In last week’s top-5, I predicted there would be some indie rock tribute beers this year. Since I want to be part of the solution and not the problem, I have decided to post five possible examples of beers that could be brewed as a way to properly recognize the chemistry that exists between indie rock and craft beer.
5. Dogfish Head Guided By Voices Heavy Lager – I once heard Bob Pollard proclaim on stage that he drinks “Bud Heavy” and not Bud Light. So, I think Dogfish Head needs to produce a “heavy” lager, maybe an imperial pilsner or high ABV bock of some sort and dedicate it to the reunited classic GBV lineup. I chose Dogfish Head because they’ve done this sort of thing before and there’s a picture of Sam Calagione wearing a GBV t-shirt out there somewhere.
4. Stillwater Bright Eyes Angst-Ridden Saison, Aged in Red Wine Barrels – I once had a pretty in-depth discussion about Bright Eyes with Stillwater brewer Brian Strumke. So, I know he’s a fan and would totally be into this sort of thing. I also know that Conor Oberst loved some red wine. If anyone could figure out a way to brew the perfect beer involving a red wine barrel (Pinot Noir possibly?), it’s Brian. This is actually the beer on this list that I personally think has the best chance of actually happening.
3. The Bruery Pavement Pilsner, AKA Watery Domestic – Of course I had to figure out a way to work Pavement into a beer. I suspect The Bruery could tap into Pavement’s Northern California aesthetic from their early days and brew their first commercially-available pilsner in the process. Since it’s from The Bruery, expect some flavors and adjuncts that will throw you for a loop.
2. Shmaltz Brewing Company He’Brew Yo La Tengo Barley Wine – A better brewery and band pairing would be hard to conjure. Shmaltz calls NYC home and specializes in Jewish-themed brews with their He’Brew line, particularly their Hanukkah gift pack. Yo La Tengo hails from across the river in Hoboken, but they spend a lot of time in the City. Every year, YLT celebrates their Jewish heritage with a set of shows each night of Hanukkah. A huge barley wine that improves with age would be ideal.
1. Just About Any Portland Brewery to Brew an IPA in Honor of Just About Any Portland Band – I get that this will be seen as a cop-out, but how could one narrow Portland’s beer and music scenes to just one brewery and one band. The one thing that isn’t hard to figure out is the beer’s style. An IPA makes the most sense here as some of the best come from Portland. Their bitterness can be a turn-off for some at first, but eventually the joy that is a Wests Coast IPA is discovered. The same goes for the average Portland indie band.
This month’s session almost threw me for a loop. Here’s the premise from session curator Mario Rubio of Brewed for Thought:
With the New Year looming and a month of Christmas and Holiday parties to enjoy there are plenty of opportunities to get into a different beverage besides beer, alcoholic or otherwise. It was with this in mind that I was reminded of a conversation I had one day with Jay Brooks. Looking for advice on how to squeeze some blood from this stone of beer blogging, Jay told me a lot of writers have to look outside of beer to help make a complete income. Upon bringing this up as a Session topic he even offered up a much better title than I would have thought up.
So as we are all incredibly interesting people, and almost always drink beer, let’s talk about what we drink when not drinking beer. Maybe your passion for coffee rivals that of craft beer, or it could be another alcoholic beverage such as scotch. My daughter being a root beer fan would appreciate her dad reviewing a few fizzy sodas. Maybe you have a drink that takes the edge off the beer, be it hair of the dog or a palate cleanser during the evening.
Beer cocktails, wines, ciders, meads, you name it as long as it’s not beer. Try to tie it in with craft beer in some way for extra credit. Be creative and I’ll see you guys in the new year.
Why would this throw me for a loop? Well, aside from my morning (and sometimes afternoon) coffee and water, I’ve cut out just about all other drinks. I feel that I can have a beer that will satisfy me better than any cocktail or glass of wine could ever do. So, why would I want to wast my liver and bladder on another drink?
Then, I considered the past holiday season. Every Christmas Eve, we have a Polish dinner. It’s tradition to toast each course with a shot of Polish vodka. We’ve always preferred Żubrówka or Bison Grass Vodka. However, the Eastern European market here in town was out. To add insult to injury, all the liquor stores in town don’t carry it. Our dinner guest supplied a nice Polish vodka, but it was absent the bison grass and just didn’t taste the same.
What exactly is Żubrówka and why is it so good?
