Beer and Pavement

Best Records of 2012

Posted in Records, Review by Zac on December 30, 2012

Here are ten of the best records I heard this year, in no particular order[1]

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
Man, I loved last year’s Wye Oak album and needed more this year. Luckily, Sharon Van Etten came through this year. Similarly to Wye Oak, Van Etten seemed to come from nowhere[2] to unleash a haunting rock record that grips you from start to finish. It didn’t hurt that half of Brooklyn collaborated it behind the scenes or in the margins to help Van Etten deliver a punch to the gut. Still, it’s defining moment for a musician I hope to hear more from in the coming years.

The Walkmen – Heaven
Nothing new here. The Walkmen release a record and I love it. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that their records are always this good. Somehow a band known for songs about going out and drinking have eventually written one of the best albums about adulthood, having children and all that. There’s a simplicity to The Walkmen formula that allows them to adjust to their current living conditions. These are just working stiffs trying to put some food on the table and clothes on the backs of their children. I can get behind that.

Titus Andronicus – Local Business
I’m not gonna lie. I really didn’t care for this record upon the first listen. I was having buyer’s remorse as I listened to it stream on Spotify, knowing that the new local record shop was holding a copy for me. Then, I gave it another try as the record popped up on several year-end lists. It’s really a fantastic record as Titus Andronicus does what every New Jersey band does eventually: they all turn into Bruce Springsteen. There’s nothing wrong with this of course. It’s just a fact.

Cat Power – Sun
Yes, this has been a shitty year for Chan Marshall. However, that may mean she’ll have to put out more records and tour whenever she can scrounge up the dough and good health to hit the road. Cat Power has evolved from record to record. Now, after some faux-bravado, one gets the sense that Marshall is becoming comfortable with her station in life, embracing her demons, health issues, and apparent financial stresses in making what is maybe her most honest record in years[3].

Believers – Believers EP
Someone will surely give me a hard time for praising Believers again, but the praise is legit. Although this EP feels somewhat incomplete[4], it brings with it the promise of great things to come. I fully suspect several of these tracks will reappear – possibly re-recorded/remastered – on an LP via some high-profile indie label.

Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Honestly, this would be my record of the year. It’s a bit more uneven than 2009’s Post-Nothing but it still contains that raw energy that only Japandroids can bring without an ounce of irony. This band makes me want to hit the bars and dance all night before the reality of my middle-class-mortgaged-parenthood comes crashing down on my fantasies. Still, it’s nice to dream/reminisce once in a while.

Best Coast – The Only Place
On one hand, I don’t know why I like this band. On the other, I don’t know why I ask the first question. Like Japandroids, Best Coast has found a recipe that works. Unlike the “live like there’s no tomorrow” message in a Japandroids’ song, Best Coast wears their California lovin’ on their collective sleeves. I appreciate this love for one’s home state. Like Jenny Lewis and The Eagles, Best Coast won’t let you forget where they’re from and they’ll make you want to live there as well.

Dinosaur Jr – I Bet on Sky
How is it that Dinosaur Jr. is writing and recording better music after they’ve reunited? Maybe it’s that Lou Barlow has been allowed to come into his own. Maybe it’s because J Mascis has mellowed his ego. Whatever it is, I hope they never stop making loud records.

Hospitality – Hospitality
Last year, it was Eleanor Friedberger. This year, it’s Hospitality. Last year’s Friedberger joint Last Summer had me longing for some straight girl pop rock from the City. Hospitality filled that void admirably. And when you close your eyes, you think it’s Belle and Sebastian.

Dirty Projectors -Swing Lo Magellan
I really expected a letdown from Dirty Projectors, but this record – more straightforward than previous efforts – did not disappoint. I knew this as soon as I dropped the needle to reveal the opening track.

Discovered too late to form a proper assessment, but they’re pretty great: Tame Impala, Diiv, Grizzly Bear, Metz

Overall, this year wasn’t nearly as inspiring as last year’s onslaught of great records. However, most of these would rank among last year’s best. So, take that for what it’s worth, which is basically nothing.

