is a perception of pretentiousness. Hipsters – right or wrong – are seen as pretentious. Whether it’s fashion, music, transportation, decor, or food, “hipster” is considered equivalent to “pretentious douchebag.” So, maybe it’s hipsters with the problem, but I digress.

Craft beer is neither exclusive to hipsters nor pretentious. However, as they say, perception is reality. And the perception is that craft beer is exclusive and loved by snobs. Exclusivity these days is blamed on hipsters for whatever reason.

The actual reality is that craft beer is decidedly not a hipster thing. The movement has been around for a while. The people I connect with craft beer are not very hipster-like. Just within my social circles, craft beer enthusiasts aren’t exactly the hippest lot. This is not a putdown. It’s just a reality. They are mainly white men aged 30-50. Yes, some of them own an Arcade Fire CD. Yes, some will wear ironic t-shirts. However, these are fairly benign practices these days. Ten years ago, they totally would have been hipsters. In 2014, not so much.

Now, a lot of hipsters are getting into craft beer. It’s artisinal. It’s really popular right now. It’s beard friendly. There’s a lot in the craft beer community for hipsters to like. However, when push comes to shove (and as the wallet empties), PBR and Hi-Life aren’t that bad.

Seriously. Craft beer is attractive to the North American Hipster because craft beer tastes good and gets us a little tipsy. That’s basically the same reason we all love it.

The more insidious part of craft beer’s perception problem is the pretentiousness with which the community has been unfairly labeled. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it features exotic flavors and production techniques. Yes, it’s better than what you normally drink. Yes, they have silly names. However, a preference for the finer things does not necessarily mean that one is pretentious.

If anything, craft beer enthusiasts and brewers are some of the least pretentious people I know. They willingly share. They participate in online forums such as this one. They share. They fucking drink beer with you. And they share.

I don’t know how craft beer can fix their “hipster problem.” I suggest we all continue to buy beers for our more skeptical friends and drink an industrial, rice-adjunct lager now and again just to show our more human side. The hipster perception is not a problem. Trust me. But the perception of beer snobbery is and we must do what we can to fix it.

(Maybe I should do the same for indie rock. Right, Taylor Swift?)

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2013: What happened?

Posted in Beer, Life, Live, Meta, Mikkeller, Records by Zac on December 31, 2013

2013 Calendar from Never Sleeping

I have been absent from this blog and blogging in general. Honestly, I thought I was done with it. Life happened and time became scarce. It was time to move on…

…or so I thought.

Life happened in 2013 and sometimes there’s just no room for such frivolities like keeping a public journal or pretending to be a journalist. This is the year I started a PhD program – part-time, but a PhD nonetheless. It’s also the year we learned that we would be expecting another child around mid-February (2 months to go!). Throw on top of that a promotion to a supervisory role and a major expansion to our organization and you have a pretty busy year.

Normally, this hasn’t stopped me from writing. However, I needed to step back for a bit. This blogging thing gets in the way of living now and again. A break was in order. So, 2013 is pretty lame as far as blogging goes.

So, I’m thinking about doing this all again. Why? I don’t really know. It’s just an itch that needs to be scratched, I guess. I’m promising nothing. I won’t promise a certain quantity or quality of posts. I’m not promising anything in regards to topics. You know what I like. so, you can reasonably expect more of the same… for the most part.

I still listen to music. I have a favorites list for 2013, of course. It felt weird not tow write up a blog post on the subject, so I’ll include a bit about it. First of all, I won’t rank my favorites. I’ll just give you ten records you should check out.

The year was filled with old favorites as well as a running theme in my musical choices. Yo La Tengo released their best record in years with Fade. Especially amazing is the track “I’ll Be Around.” Another year and another Arcade Fire makes my year-end list. Unlike past releases, Reflektor is low on the thematic end, but it’s ueber-fresh. Kurt Vile’s Walkin on a Pretty Daze is my favorite KV record so far. Bill Callahan is Bill Callahan. Dream River is just another addition to what is becoming the best collection of songwriting in the modern indie era or something like that. I saw Thao Nguyen and her band The Get Down Stay Down earlier this year put on one of the best shows I’ve seen in Middle Missouri. Her record We the Common didn’t hurt either. The Chronicles of Marnia by Marnie Stern was a surprising discovery that fulfills my guitar noodling needs for another calendar year.

