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.
No, this is not a list of the twelve worst beers I’ve had this year. I won’t do that. What I will do is put together a cheap post, a list of my last twelve beers as a way to fill some space. Think of it as the twelve beers of this Christmas or something. Some of these I’ve had and might have reviewed somewhere, but I thought I’d look back and see what I’ve enjoyed recently*. Of course, most of these happened on Sunday at a beer geek holiday party, but they still count…
Parabola Russian imperial stout by Firestone Walker Brewing Company – Sycamore, a favorite place to get a beer and a fine meal was hosting a Firestone Walker beer dinner. I didn’t get tickets, but I was able to score a seat for my daughter and I. We ate pork belly sliders, their special salad (soft boiled egg, bacon, etc.), smoked trout belly, and their famous Parmesan fries. I washed all that down with this beer. At 13%, it was the only beer I could safely drink in order to get my kid home in time for bed. It’s a huge and intense flavor experience, but it’s plenty drinkable now and should be out of this world in a year or two.
Fuego del Otono by Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales – We had guests over for dinner. My wife makes this pumpkin soup where she bakes it inside a Long Island cheese pumpkin and we scoop out pulp with the broth and melted Gruyere. Somehow the brown ale I chose to pair was not going to make the cut. So, I quickly chilled this Jolly Pumpkin. The nuttiness, spices, and slight tartness played well with the soup.
Double Bastard by Stone Brewing Company – This one was served before dinner for a couple of bastards (myself included). I’ve always had an interest in drinks named “bastard” ever since I had my first Miserable Bastard at the bar around the corner from my college apartment. I like to pretend when I drink this beer that it’s what the regular Arrogant Bastard used to taste like before we all became acclimated to such big beers.
Firestone 15 (XV) Anniversary Ale byFirestone Walker Brewing Company – I was lucky enough to get a nice sample of this beer which should age nicely. I still have several bottles in my possession at the moment, but one is promised to a friend. This means that I either have one to sell or trade or I’ll drink it over the holiday with friends and age another for the future. Either way, I feel pretty lucky to have any and to have tasted it already. Did I mention that it’s pretty incredible already?
N’Ice Chouffe by Brasserie d’Achouffe (Duvel Moortgat) – After a while, I feel all these great Belgian beers – seasonal or not – begin to all taste the same. Of course they don’t really and of course this is not a bad thing. My underdeveloped tongue for Belgian beers just struggles to differentiate. This one was nice. I don’t remember anything that set it apart particularly. Plus, it was in the midst of a decent haul for a Sunday afternoon.
4 Calling Birds by The Bruery – I love The Bruery. This one was interesting. Unlike the one above, it stuck out as a Belgian style beer. However, I sensed a lot more clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, you know, Christmas spices. Still, it didn’t quite stand up to the actual Belgian beer. Had I consumed it alone, I might think differently. Of course, I’d drink this over 97% of the holiday beers out there. So, there’s that. (On a side note, this holiday get-together included a Yankee Swap. I walked off with a Cuir from The Bruery. I can’t wait for the perfect occasion to crack this baby open.)
Wytchmaker Rye IPA by Jester King Craft Brewery – I was very excited to try this beer as I have been reading for months about all the cool beers they’re brewing. It didn’t disappoint. Some couldn’t get past the rye, but I thought the rye was almost an afterthought as the tartness and hoppy bitterness shared center stage. I have to find a way to try more of these beers.
Doodle Dubbel by Doodle Brewing – So, the great thing about craft beer – like punk rock 25-30 years ago – is that anyone can brew beer. The bad thing about craft beer – also like punk rock – is that anyone can brew beer. I’ll just leave it at that.
