Beer and Pavement

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?

Session #64: Pale in Comparison

Posted in Beer, The Session by Zac on June 1, 2012

The Beer Babe had the following mission to propose for this month’s session:

Your mission – if you choose to accept it – it so seek out and taste two different pale ales. Tell us what makes them special, what makes them forgettable, what makes them the same or what makes them different…

I have to admit that the pale ale is not currently my favorite style of beer. Extreme beer has me roped in, but I also like other, more diverse styles of beer. The pale ale is just so plain, so run of the mill these days. Everyone brews a pale.

It hasn’t always been that way. I used to exclusively order pale ales, particularly Columbus Pale Ale back in the day. It was so bitter and fulfilling compared to the macro lagers of my youth that I couldn’t imagine anything more flavorful. When I was lucky enough to try a flight at a brewery, the pale ale was what I used to judge a brewery’s quality. The pale was king until it’s Indian cousin (and his imperialist friend) came along and changed my life forever.

Still, I wanted to participate in this month’s session. With a summer holiday arriving just before, I figured that I had ample opportunity to try some pale ales and put together a post. The two pales I landed on were Deschutes Red Chair NWPA and Tallgrass 8-Bit Pale Ale.

Now, before some beer purists get their boxers in a bunch, I recognize that these beers are technically considered American pale ales (APA). This was purposeful. I prefer the sharp bite of hops over biscuit-y sweetness more prevalent in the British version. So, most pale ales don’t typically do it for me. Now, I don’t need to be knocked upside the head at all times by hop bombs, but some fruity, piney aromas and bitterness provided by American hops is one of the things that dragged me into the craft beer world. So, this is as close as I’ll get to trying two pale ales so closely together*.

The first of the two APA’s I tried was the Deschutes Red Chair NWPA. It was a nice evening at the community garden. Most of the kids in the ‘hood had just finished their last day of school and so we threw a little barbecue. I grabbed a sixer of Red Chair and even “slummed it” by drinking from the bottle.

At 6.4% ABV and 60 IBU, this beer teeters on the edge of being another great northwestern IPA. However, it goes down much smoother, almost too smooth as I had three before having to drag my kid (and myself) home for her bath. This beer is a gentler, kinder IPA, something I always hope for in a pale ale, even if it makes the purists cringe. Even from the bottle, I could enjoy this beer’s pine forest aroma. It’s just a great and easy drinking beer for a beer geek with some extreme beer fatigue. Mind you, that’s not extreme beerfatigue. I’m talking about extremebeer fatigue. Those are two very different things.

Later in the weekend, my daughter and I embarked on a 60-mile (round trip) bike ride split by a night of camping and live music, better known as the Pedaler’s Jamboree. The featured beers of the fest were those canned creations from Tallgrass. One such beer was waiting for me in a cooler at the end of the first day’s ride: 8-Bit Pale Ale.

8-Bit’s measurables put it much closer to your average pale ale (5.2% ABV, 40 IBU), but it’s still at the high end of the spectrum. Everything Red Chair had, 8-Bit did subtler, but that wasn’t a bad thing. After biking all day in 90+ degree heat, I was happy to have an easy drinking beer with just the right balance of sweetness, bitterness, and floral hoppiness.

And yes, I drank it out of the can. What else are you supposed to do when camping? Besides, how could anyone not love the cartoonish design adorning this 16 oz can? My daughter hoped she could have some but she was out of luck.

The tone of this month’s session felt like a review was in order, but I don’t really feel like ranking these beers or even comparing them. They’re both dynamite examples of (American) pale ales. Red Chair screams Northwest with its piney aromas and 8-Bit comes off more citrusy like its Midwestern wheat-based brethren, but that’s about as different as they get. Otherwise, both beers were smooth going down and made me reconsider my extremebeer pretensions. Whatever that means.

*It should be noted that I finished off a four-pack of Green Flash Rayon Vert not too long ago. That beer is considered a Belgian-style pale ale. I love this beer, but it felt as though it was cheating when this session was considered.

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On Sentimentality

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Life by Zac on February 10, 2012

Music and images elicit a certain amount of sentimentality in its audience. In fact, producers of such art depend on that sentimentality to sell their art. It’s not a deceptive practice. Musicians have to sell records to make a living and continue doing what they love.