Then, there’s a list of records that continues a trend in my listening habits of recent years: grrl rock bands that sound like they’re straight out of 1995. Waxahatchee might be my most-listened to record of 2013. It sounds like my entire college years as seen through a small town lesbian. (I have no idea whether or not Katie Crutchfield is gay, nor do I care. I just imagine the main character in her songs to be this angst-ridden lesbian from 1994. It helps with the narrative, but it doesn’t have to be true.) Scout Niblett’s “Gun” was one of those songs I played over and over. The rest of the record isn’t filled with scrubs either. Radical Dads was a surprise find, but pretty aggressive in that 1994 kind of way. Marnie Stern is a one-womyn Van Halen. Lady and the Lamb was a last-second addition to the list, but Ripley Pine is certainly worth your time.

Of course, there are others that won’t make my list, but there always are. There are other lists I could add to this one, but I’ll just conclude with a list of memorable things and events from the year that saw me lose my blogging groove only to find it once more…

  • My beer fandom has faded a bit, but I’ve had some outstanding brews this year. Follow me at Untappd.
  • I went to Copenhagen and spent lots of time drinking my way through Mikkeller‘s lineup.
  • I watched a lot of TV. The League, Walking Dead, and Girls are highlights.
  • I don’t read enough books or watch enough films.
  • I saw Jeff Mangum perform twice, once with the rest of Neutral Milk Hotel and once solo.
  • I don’t remember whether or not I mentioned this, but we found out earlier this year that my partner is pregnant. Child 2 arrives in mid-to-late February.

Here’s to a fruitful 2014. I hope you all are well. Peace.

Damn it, Jim!

Posted in Beer, Challenge, Intersections, Life, Meta by Zac on April 15, 2013

Jim wrote a post for the Today Show – his side gig – and now I feel as if I need to write an update since he linked my name back to this blog. People are surely going to click through to this blog and find nothing’s up-to-date. I gotta get current.

I mean, I did promise more posts recently, but my life has been crazy as of late. I’ll start with some bits from an unfinished post and then bring you all up to date. Maybe I’ll kick this thing back into gear soon enough…

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Several weeks ago, I was set to DJ between some great local bands (Coward, Dark Blue Dark Green) for the release of New Tongue‘s excellent and very well received We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For. Had things gone as planned, I surely would have penned a full review of the festivities and what I spun on some borrowed dex. Then, I earned the nickname DJ Blackout.

Before I was set to spin, I was sitting with some guys in a couple of the bands, finding it harder and harder to follow the conversation. Things got cloudy. I started to sweat profusely. I excused myself to get some fresh air. Several steps toward the door and everything went black. Something/someone hit me hard between the eyes.

I woke up on the floor, wondering how I got there. All I could think was that I had planned to stay in that night, but I must have gone on some legendary binge. Someone cold-cocked me… or so I thought. This apparently was not the case.

People were all around me, asking if I was okay. With some help, I stumbled to my feet and located my glasses a couple of feet away. Soon, friends were there to steady me and grab me a chair. Eventually, they moved me to a table with water and orange juice.

I honestly have no idea what happened. Later that night, I insisted my wife take me to the ER just t make sure nothing was wrong. That is not like me. I hate doctors and hospitals. I was still pretty out of it.

The doctors had nothing for me. I wish I could tell you that I blacked out from drinking some crazy high gravity beers or that some unknown rival drugged my drink or that I got in a fight over which Pavement album is best. None of that occurred. The EKG checked out and my heart was in the clear. The doctors finally determined that I was dehydrated and needed to take it easy.

See, I had been training for a marathon (April 7th) and had run 20 miles the previous Sunday but had not done a good job of re-hydrating over the course of the week. I felt lethargic for a few days after, but things seem to be back to normal and I should be able to run that marathon.