Harvest wheat wine (2009 vintage) by Boulevard Brewing Co. – This beer came out two year ago. I hated it two years ago, but I still had an unopened bottle. So, I cellared it. Time passed by and I couldn’t find the appropriate time to pull it out of the cellar until the holiday party happened. I was considering contributions and noticed that the best by date was 10/10. I figured we might as well open it now. There’s no shame in pouring a beer down the drain…but we didn’t have to. In fact, this beer mellowed a ton and was well worth the wait. Sweet and smooth, nothing like I remembered it. It makes me rethink my dislike of the wheat wine altogether.
Winter Ale by Petrus – OK.
Rumpkin by Avery Brewing Company – I don’t know about a pumpkin ale, but this tasted more like a huge barley wine. I didn’t really sense much pumpkin at all. It’s so malty and sweet. I wish I was able to get my hands on some for aging purposes. Oh well. Can’t win them all. Still, I got to try some and it’s a nice barley wine – forget the pumpkin angle.
*Honestly, since I started this post, I’ve had a couple of other beers. One was the Shmaltz/Terrapin collab Reunion ’11. It was better than I remembered. There are moments when it’s spicy and others when the chocolate hits. It’s a very nice beer that I wouldn’t turn down. The other was one of my 90 Minute IPA‘s I have lying around, but I want to say more about it in another post. So, it will have to wait.
OK. So, I don’t actually like seasonal beers. The only exception are those beers that happen to always come out at certain times of the year, but aren’t necessarily tied to the season. There are other exceptions, but I find fall and winter seasonals to be particularly dreadful as it becomes the time of year to overload mediocre brews with spices. This is something homebrewers do, not quality craft brewers.
Still, there are a few holiday ales which I like to try every year. I typically only drink holiday ales that are available here in Missouri. So, the list is a bit limited that way as well. Here are five of the better holiday ales I enjoy…
5. Avery Old Jubilation – Sweet, malty old ales should be on every brewery’s holiday lineup. This one is a favorite and almost criminally available everywhere, sitting beside their spiced brethren. The Christmas-y and seemingly pedestrian presentation make me think 1995 micro-brewed concoction of frankincense and myrrh.
4. Boulevard Nutcracker Ale / Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale – I couldn’t decide between these two as they are the same beers in my mind (not really even close). Sure, Celebration is…well… more celebrated, but they are very similar beers. Instead of coming with spice, they hit you with hops, lots of them… Actually, the point is that that both beers contain a surprising amount of hoppiness in two rather different beers. Are you confused yet? I am. The hoppiness contained in the winter warmer and IPA are of the crisp variety, how I’ve been liking my hops as of late.
3. Mikkeller Red White / Santa’s Little Helper / To From / Hoppy Lovin’ Christmas – Some of these are better than others, but it’s the fact that Mikkeller puts out a full lineup of holiday ales that strikes me. All are uniquely Mikkeller and all are worth the holiday bonus you may fork over for some. I’m particularly interested in the Hoppy Lovin’ Christmas, an IPA brewed with ginger and pine needles, as it’s new to me this year.
2. Samichlaus – This beer has an enormous reputation in these parts, almost as large as its 14% ABV. The rep is much deserved and the beer is a Christmastime necessity. I don’t know that it actually has anything to do with Christmas other than the fact that it sounds like “Santa Claus,” but it’s a giant lager with which you should not trifle.
1. Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza – JP is one of those breweries at the top of my favorites list that just does it for me every time. Sure, they’re all variations of the same beer, but they’re all delicious.Tartness galore as always but this time in the form or a Belgian strong dark ale. I would have even accepted spice, but JP didn’t stoop to those levels and kept it on the real. In other words, it’s your typical Jolly Pumpkin but in super-awesome Christmas form.
Special Mention: Stone/Nøgne Ø/Jolly Pumpkin Special Holiday Ale – From what I understand, this beer has long been retired. All three breweries can be found in this beer. It’s a bit of a mangled mess, but it was my mangled mess at one time. I’ve had versions bottled by the first two breweries and each brought with them something different. I feel like the JP version has been around, possibly passing my lips at a tasting, but I have no proof and could be totally mistaken.