Well, the Żubrówka one buys here in the States is different than what can be had in Poland. The original contains a blade of grass that grows from bison pastures. We’re all adults with a decent amount of education. So, I’ll let you figure out the connection from there. Anyway, said grass contains a carcinogen, making it extra “effective”. The US government looks down upon such ingredients. The American version shares the same green tint, herbal flavor, and even a blade of grass. However, there are no carcinogens. Still, my wife who’s had the Polish version, says it’s pretty close to the original. This means that a certain amount of herbal goodness, akin to an apple pie, exists in this green-tinted treat.
The spirit is an integral part of our family’s history. My wife’s family has a Polish background and she spent some time in Poland while her brother served in the Peace Corps there. Żubrówka was plentiful. Even the children were served their share, mixed with apple juice for a drink called a “szarlotka”. When we were married, we concluded the ceremony (and started the party) with a shot of Żubrówka for all. It’s tradition for our liquor cabinet to be stocked with the grassy booze, but our supply ran out and was left empty somehow.
After the Christmas Eve without our favorite accoutrement, we were determined to not let another holiday pass us by without some Bison Grass Vodka. Thankfully, Wine & Cheese Place in St. Louis (or in Clayton to be more specific) exists. I normally go there for beer, but this was a vodka emergency and a bottle of the green stuff was to be secured. W&C pulled through and we had vodka shots for New Year’s Eve!
Of course, I also consumed some Mikkeller Nelson Sauvin Brut (an awesome “New Year beer…fermented with ale yeast, brettanomyces and enzymes…aged three months in Austrian white wine casks”), Life & Limb 2 (Dogfish Head/Sierra Nevada-collaborated imperial stout with distinctive notes of chocolate and maple syrup), and Schalfly Reserve Barley Wine-style Ale (a 2008 vintage where the only thing I could taste was oak and no malt after 3+ years in the bottle). So, I didn’t drink just vodka harvested from the grass of buffalo dung, but the vodka certainly helped to ring in the new year the right way even if leaving me a bit hungover.
Cheers to Mario for forcing me out of my comfort zone and to reflect on and appreciate what is a rather enjoyable spirit, Żubrówka.
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.
I know little if nothing about business or economics, at least not formally. That said, the following conversation happened on Twitter yesterday.
(Be sure to follow Kristen on Twitter if you’re into that sort of thing.)
There were some Tweets in between these, but you get the point. The general idea is that the media is missing the point when reporting on the failings of various industries, especially the two I obsess over. There are clear distinctions between smaller businesses who use innovation to sell traditional products and larger corporations that employ traditional methods to sell new products. Growth and sustainability happen in these smaller ventures. They sell quality over hype, depending on word-of-mouth (via social networking) and they do it in a way that’s easy to maintain.
Indie labels and craft breweries are equivalents in their respective industries. They both depend on the quality of their craft to bring them financial success. They both have large corporate entities to contend with as said corporate devils continue an incestuous practice of mergers and buy-outs. They both prefer innovation in business practices and marketing to sell quality craftsmanship. There’s a focus by both to engage intellect of the consumer by staying above the fray, never appealing to the lowest common denominator. When it comes to steady growth and sustainability, these sub-industries have the answers corporations can’t see through their greedy lens.
Take an indie like Merge. From pretty humble beginnings, this tiny label has built one of the most impressive lineups in the industry, among indies and majors. Yet, they did this while giving their artists a generous share of their album sales and limiting the growth of their label. Artists were allowed freedoms in recording and artwork as long as the tiny label could afford it. For years, they struggled out of a small office in Chapel Hill, NC. Eventually, their model which valued their relationships with artists over profits has led to a record label that actually makes a decent profit, even as the record/music industry dies a slow, painful death.
Some indies try the growth-at-all-costs model their corporate overlords use. Sub Pop – on more than one occasion – has flirted with disaster via major label marketing practices. (Interestingly, Nirvana’s major label breakthrough and a distribution deal with a major label actually saved Sub Pop from bankruptcy on separate occasions.) Sub Pop grew too big at a couple of points in the nineties, signing every band in sight. However, they stretched themselves too thin, featuring a lineup of quantity over quality. They learned their lessons, made some savvy business deals and have found a way to survive as an indie, maybe the most beloved of the sellouts.
Craft breweries have followed a similar track as indie labels. Dogfish Head is a brewery that has placed ideals over profits. They, like other breweries, have cut back on distribution while they slow growth in an attempt to maintain the quality that put Dogfish Head on the map in the first place. As far as marketing, DfH has opted to appeal to the senses as opposed to sexists. A DfH brew belongs at the table with a gourmet meal and that’s what sells. They don’t rely on ads the way Budweiser does. No. DfH’s marketing plan is to brew tasty beers. Too bad Budweiser hasn’t tried that one.