As for why I actually passed out, we may never know. My doctor took some blood and ordered some additional tests, but I doubt anything will come up. The ER didn’t give me an IV. So, I suspect they didn’t think I was all that dehydrated.

Who knows?

What the episode did do was make me think that maybe I need to lay off a bit. I’m DJing (periodically), training for a marathon, taking a grad seminar for a PhD program, taking on more responsibilities at work, blogging (sort of), and generally running all over the place.

So, to put it succinctly, I’ve been busy.

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Fast forward a few weeks to said marathon. The weekend arrived and took it easy. My training had picked up a bit since the blackout incident. (BTW, my 4-year-old now know what “passing out” and E.R. are. So, there’s that.) I felt pretty rested. We had a nice dinner – pasta, of course. I planned to drink a low ABV stout or porter, but none was available. It’s April and bars are not serving many of these beers on tap. So, I opted for 4-Hands’ Reprise Centennial Red and Perennial’s Saison de Lis as they were the lower ABV options available on-tap. That and lots of water.

I barely slept that night, waiting for my 5 am wake-up. Once I did, it was canned coffee, a banana, and a Cliff Bar. I drank water from the time I left the hotel room, rode the MetroLink, and found the porta-potties. Then, I found my pacer (4:15) and waited.

So, I ran. There was the early pit stop to unload all those extra liquids (twice, actually). Anheuser-Busch was brewing and it smelled good – much like my kitchen or any brewpub on brew day. I climbed hills like a champ while others struggled. There was all the extra room when the half-marathoners turned to finish. I constantly cursed relay runners who raced by because they hadn’t yet run the 15-16 miles I had put in. Miles 18-20 was where I began to feel the pain and my pace dropped from that point on. Gatorade and those nasty gels made me nauseous. I turned down multiple shots of beer along the way…

I decided to run the final mile all the way to the end no matter what despite interspersed walking over miles 20-25. Motivation was given in the form of race volunteers telling us runners that it was all downhill to the finish. As I ran, I could see the bottom of this really long hill. The crowd was huge and I could make out some sort of line. However, as I approached, it was clear to me that this line was just some sort of shadow and the finish line was further up the next hill. And just before I reached the end of the hill, I realized that the finish was actually at the top of the next hill and that someone was cooking bacon. This all just made me more nauseous.

Still, I pushed forward. I later found out from my partner who was tracking my progress online that I picked up a ton of time on that final stretch. In my mind, I passed 100 or so people when it was maybe 5. Still, I finished strong. My daughter and wife were nearby to cheer me on and I finished within my predicted window of time.

Considering that I trained for maybe 5 months through the winter for my first-ever marathon – losing ~20 pounds in the process – I was pretty happy with a time of 4:22. I didn’t want any food or water or anything at the end, but I felt pretty good accomplishing a goal I set in the fall. Hell, I may even run another someday.

I eventually cleaned up, ate, and headed home with my family. Nothing tasted better than the beer I finally enjoyed hours after the race. It was my Black Francis Imperial Stout, made with cocoa nibs, vanilla bean, and charred oak cubes all soaked in bourbon. The 9.4% ABV nearly knocked me out for the day.

That night, we attended our first Supper Club event. Supper Club is a group of couples who wanted to attend dinner parties where everything was provided by the hosts. Our group was so large that we split it with a rotating schedule to insure that everyone gets an opportunity to host and eat with everyone else in the group. The first night was a success. I hope to report on the dinner we host this summer where I plan to unveil a new beer I still have to brew. Details to come.

Beyond that (and hinted above) I have been taking on a graduate seminar in Human-Computer Interaction. The big project due at the end of the semester is a small study on the subject. We have human subjects and IRB approval. So, shit’s about to get real. And I will have even less time to blog.

Bill Callahan is coming to town and I will be DJing a joint birthday party for 50-year-olds. So, there’s that.

And I’m updated. Hopefully, I’ll have more interesting things to say in future posts.

Session #71: Brewers and Drinkers

Posted in Beer, The Session by Zac on January 6, 2013

Better late than never, eh?