1Ranking art just seems to be so archaic, so overdone. So, I will refrain from it this year. Instead, I’ll just tell you about ten records I liked.
2Meaning that, like Wye Oak, she hadn’t released anything of note until this latest album which is great.
3In Cat Power years, that’s maybe two records a decade.
4Let’s face it, every EP feels imcomplete. They are akin to the 20-minute set. You get a taste of the very best, maybe with one stinker. Just when you’re into it, it’s over.

Writing Reviews

Posted in Intersections, Manifesto, Review by Zac on March 13, 2012

I’ve dabbled here and elsewhere with writing reviews. The advantage of keeping a blog that focuses on both beer and music is that there’s plenty of material to review. Some of my better bits have reviewed both.

The trouble with writing reviews is that it takes some of the enjoyment from the experience. If I’m thinking ahead to my next blog post every time I place the needle on the record or pop the cap of a beer, I’m not staying in the moment. It becomes work somehow even though I fully realize that this here website is a hobby and not a source of income by any means.

Still, I’ve tried to write reviews. The music reviews have gone well… for the most part anyway. I’m pretty happy with the Believers review I just wrote. There was a pretty good Walkmen review I wrote a while back. Honestly, the music reviews are easier, even more fun to write.

Then, I considered why this might be. Stan has a list of newish beer rules somewhere. One of those rules suggests that one should drink a beer at least twice before passing judgement on it. This makes sense. However, I’d like to interject that some of the most rewarding discussions and reviews I’ve seen/heard/read have been based on one serving of a beer. The best beers can inspire mountains of content with a single serving. Still, I see the point.

To properly grasp a beer’s essence, once should spend some time with it. Drink the beer in a variety of glasses and contexts. Try it paired with foods or at different temperatures. I get this and endorse it. Write whatever review you want, but this is probably the best way to fully appreciate a beer.

What does this mean for RateBeer/BA fanatics? What about those blogs that review a beer a day? They should do what they want, but I probably won’t be writing many more reviews like that, if any. I tried a couple at the beginning of the year, but it’s time to move on. Reviewing beer is not what I do best. Enjoying beer? That’s another story.

So, how is this different than music?

For one, a record has a chance to be consumed over and over without consequence. I often have to drive for work and can give an album a good listen while driving 2-3 hours round trip. Then, there’s usually a session of listening once or twice on vinyl while my kid plays and we wait for dinner. When I write a record review, I’ve had time to let it marinade. A beer review is often a one-shot deal, especially with a rare brew.

Also, the beer review has a formula where record reviews can be whatever I want. In a beer review, it’s generally expected that one addresses the appearance, aroma, taste, and mouthfeel. Even when I’ve taken some poetic license with this format, I still generally come back to the basic review template. With records, it’s easier to write whatever comes to mind and go off on tangents or address each track. Thankfully, music is easier to perceive as something that doesn’t fit within a neat category like beer. Maybe beer scholarship hasn’t come as far as that of music writing. Maybe it has. I just find music easier to write about.

So, expect me to continue writing record and show reviews and cut back on beer reviews. However, there will be exceptions. I’ll probably review a beer and you won’t even realize it. We’ll see.

Now, I have a deadline that’s already been extended. I need to get back to that project.

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Posted in Records, Review by Zac on March 12, 2012

Believers‘ self-titled EP arrived just in time for True/False. It’s been a long time coming, like a whole year, but Believers finally have that tangible document of their struggles over their short run. It was at last year’s True/False that the band first entered the collective CoMo conscience. Now, there is a record with their name and recordings on it awaiting turntables all over Middle Missouri.

The songs on this new EP, funded by the generosity of true believers via a Kickstarter initiative, have become familiar to those who have been lucky enough to catch the ensemble around town. We’re now familiar with the percussive core, sampled bird songs, and the crooning that characterizes a Believers set. Additionally, those who have seen them in-person know of the energy they bring as normally-reserved CoMo crowds find the dancer within and shake what their mothers have given them in celebration of what these boys have crafted.

So, how about those songs?