Carrie Wade thinks she’s really funny, so funny that she posted this atrocity on my Facebook wall. Really? We’re supposed to believe that Pavement pairs well with 1 PBR? What, because they’re like hipster slackers of something? Eff that.
I’m taking it upon myself to pair some bands with beers that make sense. Comment freely or suggest your own pairings. The wrong that has been created on Drinkify must be stopped. I mean, we’re trying to build coalitions up in this joint.
Pavement – Saison
I considered choosing one beer for Pavement but settled on a style instead. With a band like Pavement, it depends on the record. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain might require the smooth quirkiness of a Boulevard Tank 7, but Wowee Zowee is a Boulevard Saison Brett all the way. The Saison is one of the more versatile styles out there. These beers can be loved or hated, depending on one’s mood, but they are generally appreciated. The range of flavors (earthy to citrusy to sour to bitter) is only equaled by the range of Pavement’s discography. Also of note is that Stephen Malkmus represents the entirety of the Stillwater lineup of artisanal Saisons.
Wilco – Schlafly American Pale Ale
What goes better with dad rock better than a slightly hoppier pale ale from the St. Louis area? Wilco, of course. This easy-drinking lesson in hoppiness is the perfect beer for the dad who wants to still show that he’s cool without drinking anything too bitter or high in alcohol. I mean, he does have to drive home. I also considered Three Floyds’ Alpha King, but figured it only paired with Wilco’s more obtuse work like A Ghost Is Born.
Fiery Furnaces – New Belgium La Folie
They’re both difficult to love sometimes, but if you put forth the effort to find what’s good, it’s totally worth it. Because of this, both have the most loyal of fans who must learn to ignore all the judgmental stares from their peers for choosing to like something so difficult. I considered several more artsy, more difficult bands (Joan of Arc, Beat Happening) along with other Flanders red ales (Duchesse De Bourgogne, New Garus Wisconsin Belgian Red). The pairing just seems right.
Guided By Voices – Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale
I realize that Bob Pollard drinks Bud, not sissy craft beers, but the classic IPA is perfect for macro-arena rock from the midwest. I was torn on several bands and IPA’s, but I settled on two classics. The best part of the IPA are all the variations it’s birthed along with other possible pairings. Dinosaur Jr ruins your eardrums like a Stone Ruination IPA (which is really an imperial IPA) ruins your tastebuds. Other Stone varieties also pair well with similar indie outfits such as Cali-Belgique (Yuck) or the 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA (Chavez). Of course, there’s always old standbys like a Modus Hoperandi (Superchunk) or Lagunitas Hop Stoopid (Archers of Loaf)…I could go on and on, but there are other beers and bands to pair.
Where was I?
Sonic Youth – Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout
There is a ton going on in a Sonic Youth record. Layers of rebuilt guitars and alternate tunings upon alternate tunings create a cacophony that’s all their own. And over the years, SY has grown into almost a completely different band. While they sound nothing like themselves 30 years ago, only they could have evolved the way they have. This is much like Canadian Breakfast Stout, the much hyped and oft-cited imperial stout of the moment. At the moment, there’s a lot of noise in that beer. The suspicion is that it will undergo a Sonic Youth-like metamorphosis while in the bottle that sits in my cellar. I’ve had a taste, but I can’t wait to have another.
Sufjan Stevens – He-Brew Genesis 15:15
Speaking of having a lot going on, this musician and beer pack a whole lota flavor in relatively small packages. Sufjan Stevens brings one layered opus after another from his home in Brookly, much like the brewers at Schmaltz/He’Brew. The religious imagery and connotations are undeniable…This is a pairing made in heaven.
Wild Flag – Avery/Russian River Collaboration not Litigation
The members of Wild Flag were never in any danger of suing one another, but they have collaborated to create one the year’s best records. The Avery/Russian River collab is nearly as caustic and full of riot grrrl power as Wild Flag is. Plus, at nearly, 9% ABV, it makes you as woozy as one might feel after a Carrie Brownstein windmill combined with a Mary Timony classic rock non-riff. Confused? You should be.