This month’s session is brought to you by The Homebrew Manual and focuses on the relationship with beer between brewers and drinkers. I consider myself both, but I know of many who are more one or the other. It does taint one’s appreciation of beer, but I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other.

Let’s start with me. I used to be a drinker only. My thinking was that I could never brew something as good as a commercial brewer. And many of the homebrewers I knew proved this to be true. Their beers were mediocre at best and didn’t offer the same wow factor that many commercial breweries offered. I just didn’t see the point of brewing 40-50 bottles of something that wasn’t nearly as good the various different beers I could find at the store or in bars. That and many of these homebrewers seemed ignorant to the tide of craft beer developing under their noses. High IBU’s and ABV’s seemed impossible. “Throw more spice and have another malty beverage!”

So, I threw myself into the craft beer movement. I bought every new release. I built a cellar that might not be the largest you’ve ever seen, it’s still solid in its variety and quality. I lost track of how many beers I had before Untappd (BU), but I have since achieved Legendary status (500 unique beers recorded) with a solid progression toward Extraordinary (1000 different beers). I steeped myself in the culture and blogging community so as to further my enjoyment of craft beer.

Then – I don’t remember whose beer it was – it hit me. It is possible to brew beer at home that’s as good or even better than what the pros produce. It was like a second epiphany. So, I tried some homebrewing. At first, it was a kit that seemed pretty pedestrian, but I didn’t care. It was mine. From there, I completely changed the hop additions and developed an incredible single-hopped Simcoe IPA and the rest was history.

Now, granted, I’ve never moved beyond extract brewing. Some would argue that I don’t really brew. However, I haven’t moved on to all-grain for two simple reasons. First, extract brewing requires less time and is generally simpler. I can steep some specialty grains before I boil for added complexity. Extract brewing is just so easy. Second, my beers have generally been considered “better than extract.” Few have been able to sense the extract and all have loved my beers. I’ve done some insanely hoppy IPA’s/DIPA’s, potent imperial stouts, a ridiculously popular saison, and there’s a boozy Belgian Quad bottle conditioning right now that is loaded with that raisin flavor/aroma brewers strive for.

So, I’m a brewer and a drinker. I don’t think one understands beer better than the other. Brewers can break down a beer into its components, altering the enjoyment from aesthetic-based to one of utility. Each beer is judged like a puzzle, stirring inspiration for the next batch while developing metacognition along the way. Drinkers, however, are not lost in the details and enjoy beer in the moment. Where the brewer tries to experiment with technique and ingredients, the drinker collects and hoards his own variety. Both can be generous with knowledge and refreshment. Both know their stuff. But, most importantly, both appreciate and love beer.

As is usual for this blog, I can find an applicable comparison to musicians and music fans. I am of the latter and not the former. I wish I could play music. I tried teaching myself guitar and bass at one point, but there just wasn’t time in my schedule. Despite my love of the DIY movement, I’ve never really felt that playing music was in the cards for me. However, I don’t appreciate music any less than musicians. I have several musician friends who – for whatever reason – like to read this blog, talk music with me, or come hear me spin. I’m more than a fan. I curate.

But I digress.

Does one need to brew (or play music) to properly appreciate beer (or music)? No. The appreciation is just different. I know a lot more about beer and appreciate a well-made pale ale or Pilsner because of what I know about brewing. However, there are some times when I want to suspend that knowledge and just enjoy the beer for what it is at that moment. Who cares what causes the head retention or that tartness. I just want to appreciate the beer for being a beer.

I don’t ever want to be the brewer that analyzes every beer, sucking out the enjoyment. I don’t want to swayed by technique over the ephemeral. Conversely, I don’t want to drink a beer blindly, ignorant to the efforts that went into making it so great. It’s all about balance.

We need balance in the beer community as well. Drinking beers with only brewers or drinkers makes for a dull, monotonous experience. Beer, as complex as it is, can become a rather boring thing if only seen tasted smelled experienced through one perspective. Beer needs a diversity of thought to be fully appreciated. So, there’s plenty of room for both brewers and drinkers. Also, those of us who float somewhere in between.