Splashing water opens as the infectious basslines of “Sleeves” kick in just before a blast of guitar that carry enough power to almost resemble horns. The quiet-loud dynamic is in full-effect for this track and it’s used to its fullest potential. The space between bombasts and the build to a climax have the listener dancing as is the custom at Believers shows, anticipating the rest of the EP to follow. “You can’t ignore what’s going on all around you,” singer/guitarist Wesley Powell offers, “along the shore, such heavy progress.” Imagine the sun rising over a clear Missouri River at Cooper’s Landing just before a day of fun on the Big Muddy. Powell’s declaration rings true as this EP gets off to an impressive start.

A few sounds in this town are as commonplace in CoMo as the opening caws at the beginning of “Forward Forward Back”. At this point in the recording, I’m just ready to see Believers live again. The rhythmic trajectory of the song and it’s request “Won’t you dance with me?” causes once again what is typically unthinkable in this town: dancing. The chorus even provides some instruction that suggests forward movement with a bit of youthful caution.

“Far From Home” is the sleepy track that hints at the sacrifices the band has made to get to this point where they now have a record in-hand and a year of playing behind them with an eye to possibilities ahead. We’ll see what happens, but this song is sadder than you think as – like with every song on this EP – it just makes you want to dance. Still, the picture painted is somewhat dire as one huddles in a cardboard box, wishing to just be home.

“Finder” is the rare song that speaks both to those who long to love and those who have loved. We all at some point want to find someone or remember what it was like to find the one we’re with. This song captures that feeling perfectly. Additionally, it imitates that feeling of your heart pounding so hard that it makes that heart-shaped imprint on our chests like on those old cartoons when the intoxicating smell or sweet curves of “the one” passes by. There’s a real longing in this song, but it feels hopeful, almost encouraging. Even for cynics out there, this song will speak to you.

“Wandering” is the second-t0-last track. Over another infectious groove provided by bassist Travis Boots floats some spacey keyboards. The track displays a subtlety not always prevalent as the band often goes for whatever will move the crowd. (There’s nothing wrong with this.) Dreamy guitar strumming, ghostly vocals, and some well-placed horns make for a nice song to play when looking forward to summer nights on the porch.

The dreaminess of “Wandering” is balanced with some steady dance beats and that familiar Powell croon with “In the Water”. Then, the song breaks into what is one of the more powerful songs of a Believers set. The two-headed drumming tandem of  Taylor Bacon and Pete Hansen beat the skins like there’s no tomorrow, inducing that now-natural sense to dance. (I know, in Columbia of all places!) There’s more of that quiet-loud dynamic the kids love so much. Sadly, this is where the EP ends, leaving the listener wanting more. As is true for most EP’s, the band’s best tracks made the cut and give a great taste of what they can provide in full-length albums (hopefully) to come.

At this point, I’ve failed to mention the other Powell brother, Tyler. His musicality and ease of playing comes through on these recordings. He fills space where the drums rest between beats and often carries songs where needed. The brothers Powell are certainly a strong duo and they’ve put together a solid rhythm section to carry their vision with this EP as proof.

Again, this record if filled with longing and hopefulness. It’s the kind of feeling that occurs at that first terror twilight of the summer. That moment when the possibilities of the summer ahead causes you  to hold your breath. All the worries and unfinished projects of the past winter have slowly melted away. Spring brings with it new life and summer warms us and urges us to come from out of our hiding places. The terror caused at dawn is off-putting at first, but you are comforted by the fact that it will pass and tomorrow will be a beautiful day. A record like Believers is the record you play at that very moment.

Then, you dance.

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True/False Music Review

Posted in Live, Review by Zac on March 9, 2012

Here is the post I published yesterday at the CoMo Collective. It covers the bands I saw and a couple I didn’t see much of. As you will see, True/False is more of a cultural experience than just a documentary film festival. That may be why we all love it so much…

Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship? via Benjamin Gross

As promised, here’s a complete rundown of the bands I was able to take in throughout True/False weekend. This year’s lineup was maybe the strongest I’ve seen. Between buskers warming up crowds, filling our streets with music, and rocking showcases around town, this fest became almost as much about the music as it did the films.

As a recap, I’m reposting my take on Wednesday’s Eastside Showcase. Scroll down if you’ve read it before…

Eastside Showcase

This is the unofficial official start of the fest and it’s hard to believe that any showcase will outdo the one at Eastside Tavern last night. Three bands – two local, one from Milwaukee – whipped the crowd into a pretty good frenzy for Wednesday.