There’s also a more authentic aspect for manufacturing some sentimentality. Artists want to make a connection through common sentiments. If I reflect on my childhood or my child’s in a song or video and it connects with you, we create a community of sorts through this kinship. Yes, there’s profit to be made, but the human connections solidified are what’s really valuable.

Some roll their eyes at sentimentality, especially when something’s for sale. Take that Deschutes video I shared a while back

Some beer enthusiasts were upset. They felt duped. Someone was accessing their sentimentality to sell some beer. They don’t like that and feel craft beer should be above such nonsense. However, it’s naive to think this way. Man, everything’s for sale, including your sentimentality. If you’re aware of it, who cares? Why not enjoy the moment?

I get a certain bit of sentimentality from beer and music. I’m okay with it being used to sell me more beer and records because I’m aware of what’s going on. I can separate something that makes me feel sentimental from what you’re selling. However, if I too feel sentimental about your product, I’m more than willing to shed reason to satisfy that need for sentiment.

Take the video at the top of this post for example. I have all kinds of feelings for this one piece. First, the song is by Eric Bachman of Archers of Loaf fame and now Crooked Fingers. Archers of Loaf captured the angst and blue-collar anger of my youth, feelings that still resonate with me. Crooked Fingers came around at some interesting transitions in my life. Darker sides of my mindset heard Bachman’s drunken laments and it connected. Ever since, the more mature material Bachman has released speaks to me as I grow older and accumulate adult responsibilities. His last album was completely overlooked by me and possibly should have made my final ten of 2011. For this, I feel a little guilty.

The video and song together really connects to sentimentality of my current state. Watching a young girl grow, discover her family history, and suddenly realize she’s grown really makes me think about my own daughter. Additionally, friends have recently asked me what fatherhood is like. for three years for her life, I’ve almost never had to answer this question. However, it’s come up a lot lately. I’ve surprised myself with how much I’ve had to say about it.

This leads to a moment I had today. My mom called me this morning to tell me that my grandfather died earlier in the day, the day between my wife’s birthday (yesterday) and mine (tomorrow). She told me how she was able to see him before he passed. He wanted to talk, but the oxygen mask he was wearing wouldn’t permit his words to heard. She said by the time my aunt arrived later in the evening, he was virtually in a coma.

I thought about that moment, the moment my grandfather’s daughters had to see him in the most vulnerable of states. I thought about the last moments he had to look into his daughter’s eyes. I imagined the moment I will have to do the same.

This caused me to shutter a bit, but it resonated. Yep. I got all of that from one little music video.

I write about my interests because I feel connections to people through these things. I remember sharing a Goose Island Christmas ale with my grandfather the last time we celebrated the holiday together. My sister played some Bettie Serveert on Facebook today to help her cope with the sadness. I’ve listened to nothing but Bettie Serveert all day, remembering the summer I spent in Seattle when I caught them live.

Beer and music are there throughout our lives when the good and bad happen. Sure, there are other things, but these are the things to which I connect. So, I feel as though we should insure that these moments are connected to the best in both. I want the most meaningful music and the highest quality beer to connect to the times I share with loved ones.

Does this make me more susceptible to advertisers playing the sentimentality card? Sure, but why not enjoy feeling that connection now and and again? Honestly, I’d rather play a record for sentimental reasons than because Pitchfork told me to. I’d rather remember the time I had a heart-to-heart with a friend over a good craft beer than fully sober and without a taste in my mouth that will take me back to that one moment in time…

Now ‘m rambling a bit. Appeal to my sentimentality. I’m cool with it. I like feeling and remembering, things humans do.

The Most Oregon Thing Ever

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Life by Zac on January 23, 2012

I’ve never been to Oregon, but I feel as though I have. There was the time I spent a summer in the Puget Sound right after college. The scenery in that region wasn’t far off from what I know about Oregon. My record and beer collections are loaded with representatives from Oregon. I even own the first season of Portlandia. I’ve never been, but I think I know Oregon a little.

The following video popped up on Stan’s blog[1] Monday that may very well be the most Oregon thing I’ve ever seen…

First and foremost, it’s a great piece of film-making. It’s a simple road trip story featuring a young couple. There’s plenty of story there even without any dialogue. The boy tries to entice the girl into his van with his banjo. She’s pissed at him for some reason but eventually relents. Obviously, she’s cool with it. She’s just not quite sure where it’s all going.