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Best Beers of 2012

Posted in Beer by Zac on December 30, 2012

Like making a year-end list of best records, creating a list of one’s favorite is a silly yet necessary exercise. Silly because who really cares? Necessary because everybody’s doing it. In no particular order, here are beers that were either released this year, discovered by me this year, or finally made sense to me this year. I apologize upfront for the IPA-heavy list. I’m a hop head and have trouble remembering what I thought about most sours, stouts, Saisons, etc.

Trappist Westvleteren 12
I’ve had Westy before, but it was a small sample at the end of an evening of craft beer debauchery. My bother “won” one of those lottos just to get a chance to buy and $85 six pack. He shared as family is wont to do over the holiday. Half a bottle was more than enough for me to fully appreciate what many consider to be the best beer in the world. I don’t know about all of that or even if it’s the best Belgian quad, but it’s very very good.

Goose Island King Henry
This may have been released in 2011, but we never saw it locally. One evening in Lincoln, Nebraska at an excellent pizza joint offered me the opportunity to try this magnificent beast.

Bells Black Note Stout
I should not have had a glass of this beer, but I did. A sample was sneaked to me as I had to leave a Bells dinner. Imagine the molasses-fueled deliciousness of Expedition, mixed with the sweetness of a milk stout, and brewed in bourbon barrels. Even then, you can’t imagine how glorious this beer tasted.

Three Floyds Zombie Dust
I love me some APA’s but this one is on another level. So much Citra. So good.

Stone Ruination Tenth Anniversary IPA
Specially released IPA’s from Stone are all over my list. This one featured an amped-up version of what was my epiphany beer, if that was even possible… Of course it was! This was as good a tribute as any brewery has ever brewed.

Stone Enjoy By 12.21.12 IPA
I actually preferred this one to the September version. It’s possible this one was fresher, but both were consumed well before their best by dates. The idea of a ridiculously fresh IPA is nothing new, but this release made it a priority. There’s no way one of these will ever sit on shelves too long. I hope they continue to brew Best By IPA’s.

Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek (2008)
Obviously, this beer was not from this year, but I finally opened it and was glad I did. No one does lambics and sours like Cantillon. Probably no other more obvious sentence has ever been uttered regarding beer. Lou Pepe was no exception. I suspect the aging altered the beer, but I doubt I wouldn’t have loved it a couple of years ago.

Boulevard Rye-On-Rye
This one is on the brain as I just picked up the latest release of this great Smokestack Series brew. I always liked this beer but never really got it until this year. I don’t know whether that’s trying so many inferior rye beers or just the ongoing development of my palate, but it’s so rich and so good. Aside from Boulevard’s Saison Brett (another all-time favorite that could make this list every year), this is one of the true Missouri craft beer treasures.

The Bruery 5 Golden Rings
I stumbled upon one of these at a Whole Paycheck the day before Xmas Eve and figured it would make the perfect Xmas dinner drink. And it did. No one outside of these guys and Stillwater consistently make beers that go better with food. I was lucky I paced myself of this one would have put me under the table.

Broadway Brewery Columbus Single Hop IPA
Never in my wildest dreams would I have figured a beer brewed here in Columbia, MO would make a list like this, but this one stacks up. I’m sure the freshness factor comes into play here, but I dragged a growler nine hours to Ohio, another three to Cleveland – all of it in a cooler that was probably not properly chilled and a growler that was not properly filled to the top – and the beer survived. Hell, it did better than survive. It was downright delicious.

Odell The Meddler Oud Bruin
I had nearly given up on Odell’s special releases, but this one was decently priced and I like to try anything new in this style. The beer was beautiful from appearance to aroma to the all-important flavors within. It paired well with whatever I was eating that night. This beer renewed my faith in Odell.

Schlafly Tasmanian IPA (TIPA)
Schlafly has been experimenting with different varieties of hops, mostly through special keg-only releases and cask ale. Still, this one was a nice little surprise. It’s one of those beers that nails the hoppiness hop heads are always after, causing us to want to drink one after the other.