Enemy Airship opened the night and one could say the entire festival.If I wanted to hear Broken Social Scene, I’d probably watch them on Pitchfork TV, but this was a close enough facsimile. I certainly don’t mean that in negative way. The band is fun, even danceable, especially as compared to their previous incarnation, Nonreturner. The set was topped off with a particularly earnest cover of New Order’s “Age of Consent”. It’s too bad no one could hear the keyboards.

Another local, Hott Lunch, played second. I had heard a lot of good things and the band did not disappoint. From punk to classic rock, this band was all over the place aggression, hitting all the right influences. I’d like to hear them focus in on one thing, but they do so many so well. Maybe that’s not so bad. Either way, it was an enjoyable set.

The closers were Catacombz. With a light show few have witnessed in Eastside, the band beat the audience into submission and told them to dance without directly telling the so, yet they obeyed. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a band come in and just move the entire crowd into convulsions.

Jerusalem & The Starbaskets via Benjamin Gross

Mojo’s Showcase (Bassdrum of Death, Jerusalem and the Starbaskets, and Ming Donkey One-Man Band)

Regretfully, I missed Ming Donkey One-Man Band due to a film. This became apparent to me as I entered Mojo’s to find it buzzing. It seemed that buzz was about the dirty heaps of new age blues that was being thrust upon the crowd and would continue through the night.

Jerusalem and the Starbaskets, once of CoMo, played next. Besides frontman Jeremy Freeze’s occasional turn as a busker and drummer Kim Sherman’s turns at V/H/S Q&A’s, the band made a triumphant return to CoMo (as is their usual) with a roaring set of dirges and blues psychedelia. Interestingly, the band’s sound was filled out with the addition of John Garland on guitar. The set primarily featured material from their well-received Dost, a record you should own.

Bass Drum of Death via Benjamin Gross

Bass Drum of Death is another Fat Possum band that sounds as if they’re from another era. They looked and sounded a ton like 1991-era Seattle, but sounded closer to No Age than Nirvana. This topped off what was an impressive roster for the evening. I’m not sure I’ve seen a T/F showcase demonstrate as much firepower as this crew showed… Well, until the next night.

Mojo’s A-Go-Go (Believers, Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship?, Dark Dark Dark and Cassie Morgan)

Once again, I regretfully missed a Mojo’s opener. St. Louis duo Cassie Morgan and the Lonely Pine played what must have been a distant and haunting set of hushed melodies. Although described as folk, I’d place her stylings closer to something sleepier, with a bit of twang for good measure. I only know this because I luckily caught her set as a busker in the Blue Note. Still, I imagine her set fit nicely with the bands to follow.

Dark Dark Dark came on next. Gypsies with powerful female lead vocals rarely go wrong. Don’t misunderstand me, this is not Beirut with Sharon Van Etten. No, this is a rock band that understands a good pop song, something that would linger through the evening.

At this point, it was clear that the evening was building toward something. However, it felt as if we needed a way to traverse the gap between Cassie Morgan’s brand of folk and Dark Dark Dark’s gypsie spiel. A bridge would work, but a boat or ship would be better. Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship? made their way on stage and increased the number of accordions and French horns by at least one apiece.

Believers via Benjamin Gross

The bridge or ship or whatever worked as the crowd was pretty amped for the Believers set. Believers just puts on a consistently great show and it doesn’t hurt that the songs are so good and danceable. For once, all the percussion was in the back of the stage as compared to the center, but it didn’t take away the percussive nature of the band by any means. The buzz that started the previous night lasted all the way through Believers’ set. If for no other reason, Believers should stay together just to play T/F every year. Either way, they will forever be linked to the fest for me as it just isn’t complete without a Believers show.

Buskers a-Busking

I remember Nature Walk busking before, but I don’t remember them being as engaging as they were this year. I got vibes from Violent Femmes and One Foot in the Grave-era Beck. Good, fun rock music to get us ready for the nonfiction about to be thrown our way.