Eventually, inspiration hits and the couple maps out a trip that will allow them to see all the landmarks featured on Deschutes labels. What results is a trip where they learn more than the value of craft beer. No, the beer epiphany isn’t the only discovery for the couple.

The story is sweet even with the not-so-subtle inclusion of the Deschutes labels and corresponding landmarks. Craft beer is bigger than beer or the beer industry. There are the aforementioned epiphanies, but more importantly there is craft beer’s relationship to life and living. The time and expertise that went into brewing the beers the couple drink in the short are greater than the effects of throwing back a few cold ones. This is something handmade yet magical that becomes a part of their story.

Anything artisanal has this advantage over anything corporate or industrial. Where the makers of industrial, rice-adjunct lagers have done all they can to strip personality from their products, breweries like Deschutes have multiplied and exploited it in order to keep that human element in beer alive. Beer is a living, breathing thing that enriches our lives with pleasure in the form of aroma, flavor, mouthfeel…and a little booze doesn’t hurt either. The personality and humanity in every bottle is a part of those moments and experiences that shape. Why fill that time with watery domestics?

The film says all this to me. Of course, I’m a bit more attuned to such things as these are my obsessions, but filmmaker Chris Hornbecker has a knack for finding the magical in images of humanity. This sweet love story/beer ad isn’t the only example of his craft. Check the Wolf Parade (RIP) video for “Yulia” as evidence that he is not a one-hit wonder. From what I’ve found using my expert Google search skills, he’s a photographer whose eye is incredibly adept at capture just those perfect moments you’ll never see in a Budweiser commercial.

The music didn’t escape me either. I knew the band, but I didn’t know the band. Turns out that it’s a song, “Beach House”, by a Seattle band called The Cave Singers. Born out of the ashes of the now-defunct-yet-beautifully-named Pretty Girls Make Graves, The Cave Singers combine authenticity with expert storytelling to make “Landmarks” a truly compelling and universal story. You know, that moment in a young relationship when neither person is sure what’s happening or where it’s all going… Then, there’s that moment when one or both take a chance. Discoveries are made and love flourishes.

The music beautifully captures the sense of discover Hornbecker is trying to convey. That kind of discovery is rarely associated with keggers of industrial lagers. It’s never at the bottom of that can of Natty Light. This kind of humanity and relationship fits better with something that takes as much care as the artists who wrote, directed, shot, and performed such a lovely piece.

I don’t know that Deschutes’ arrival in my state two weeks ago could cause this same sort of discovery. Aside from the things I experience raising my daughter, a lot of discovery is starting to escape my grasp. That’s where the soulfulness of things like craft beer and indie rock enrich my life a bit.

Deschutes’ beers are full of soul. I could be a sucker for marketing, but every beer of theirs I’ve had has not disappointed. The ephemeral quality of a Deschutes beer, whether that be the roastiness of Black Butte or the crisp, floral aromas of Hop Henge, they always deliver a sense you’re tasting something memorable, something real.

The cynics among you will point out that I’m going over the top with this Deschutes video thing, but I’d argue that you’re not allowing yourself to enjoy these moments. I’m talking about the moment a song hits you in a way that you just want to play it over and over. Or that time a truly great craft beer fist reached your palate. What about that moment you smiled uncontrollably at the moment a film took you back to a time when you truly fell in love?

Maybe this describes Oregon. It more than likely does not. Still, it’s nice to think that there’s an Oregon like this out there. Thanks Deschutes for making some pretty great beer and thanks for commissioning this short film. You made my week.

Notes:
1I love Stan’s blog and he’s one of the most thoughtful and generous beer bloggers there is. However, I can’t help but be a little disappointed at the comments celebrating the fraction of a second the female character’s breasts are exposed. It was a lovely moment that was completely lost by a couple of his commenters. That’s fine if they got their rocks off on a little nudity, but I suspect they’d miss the importance of that same moment if it happened right in front of them. This kind of shit makes me loath the boy-dominated beer scene and worry for my daughter… Then, I have a beer and I don’t care anymore. It won’t ruin my enjoyment of this nice piece of art.

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