Millstream Great Pumpkin Imperial Stout
This is how pumpkin ale should be done. Screw the pumpkin pie and sour varieties. Put your pumpkin in an imperial stout or Baltic porter! As an imperial stout, it’s not my favorite. However, it made me rethink pumpkin beers just as I was writing them off.

Treble Kicker Beer New Slang Saison
My own Saison is easily one of my favorites. I upped the ante with this year’s version for my partner’s tenure celebration. More lemon zest and rosemary = a punch in the face Saison that is not playing around. Add in some dry-hopped Sorachi Ace hops and you have a lemon bomb/balm that needs to brewed again and soon.

Stone 16th Anniversary IPA
This one was met with many mixed reviews, but I loved the twist this one offered some lemon verbena and rye-induced spice that made for one of the more interesting/surprising beers this year.

Deschutes Chainbreaker White IPA
Why isn’t the white/wheat IPA more popular? Because no one wants to take on Deschutes’ hold on hoppy beers. No one hops a beer like Deschutes. No one.

Tallgrass 8-Bit Pale Ale
This was my beer of the summer. Refreshingly hoppy goodness in a can carried me through record-setting heat, including a 30-mile bike ride.

Green Flash Rayon Vert
I’m not sure how long this beer has been around, but it made its first appearances in middle-Missouri earlier this year and I’m sure glad it did. Another twist on the IPA (this time with Belgian love), Rayon Vert became the “heavy” beer of summer.

Stillwater Debutante
What can I say that hasn’t already been said before about Stillwater’s excellence. I could put any of their beers on this list every year. Still, this one made its debut in 2012 and I for one welcome it to the best lineup of Saisons this side of Belgium.

Firestone Walker Wookey Jack
The Black IPA/Cascadian Dark Ale continues to dig out a niche in craft beer and Firestone’s entry is no different than the best of the style.

Deschutes Chasin’ Freshies
Did I mention Deschutes’ mastery of the hop. This fresh-hopped IPA and its fresh-hopped APA cousin (Hop Trip) do what fresh/wet-hopped beers are supposed to: capture the essence of Dionysus’ underwear… or something like that.

Mikkeller Royal Rye Wine
Most of the Mikkeller releases I enjoyed this year were not all that new to me. However, the experience surrounding the Royal Rye Wine made this possibly the most memorable beer of the year. Read more about it here.

What did I forget? What would you add? Disagree or agree with any of these?

Enjoy By 12/21/2012

Posted in Beer, Intersections by Zac on December 21, 2012

I, like Lenny Bruce am not afraid. The Mayans are wrong about this one. The world will not end by 12/21/2012 EST. And if it does, I live in CST and should have at least an hour to take care of some unfinished business[1].

Our time on this planet is finite. Beer has expiration dates, some sooner than others. Even vinyl records scratches and softens over time due to continual playing.

It’s all coming to an end and we can’t take any of it with us. So, why not indulge a little. Get that one more experience in before it all comes to an end.

It makes record collections and beer cellars obsolete. Unused blogs sit and digitally rot, losing readers by the minute.

Stone's Enjoy By 12/21/2012
Enjoyed By 12/21

We should enjoy the freshest of IPAs before they go bad. Don’t let the hops fade. It’s important to smell the fruit and pine aromas and to allow their bitterness to defeat your tongue. I enjoyed Stone’s Enjoy By 12/21/2012 weeks ago and I’m glad I did. I’ve had too many IPAs who sat months on shelves outside their proper homes in beer coolers. My bottle barely spent any time on a shelf or even in a refrigerator. I mean, why wait when you know it’s peaking now and will only fade as the days pass?

Anyway, here’s a blog post to prove that I’m still around. In case, you know, the world comes to an end. And if it doesn’t, maybe I’ll post again sometime soon.

Notes:

1Actually, due to family travel plans, I will be in the Eastern Standard time zone. So, I get no hour, well aside from the hours I’ll have after Europe goes up in flames.

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On the Homebrew Front

Posted in Beer by Zac on August 20, 2012

I have been brewing a lot lately and have plans for more in the near future. So, look at this as an update of sorts.