The Toughcats come all the way from Maine every year. It seems there’s a contingent that makes the trek every year and the  Touchcats are part of that crew. To fully enjoy the Toughcats’s set, one has to pay particular attention to the drummer who works as hard and as enthusiastically as any drummer I’ve ever seen.

Run On Sentence featured the filmmaker of Gasland, a popular T/F entry and near-Oscar winner. Beyond that, Run On Sentence stands on their own, recalling a bit of Clem Snide. They certainly kept a large audience in the spacious Missouri Theater engaged with the energy they brought from Portland.

Bramble actually played my daughter’s preschool before they ever played the T/F box office, various street corners, or several film venues. They are fast becoming a favorite at the fest. Everybody tends to enjoy their special brand of roots rock, especially three-year-olds.

Another roots rock band to busk some films was Wine Teeth. However, where Bramble reminded me more of Fleet Foxes (musically), Wine Teeth are certainly big Elliott Smith fans, providing a bit of edge to their set.

The hit of the fest may have been Les Trois Coups. The four Frenchmen enchanted audiences, inspiring many to dance and others to fall under their gypsie charms. From what I heard and saw, I don’t think the boys ever stopped playing their songs and performing skits with a combination of French and bits of broken English. The boys played for a school in St. Louis and hit the streets as soon as they made it to CoMo, and were seen at showcases and in the basement of at least one house party at 3:30 in the morning. I’m not sure they ever slept as they had to catch a flight early Sunday morning.

It’s nice see some great bands return year after year. Pearl and the Beard can both fill any venue with their powerful voices while maintaining an uncanny ability to rely on subtlety to not overwhelm with every song. This has really been one of the better busker acts to make it to T/F over the years and I hope they keep coming back.

Prahlad is actually a folklore professor at the university. He plays his brand of folk on mbira and slit drum, traditional African instruments. The resulting music is calming yet stimulating and was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the fest.

Cindy Woolf told a story that went with a song that was about distilling moonshine. That may be all you need to know. This is country as it’s meant to be sung and performed. Sad, slow, and soothing.

There were others to play music last weekend, but this was what I was able to see/hear among the 15 or so films I was able to see. Still, it was possibly the strongest lineup the fest has featured since I’ve been attending. Music coordinators Billy Schuh and Amanda Rainey really deserve a ton of credit for putting together this year’s group of buskers and showcasers. For the complete list of musicians, including many of the better ones I failed to mention here, check T/F’s website while it’s still up.

Mikkeller Royal Rye Wine: The Review

Posted in Beer, Beer Thousand, Intersections, Mikkeller, Records, Review by Zac on January 30, 2012

Royal Rye Wine

Maybe I’ve over-extended myself, but this special occasion was reason enough to take this blog where it’s never been before. The Mikkeller collab Royal Rye Wine arrived a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been sitting on it, waiting for a brief moment in my schedule to review it properly. I don’t know that the video below does it justice, but we tried record the event and maybe we’ll get better with each episode.

My disclaimer is that this video beer review thing is not easy. The Hopry is the gold standard and now I understand why he doesn’t do it anymore. It’s a lot of work. Then there are those who consistently do professional-looking videos at New Brew Thursdays and 100 Beers in 30 Days… We’re just not at that standard just yet. I made the valiant effort of editing out a large portion of my “ums”, but you’ll notice I’m loaded with them. This is why I, um, blog.

Anyways, here’s the video. Below that, I’ll add some thoughts, what we did with the rest of the afternoon, and maybe even some additional media. Comment freely, but be constructive.

So, the beer was good and completely caught us off guard (in case you couldn’t tell). Normally, the three of us can talk forever on such things, but this beer left us speechless – something only Mikkeller can typically do. The rye was pronounced. The grape/wine flavors came and went as our palate was challenged by the rye and the beer warmed. There was a slight amount of carbonation, but as we drank, that dissipated quickly. However, the body of the beer did not suffer. This truly is a wine drinker’s beer. Typically, I think of sour beers as being the closest thing to wine a brewery can accomplish, but this beer actually attains a wine-like feel without wine barrels and the infections they carry. We weren’t just blowing steam up Mikkeller’s ass. This beer is both interesting and a lot of fun to drink.