Of course, there’s been some buzz in the beer industry as A-B-InBev purchased craft beer stalwart Goose Island. While there are signs that ABI will stay out of Goose Island’s product, there are already signs that even GI will just become another marketing machine, void of substance that towers over hype. ABI purchased the rights to area codes all over. The plan is to release area code-specific versions of GI’s very popular 312 Urban Wheat Ale. This does not bode well for GI’s future as a
pseudo-craft brewery enveloped in a corporate culture.
As corporations continue to push for world denomination through obscene expansion and hostile takeovers, small craft industries are thriving during tough economic times. Consumers know value and will spend their money on it when their cash flow is low. Plus, profits go much further when a company puts said profits toward employee pay and benefits, monitors slow-but-steady growth, and allows the quality of their product speak for itself.
It seems the business models of craft breweries and indie labels should be the models for all business. Not only are they successful – even with an increasing number of competitors, but they have created situations that are sustainable, benefiting everyone in their company. Will there ever be an indie or craft brewery earning as much income as their larger, corporate foes? Doubtful, but maybe that’s the point.
Happy Labor Day, y’all! I wanted to make a labor-themed list this week, but I wasn’t feeling all that creative. Labor Day and unions will get their due in the list, but there are other things to cover…
1. SM on Fallon
I originally wanted to share this show SM & the Jicks put on at San Francisco’s Amoeba Records, but this two-song set on Fallon was too much to resist. The image of all those kids on stage peeing themselves over the awesomeness in front of them can’t escape my mind. All the live videos of material from this album further confirms that Mirror Traffic is the best I’ve heard this year and I doubt that will change any time soon. (I would have embedded the videos here, but NBC’s and Photobucket’s embedding doesn’t seem to cooperate with WordPress.)
2. Founders 2010 Nemesis
Recently, both Draft Magazine and The Hopry suggested that last year’s Nemesis is ready to come out of the cellar. They were right. Gone is the hoppiness and bite. Present is a smooth, luscious black barley wine, aged to near-perfection. I still have two left that will wit for at least another 6-12 months. It should be interesting to see how this beer matures even more.
I’ve had an influx of records arriving at my house lately (and still more to come). It seems an order of three albums was lost somewhere and finally arrived this past week. I’ve barely had time to listen to Let’s Wrestle, Boat, and Joan of Arc. The Joan of Arc is pretty wicked, though. Also, I ordered a couple records I missed along the way: Eleanor Friedberger’s new solo effort and Wye Oak’s latest. On top of that, I’ve been listening to a streaming Wild Flag all week. So, there’s music about which to write once I find a moment.
There’s always a constant flow of beer in my life. I recently tried and thoroughly enjoyed Dogfish Head’s Squall, which is a bottle-conditioned version of their 90 Minute IPA. This was the same beer without the bite, quite enjoyable. Also, over the weekend, I had the Schlafly raspberry coffee stout. Meh. Fruit in stouts doesn’t often work for me. In this case, the raspberry overpowered everything. Luckily, I have another to age to see if the raspberry mellows.
5. Ohio State is 1-0.
This is all that matters. The Buckeyes had a long, long off-season as wins were vacated, players suspended, coaches resigned, etc. Now, they’ve finally played a game. It was a 42-0 win over outmatched Akron, but it was a win nonetheless. First-time head coach Luke Fickell starts off undefeated. The defense pitches a shutout (which is a big deal no matter who you’re playing). The quarterbacks looked good. There was a new-found killer instinct lacking in previous teams. They even left at least 10 points on the field, fumbling once inside the 5 and missing a make-able field goal. Now, they welcome a slightly tougher – but still a MAC-rificial lamb – test in Toledo. Hopefully, a week from now, I’m writing that they’re 2-0 and ready for Miami.
The Hopry is starting a new series where they list top-5 beers that fill a particular need. The first post in the series focused on the top-5 beers you should always keep in the fridge. You can see their list and eyeball mine below. After that, I’m also including a list of top-records to always have around.
Keep in mind that these might not be the five best beers/records. The idea is to have every need covered with just the five selections. While I recognize my fives don’t have everything for everyone, it’s still my house. This is what I have to offer.
So, check it…
5 Beers for the Fridge
Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale – Saisons are a versatile alternative to the over-hopped/hyped IPA’s and dirty, dirty stouts. They are light with a touch of tartness and spice, perfect for pairing with fish and/or poultry. This is easily one of my favorite saisons. Now that it’s available in 12 oz. bottles, it’s easy to keep some on hand for any occasion. I considered sticking The Bruery’s Saison Rue in this slot, but The Bruery is not available in Missouri and they only come in 750 mL bombers.