I think I have more, but it will take some time to sort them out. In the meantime, what are your favorite beer/music pairings? Do you like any of the pairings I suggested above? Do you have a better pairing for the bands and beers I listed here? As usual, leave some comments.
Beer is in the blog’s title, so I should give it space. Last week was American Craft Beer Week. I took full advantage in exploring the many ways one enjoys craft beers1. Granted, my celebration was more than a week, but that’s the time I needed in order to fully experience all that one does with craft beer.
It all began where many American craft brewers began. A friend2 and I devised a recipe for a strong dark Belgian ale while drinking a few Belgians along the way. A lot of the best craft brewers started out brewing their own after discovering the many possibilities for beer in Belgium. We threw back three nice beers over cheese and crackers while pouring through books and websites that would help us formulate our brew, which is tentatively called “Belgian Budweiser”. However, if the lawyers at InBev and I have any say, that moniker will change3.
The following day was a rainy afternoon where I found myself in front of a Wallace & Gromit marathon with my daughter. In order to fight off the cold, rainy weather, I sipped on a Great Divide Oak-aged Yeti. We beer geeks love our imperial stouts, but we love them even more when the vanilla-like esters are released from the oak barrels4.
A friend stopped by a little later to share an Avery Maharaja, his favorite beer. His love for batch 9 carried him through a somewhat disappointing batch 10 last year in hopes batch 11 would not let us down. It didn’t. Upon finishing the hoppy, mango-like nectar, I pulled out one of those batch 10’s just for a comparison beer geeks refer to as a “vertical”. Batch 10 was still the lesser beer, but I have to say it’s fared well over the last year.
Officially, American Craft Beer Week started with a happy hour on Monday at one of the preferred watering holes here in Columbia, Sycamore5. Though small, the bottle and tap lists are loaded with the best that Missouri distributors can conjure6 . Of course, the best part of any happy hour is the conversation. Folks I knew from the Columbia Beer Enthusiasts as well as a few people I met on Twitter7.
The week also called for some travel. My daughter and I flew to Ohio for a couple of days in order to celebrate my grandparents’ 90th birthdays. Of course, there were beer stops after landing in Columbus. I dropped some cash at Palmer’s and Weiland’s for some nice out-of-market brews. Another mark of beer geekdom is our commitment to beer tourism. Even when we don’t go on a trip specifically for the beer, we’re always sure to pick up something not available in our home states.
I didn’t just buy; I consumed. A Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale8 paired well with my North Star Thai burrito. Jeni’s Ice Cream supplied me with both a Kona Stout ice cream as well as a Cherry Lambic Sorbet to go along with my scoop of Buckeye State. There was some Great Lakes’ Commodore Perry IPA waiting for me at my parents’ place. We followed that with my own Wowee Zowee.
Maybe the best part of craft beer geekery is finding a hidden treasure. On our way to my folk’s place after the birthday party, we hit a small town drive-through for some beverages, hoping I didn’t have to break into my haul from Columbus just yet. Luckily, this was Ohio and Great Lakes beers are everywhere. Bernie’s Drive-Thru in Bellefontaine had four packs of the Lake Erie Monster. This beer had to be maybe the best of the week and possibly year. It’s one balanced imperial IPA. So hoppy, but with a strong malt backbone. I would have finished the four pack on my own had it not been a 9.1% boozer of a beer.
The return home brought more beer over the weekend. It was also stifling hot9, weather so hot that it motivated my wine-drinking partner to request a beer. Out came the New Glarus Belgian Red, as cherry a beer as I’ve ever had. Despite its girlie fruitiness, this beer hit the spot after a long day of travel through the near-90 degree weather.