Now, as far as the video, I’m hoping we’ll get better. You all should provide plenty of suggestions to make it better. I’m pretty happy with the opening and closing. Jeff and Jarrett were great. (Be sure to check out any out-takes I’ll post below. There’s good stuff there.) However, my stumbling, bumbling dialogue needs work. Maybe I’ll prepare a little better next time. Maybe we’ll do it live and you can see how it really goes down.

Anyway, there are some credits I forgot to include or didn’t make clear enough. Jeff took the pictures. You can find them here. Jarrett is a certified cicerone. So, he knows about which he’s talking. The opening credits song is “Hardcore UFO’s” from the Guided By Voices record Bee Thousand. If I missed something, let me know in the comments.

Oh look; beer.

We consumed the three beers above, plus one a homebrew Jeff contributed. The Allagash Interlude was a beer I found in Richmond, VA this past summer. It’s a 2009 vintage and contained tons of tartness with a touch of oak, another wine-worthy brew. Really, it was a delicious beer. I had had a 4 Calling Birds from The Bruery once before, but it was lost in a tasting. My palate was relatively fresh this time around and I found the nutmeg to be almost toxically good. Jeff’s homebrew was called Hop Heaven after Avery’s Hog Heaven Barley Wine. It was a hop-forward barley wine that could use some time to age, but that probably won’t happen. There’s noting wrong with that either.

Before I close, below you’ll find a video of out-takes, the two videos from Mikkeller dealing with the contest, and a Russian video about the Royal Rye Wine release. Enjoy!

Pics in this post are also courtesy of Jeff.

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Beer Review: Stillwater Artisanal Ales Cellar Door

Posted in Beer, Review, Uncategorized by Zac on January 10, 2012

Beer: Cellar Door

Brewery: Stillwater Artisanal Ales (Baltimore/gypsy)

Style: Wit

Glass: tulip

Context: We had cod for dinner. Wits and Saisons are good to pair with most any fish. Why not pair a Wit brewed with Saison yeast? There was nothing special about the evening. We have a mouse infestation and I had spent the day cleaning out cupboards and finding places to put all the things we kept in said cupboards until our mouse problem was gone. The three-year-old has been a bit more challenging as of late. So, I needed a drink. Cellar Door, though really difficult to get in these parts, hit the spot.

Appearance: Cloudy orange with a lot of carbonation featuring foamy bubbles and loose lacing. Specks of yeast stuck to the bottom of the glass, a reminder of all the good things happening in the bottle.

Aroma: There’s a peppery spiciness to this beer which the carbonation helps to deliver. Also present is citrus and a hint of sage.

Palate: This is where the carbonation goes to work, attacking all corners of your mouth with aggression. I don’t think it’s over-carbonated, but this aspect of the beer delivers a full mouthfeel without the prerequisite thickness. Instead, that fullness is created with bubbles, delivering the best aspects of the pepper and citrus notes found in the aroma. Once it settles, the experience is quite enjoyable, soft even.

Flavor: The same things were sensed in my mouth as was in my nose. Pepper, citrus (lemon, orange), and a hint of sage.

Suggested Soundtrack:  Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground by Bright Eyes in all its triumphant, angsty glory would be the proper celebratory soundtrack for this beer. The dynamics of this album are all over the place, allowing the listener to enjoy all the aspects of Cellar Door from the light citrus aromas and flavors to that aggressive, palate-cleansing carbonation. Bright Eyes’ recognizes the strength he gains from friendship and lessons of loss to create what I think is one of his most overlooked gems. The story of this beer is in the soil…beneath the soil, in a cellar even. So, keep your ear to the ground and maybe some Cellar Door will make it to your market. (Or something like that.)

Thoughts: There’s word that Stillwater is doubling production. So, maybe we’ll see more Cellar Door and other brews from Stillwater. That’s really my only complaint about Brian’s beers. Of course, if that’s my only problem, I can deal with it just as long as some Cellar Door finds its way into my glass now and again.