Ska Modus Hoperandi – One has to have a hopbomb around, right? Modus is quickly replacing spots in fridges around Middle Missouri that were once held down by Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale. The fact that this beer comes in a can makes it perfect for this list. Cans tend to keep IPA’s better than bottles and they’re easily stored. I eventually want a beer fridge and have fantasized filling the “can dispensers” in those things usually reserved for PBR and Coke Zero with some Modus.
Bell’s Expedition Stout – This is maybe my favorite beer. Bigger, blackerer, and full of molasses, Expedition is a go-to imperial stout that should be in every fridge and beer closet. Besides sipping on the good stuff, I periodically make ice cream out of this Texas (via Michigan) tea. The best part is that the ice cream recipe leaves me a half bottle to finish as I churn the creamy concoction.
Cantillon Kriek – I considered New Belgium’s La Folie for the token sour stand-by, but that only comes in bombers. Cantillon is the fine wine of the beer world and they sell their beers in smaller bottles for a somewhat affordable treat. This beer fills the sour need as well as showing your guests that fruit does belong in beer from time to time.
Dogfish Head India Brown Ale – This is the only beer not readily available in Missouri, but I try to have it around as much as possible. Besides being a really great beer, IBA is the perfect beer to pair with almost any food, especially those of the greasy, meaty variety. I essentially proclaimed that the most perfect pairing ever was a Booches burger and a DfH IBA and I still stand by that assertion. The combination of hops cutting through grease and sweet malty goodness balancing the richness of the meat is too good not to experience at least once.
As you can see, my beer list is pretty diverse. The records didn’t turn out that way, but my taste in music is much, much narrower than my taste in beers. Just look at the blog’s title. I identify a band but refer to beer in general. That can tell you a lot about this blog. Now, on to the records…
5 Records for the Turntable
Neutral Milk Hotel In the Aeroplane of the Sea – This is an absolute classic that will hold down a spot on my overall top-5 every time. No other record is as good a discussion starter as Aeroplane. Aesthetically, it has some folky acoustic guitar, trumpet flourishes, love for our lord and savior Jesus Christ… Really, everyone should own this album.
A Tribe Called Quest The Low End Theory – You need dance music? Wanna kick it old school? Your only black friend is over for dinner? Drop the needle on this hip-hop classic and let the groove take over. Not only does your cred go up a notch for actually owning hip-hop record, but you own one of the most revered and highly decorated albums of all time.
Pavement Quarantine the Past – Put this one on for your kids and explain that this is what the nineties sounded like. Normally, I’d put a specific Pavement album (or possibly their entire catalog) on this list, but Quarantine the Past is a near-perfect compilation that spans the group’s run quite nicely. Now, you can expose your friends to Pavement without making them sit through every 7″ and reissue extra.
Slint Spiderland – At this point, my musical biases have gone over the top. Nearly all the nineties essentials are now covered with Spiderland joining the party. However, this album is diverse enough to handle both a dark mood and the end-of-the-evening comedown. That and like Aeroplane, this record offers plenty about which to talk. “Did you know that Will Oldham took the picture on the cover?” “Did you know that PJ Harvey answered the band’s call for a female singer in the liner notes?” “Did you know that there’s a children’s book created for the final track?” This record is a discussion-starter for sure.
Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion – Want to lighten the mood while simultaneously raising the discourse in the room? Put on Merriweather Post Pavilion, one of the most cerebral dance records of the last decadea. Plus, you can stare at the “moving” record sleeve all night long.
What are your five to always have on hand? Are my musical tastes too narrow? Leave a comment or three.
1Interestingly, for those who are not familiar, Tank 7 is part of the Smokestack Series, celebrating Boulevard’s famous smokestacks bearing their name. The original series came exclusively in tall, like smokestack-tall 750 mL bottles. So, the move to 12oz. bottles was awkward, but Boulevard pulled it off beautifully as they chose a taller, sleeker 12 oz. bottle.
2This is rhetorical. Of course one must always have a hopbomb in the fridge/cellar. I have been known to go buy an IPA or DIPA even though I have a cellar full of perfectly good beers simply for the purpose of insuring that I have at least one hoppy beer around. And those are the beers I consume the quickest, so it makes sense to always have some around. Don’t question the logic. Go out and buy an IPA right now.
3Two-Hearted is still a perfectly acceptable option here, but Modus is newish around these parts and it comes in cans.
4I like bourbon, oak/vanilla, and chocolate in my imperial stouts, but molasses brings it. This preference is possibly due to my dad’s practice of pouring brown sugar all over his Cheerios. Yes. You read that correctly. The best part was when you came to the end and had nothing left but creamy brown sugar.