The oldest homemade beer I have right now the Belgian-style Quad I’m aging at the moment. Better known as “Guided By Voices“, this sucker measures in at about 10.7% ABV thanks in large part to the maple syrup and candied sugar I added to the boil. I’ve had trouble with Belgian yeast strains in the past, but this beer was fermented in my Ale Pail with a heating belt wrapped around to maintain optimal temperature. The beer nearly exploded it was so active. It’s still sitting in secondary at the moment, aging and developing in complexity. Later this fall, I’ll bottle it and ration them out slowly.

The other two batches I have on hand are the second edition of New Slang Saison and a new scotch ale I’m calling “Tenured Dingo.” Both beers were brewed for my partner’s tenure celebration on the first. So, there will be tasting notes to share for those two beers soon.

New Slang Saison was the Saison I developed last year that included lemon zest, Rosemary, and the lemony Sorachi Ace hop. This year’s version features several changes. First, I was able to secure leaf hops, hopefully allowing for a more fragrant beer, especially thanks to the dry-hop. I also added extra Rosemary to the  the dry-hop, possibly making this a roasted chicken in a glass flavor profile. Finally, the biggest change occurred in the pitching of yeast. Last year, I used a smack pack of a Saison yeast that never really took off. I had to scramble and luckily friends gave me some slurry from their cider that finished off the beer nicely. This year, I just mixed a packet of dry yeast into the wort. It took off despite no starter. The beer has smelled nice throughout and should be ready in a couple of weeks.

Tenured Dingo Scotch Ale is named for my wife. She doesn’t care for much beer but prefers a scotch ale and – more importantly – scotch. So, I soaked some oak chips in cheap scotch and added them to the secondary. The recipe features an odd hop schedule and an American yeast strain, mostly because I can do what I want. I can’t wait to try it once it’s carbonated.

Maybe most exciting of all is the plan to brew a coffee IPA. I’ve had good luck with IPAs, but coffee is a new frontier for me. A new friend roasts his own coffee and can manipulate several variables for us to get the exact flavor profile we want from the coffee. I’m looking at the moment to take a medium-roast coffee with tons of fruitiness. It will cold-brewed so as to lower the acidity. Then, we’ll dump it into the secondary. One idea is to add the coffee to a split batch so that we can experiment with several varieties. We’ll have to see, I guess.

Either way, there will be something to brew after the tenure party. So, there should be more on the homebrew front soon…

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The Bourgeois

Posted in Beer, Intersections by Zac on August 14, 2012

 

Beer – craft or otherwise – has always had a reputation for being had on the cheap. This mentality is what keeps so many from even trying a craft beer. Even for craft beer enthusiasts, complaining about beer prices is like complaining about the weather.

I won’t lie. I’ve spent my fair share on beer, but even I won’t (normally) buy a $45 bottle like our friend Jim of Beer and Whiskey Brothers fame. Well, I’d probably chip in to try some, but $45 is a lot to spend on one 750 mL bottle of beer. There’s something about that mental hurdle (that I clear regularly) that one should never pay more for beer than they do wine.

The Beer Bourgeois doesn’t care about price. All they want are the best and rarest beers. That’s cool. It would be cooler if everyone could afford these special beers, but I don’t really mind that there are $45 bottles of beer out there, waiting to empty my wallet. I’ve been know to partake in the bourgeois shenanigans. I understand the allure and payoff involved in drinking expensive beer.

It’s an interesting issue when you factor in the cheap beer syndrome that typically prevails in diehard and casual beer drinkers alike. The diehard beer enthusiast complains because he has to have that beer or that these beers drive up the prices on more regular brews. The casual beer drinker doesn’t give a shit either way.

Something similar happens with records. While this sometimes happens with special packaging or pressings, it more often occurs when bands re-release their seminal work form decades past. Albums that could hardly sell more than a few thousand copies can now ask top-dollar for re-issues pressed on 180-gram vinyl and sporting new packaging.