A friend showed up10 for dinner and we cracked open a local/STL brew by Schlafly. The Grand Cru was chosen as a beer that would pair well with the shrimp and saffron over homemade pasta we had slated for dinner. It did go nicely and I finished the night off with one of my Ohio imports, a Dogfish Head Immort Ale11.
The following day saw us smoking meats all day long. I opted for a standard go-to beer to split among three of us. Lagunitas’ Hop Stoopid is just that kind of beer. And at $4, the price is definitely right.
That evening also happened to be the series finale of Lost12. I volunteered our house guest to join me in my second vertical tasting of the week. We sipped on Dogfish Head World Wide Stouts from 2007 and 2008. The ’07 was quite phenomenal: complex, smooth, boozy. The ’08 was pretty great as well, but it had a strong coffee thing going and some of its fizz gave it more mouth feel. Of course, after drinking 12 oz. worth of an 18% ABV beer, who knows if I remember the details accurately.
The long “week” that was dedicated to American craft beer ended appropriately13 at a local brewery where the Columbia Beer Enthusiasts gathered some of our favorite pale ales and IPA’s for a tasting14. The bottles were passed quickly around the table, nearly knocking me on my ass. A Gordon here, Hop Henge there. The hops were flowing, finally wearing me down after a great week of drinking.
Appropriately, I finished the last of the Wowee Zowee. My beer stood up well to a powerful list of IPA’s Monday night. And as my beer ended its run, so did the longest American Craft Beer Week ever15.
I don’t know exactly what the point of this post was supposed to be. I guess I just wanted to share all the ways in which craft beer can be enjoyed16. There’s the getting back to the roots of the movement through Belgian beers and homebrewing. I drank beers that suited the weather or the cuisine. Vertical tastings were experienced as well as old stand-bys. Beers were shared and beers were smuggled in my suitcase. It’s a big deal and certainly worth more than a week of my year. I guess that’s why I celebrated eleven days.
1It’s not like I don’t do this all the time. I just did more than usual over the last week+.
2Who happens to be a chocolate maker, the same chocolate maker who sold me some cocoa nibs for a beer I brewed a couple of weeks ago.
3I’m thinking that the name of our “brewery” might be Belgium Budweiser or some mashup of the two terms. The beer itself should be based on some scary Belgian folktale. Anyone know of any evil characters from Belgian folklore?
4Seriously, if you drink an oak-aged beer, pay close attention to that vanilla character. Some brewers use actual barrels while others just toss in a load of oak chips.
5Well, the official part is Monday, not necessarily our happy hour/Tweetup.
6 Which is better than we sometimes give credit. They do a nice job of bringing in beers from Michigan and Colorado. If we could just get more beer from the coasts…
7We had a “Tweetup”. They call it a “Tweetup”.
8This may be the best beer to pair with any food. The dark malt gives it a sweetness and roastiness that pairs with fatty meats that are either grilled or smoked. The hops hold up to anything with spice. The balance of the beer means that none of these characteristics overtake the others. Really. It’s the perfect beer for food.
9Summer has arrived in Missouri, a time when we officially change the name to “Misery”. (This is not a reference to my old blog.)
10Oddly enough, from Ohio where I had just left via plane. We passed over him on our way home.
11A bit of a letdown, but at 11% ABV, I could cellar it and see what happens.
12This has got to be the best show in TV history. However, why can’t good TV shows make good finales. It was good to a point, but a letdown in the end.
13Actually, I felt as though I ended the craft beer debauchery this evening with another smuggled beer, Green Flash Imperial IPA. What a great beer. I may have to take a few days off from the hops.
14My friend and I brought Three Floyds Apha King, Alesmith IPA, and the very last Wowee Zowee.
15Not counting the dudes who have 2-3 really good craft beers every night of the year. Their weeks never end.
16Of course, I don’t know whether I’ve accomplished this, but I don’t have time for revisions. I can hear my readers ending their real simple subscriptions to my blog as I type this.