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Beer Review: Avery Mephistopheles

Posted in Beer, Review by Zac on January 5, 2012

Beer: Mephistopheles (2011)

Brewery: Avery Brewing Company (Boulder, CO)

Style: Imperial Stout

Glass: 10 oz. snifter

Context: Over NYE weekend, 44 Stone Public House, a British-style gastropub, had Mephistopheles on tap. When a beer like that is available on draft, you jump at the opportunity to try some. I had one in a bottle last year for my birthday and another in my cellar, but I had to make it out for a proper glass at a pub. My friend joined me, but he sipped on something less-intrusive as he enjoyed two glasses of the stuff the night before. It was noon and I needed to eat. So, I had some excellent lamb sliders to soak up some of that alcohol.

Appearance: It was like this. Surprisingly, there was a small head, but the bartender was sure to give me a full glass, scooping some of the foam in order to make room for the black stuff. This is surprising as the ABV on this demon child is in the 17% range. I know of 10% beers that don’t produce half this much head.

Aroma: There was a smooth chocolate thing going, but the roastiness of this beer stood out right away which, again, is surprising. From my experience, big beers like this hardly resemble beer. After crossing the 15% threshold, all boozy beers kind of taste and smell the same. Big imperial stouts like this rarely feature so much roasted barley in the nose.

Palate: Not as syrupy as one might expect, but it was smooth and coated my mouth. The surprising amount of carbonation worked well with the medium body. I never noticed the heat until it rolled down my throat and belly. That’s where the booze settled and warmed me from within.

Flavor: One would expect loads of booze, but this beer actually features a fair amount of roast and chocolate. It paired perfectly with the lamb sliders, providing both sweetness and roast to combat the strong cheese and gamy meat.

Suggested Soundtrack: Rich and loud with unexpected subtlety would describe both this beer and Wye Oak’s Civilian. Additionally, Jenn Wasner’s smoky vocals are as boozy as any vocalist I’ve heard in a long while.

Thoughts: Either this beer changes a ton with age, it’s just different on draft, or this year’s recipe is decidedly different from past versions, because I was pleasantly surprised to find it tasting like your typical imperial stout. The thing that I both love and hate about extra boozy brews is that they rarely taste like their style suggests. For example, 120 Minute IPA does not taste like an IPA. Mephistopheles tastes like an imperial stout should and you’ll only need one. The one I had nearly caused me to take a nap.

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Beer Review: Perennial Artisan Ales Abraxas

Posted in Beer, Review by Zac on January 3, 2012

Beer: Abraxas

Brewery: Perennial Artisan Ales (St. Louis, MO)

Style: Imperial Stout

Glass: Wine

Context: Just as we had decided that our holiday partying was over, the neighbors across the street invited us over for a drink. I grabbed this NYE orphan from the fridge to contribute. We sat around as our hosts prepped their dinner and kids played. Most interesting observation of the beer by my neighbor, Jerry, was this: “It’s a mouthful.” Exactly.

Appearance: Black. Lively carbonation creates a creamy, chocolate mousse-like foam. The carbonation is more than I’m typically used to from imperial stouts, but It’s welcome. Tons of lacing…or should I say “legs” as we sipped this monster from wine glasses.

Aroma: Faintly rich (Is that possible?) with notes of chiles, cinnamon, and chocolate. Roastiness is also there. I didn’t sense any vanilla, but I suspect vanilla was used more to bring out the chocolate flavors in the nibs rather than to stand alone.

Palate: The high amount of carbonation helps to coat the mouth with chiles. It’s heavy and thick, but not syrupy – more creamy than anything. Still, those chiles arise again with some heat. And, yes, it’s a mouthful.

Flavor: Rather balanced brew as the chiles stand out at first, augmented by the cinnamon, followed by rich chocolate. Again, the vanilla seems to assist the chocolate nibs rather than creating space for itself.

Suggested Soundtrack: Mogwai’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will is as rich and complex as this beer, providing enough spice to balance with dark cacao nibs.

Thoughts: This is the first beer I’ve had from Perennial, one St. Louis’ newest breweries. It’s a whole lotta beer, but I’d like to see what their more delicate fair is like. Still, it’s a nice surprise to discover such an intense beer from a relatively new brewery, it’s encouraging to think what’s next.

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