There’s no better example of this than the flurry of reissues from 90s indie heroes Archers of Loaf. Two particular re-issues just came out a week or two ago in the form of All the Nation’s Airports and White Trash Heroes. The vinyl is non-black and heavy. The artwork has been completely re-imagined. The liner notes offer a bit more while the digital download still has more to offer. It’s everything for which an indie child of the 90s could ask and all for almost 20 bucks a pop, considerably more than what those records used to go for.

Let me be clear. I am not complaining. I am glad that these albums are receiving the proper re-issue treatment. I am elated to own all of Loaf’s full-length albums on vinyl. (Although, I already owned Vee Vee and a picture disc of All Nations prior to their reunion and re-issue-palooza, not to mention numerous singles and EPs.) This is a good development in that I get some nice records and these deserving artists finally get the recognition they deserve.

I’m also fairly willing to spend money on high-end beers. I mean, these are the best beers in the world and yet they’re still a fraction of their wine-y equivalent. I won’t buy cases of expensive beer, but I’ll buy a bottle or a glass on tap just so that I can try it.

So, this may actually make me part of the bourgeois with limits. I am firmly middle-class, but I have to budget my money. I guess more of us (reading this post) are in that situation than not.

So, are you a bourgois beer nerd/geek/enthusiast/whatever? Are you record-buying and concert-going behaviors of the bourgeois? I came to conclusions I did not fully expect. Where do you stand? Does it even matter? Am I just reaching for blogging topics at this point?

Either way, Jim liked the beer I mentioned above and the Archers of Loaf re-issues are totally worth the money, if you’re into that kind of thing and can afford it.

Add More Hops

Posted in Beer by Zac on August 13, 2012

I understand that over-hopped (or hyped), unbalanced beer is not everyone’s cup of tea – or glass of beer, but it seems to me that hops is the cure-all for any style of beer. Never was this more apparent to me than a little over a year ago when I tried a hoppy wheat at the Boulevard facility in Kansas City. Since that time, collaborations have been released and now there’s Boulevard’s 80-Acre Hoppy Wheat, a newly-released version of this one-time-brewery-only-release. It’s now available everywhere Boulevard is served and for this, I am thankful.

It seems adding more hops is the way to go. The IPA is maybe most responsible for craft beer’s emergence in the US and it’s also the hoppiest of the hoppy. It has its own rather popular holiday. Brewers push the limits of bitter hoppiness to extremes, even upping the ante for traditional heavyweights of the style. Then we freak out when there’s suddenly a hop shortage, making fresh-hopped and double-hopped beers more valuable. All of these appears to make it imperative that every brewery carry their own hop-bombed IPA and/or DIPA.

The fact that nearly every brewery makes an IPA/DIPA means that hop-heads – myself included – could get their fill. However, this doesn’t seems to be enough. It’s now en vogue to hop the hell out of everything. There are brown ales hopped like IPAs. Saisons with a hoppy bite. No style is safe, but the style that maybe needed additional hops is finally getting the attention it deserves. Wheat ales are now entering super-hopped sector of beer styles and I couldn’t be happier.

Typically, American wheat ales (not Hefeweizens or whatever some brewers try to pass as Hefeweizens these days) feature a slight citrus crispness that makes them ideal for some hop additions. Boulevard and Deschutes seem to be at the forefront of this trend. From the ashes of their Collaboration/Conflux #2 venture, the breweries have released the aforementioned 80-Acre Hoppy Wheat and Chainbreaker White IPA, respectively. I welcome this kind of ingenuity in craft beer. Such innovation just makes sense.

I take a similar view with my own brewing. Sometimes, we just need more hops. Obviously, this applies to the IPAs I primarily brew, but other beers deserve more hops as well. For one, I have my second attempt at my New Slang Saison. When I brewed it before, I didn’t dry-hop it with Sorachi Ace hops. However, this year’s batch deserved a little something extra. So, along with some rosemary, an ounce of leaf hops were added and I should be able to report the results soon. Of course, I suspect they’ll be great.

What other styles could use an infusion of hops? (“All” is probably the only acceptable answer.)

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