5The 750 mL bombers run in the $30 range. So, ten bucks for 12 oz. of really, really good beer is sometimes justified.
6Dogfish Head has been taking it on the chin as of late. It’s most likely a backlash from the Brew Masters debacle/nondebacle. Let’s get this straight. Dogfish Head makes some of the best, if not most interesting beers in craft beer. Additionally, founder Sam Calagione has maybe done more for the growth in craft beer aside from anyone named Michael Jackson or Jim Koch.
7Seriously, I challenge you to find another better pairing. Do it. Until you’ve had this pairing, you won’t ever understand the food and beer pairing. This is the standard. See if you can exceed it.
8It does seem to me that I judge music based on degrees of Pavement. I’m OK with that.
9In fact, I know several people who own it but don’t appreciate it. I suggest for those who don’t get it (and this may very well go for any so-called classic record) that they should read the book in the 33 1/3 series to get the context. If you can’t appreciate Aeroplane after that, there’s nothing I can do for you.
10Oh, I know my demographic: middle-class white folk who can’t seem to rid themselves of white guilt. It’s okay. Embrace your racism. I’ve made peace with mine.
11Doing so would be a perfectly acceptable practice as well.
12I don’t like dance music. So, I’m sure you could name a better dance record. Still, this album would have to be in your top-10 of the last decade.
When I first started this blog 52 posts ago, I had this idea that indie record labels and craft breweries were very closely related. There’s an independent way that these two industries operate in the face of gigantic corporate overlords. However, despite the odds and the crappy economy, they are succeeding. It goes to show that good products that aren’t mass produced and actually still represent some quality, a little pride are worthy of folks’ dollars no matter how bad things are economically.
So, to demonstrate this relationship between labels and breweries, I worked out in my head parallels in both industries. I go back and forth on a few, but a few others have stayed constant. I debated a long time ago laying out all my correlations in one post, but have decided that a post to feature each label/brewery relationship would be best. For my first installment in what I hope to be a regular series, I’ve chosen Matador Records, just coming off their 21st anniversary, and Dogfish Head, makers of off-centered beer for off-centered people.
Founders: Chris Lombardi (later joined by Gerard Cosloy) and Sam Calagione
Matador was started by Lombardi in 1989, while Dogfish Head got its start in 1995. Both of these time periods are significant in each industry’s history. While 1989 for indie labels and 1995 for microbreweries were not the genesis for each industry, they were the moments when something big was about to happen. In 1989, the buzz from the underground was just starting to be heard by the mainstream. Indie bands were starting to garner attention from corporate labels and the timing in the culture was ripe for a bunch of kids to pick up guitars. The groundwork had been laid by seminal labels and bands of the eighties for this moment in time. Matador was founded at just the right moment to be part of a movement in the record industry.
The same can be said for 1995 in the craft beer scene. The early to mid-90′s saw an influx of brewers breaking out on their own. Dogfish Head was part of this boom, steadily growing through the end of the century until they saw a boom in growth the following decade (400% between 2003 and 2006). Calagione led the way with a unique take on beer-making. He’d design the conventional as well as the not-so-conventional brews for folks to devour. Some of his beers enjoy near-mass-market production and distribution, while others a featured in limited runs.
Calagione is a star of the craft brewing world. Although Lombardi started Matador, his eventual partner became almost the indie rock equivalent of Calagione. Gerard Cosloy has made some noise over the years due to his stints as DJ, zine writer, and manager for Homestead Records. His connections to the underground were what built those early Matador lineups that have made them such and integral part of indie rock. In Calagione’s case, his efforts to write books, do special beer-food events, and brew beers that challenge conventional brewer thinking have made him the star of craft brewing. Without this strong and unique leadership, neither enterprise would have gotten off the ground.
This is where it gets fun. I look at the bands in a labels lineup as the equivalent of the beers in a brewer’s roster. Various albums or incarnations of the bands are like variations or vintages of certain beers. So, I’ve selected a few from each roster (current and former) to demonstrate how Matador is the Dogfish Head of indie rock and vice versa.
Guided By Voices and 60 Minute IPA
GBV could be compared to nothing else than a flagship “session” beer. Sure, Bob Pollard and company have been known to throw back can after bottle of the cheap stuff, but 60 Minute is the closest thing DfH makes to a mass-produced session beer. 60 Minute IPA packs as much punch as possible into the 60 minute boil of continual hop additions as GBV can pack into a 60-minute album. Hell, 60 minutes on record for Guided By Voices is an opus. Anyway, both band and beer are the most sessional and readily available members of their respective rosters.
Yo La Tengo and 90 Minute IPA
There’s a rivalry between GBV and YLT, much the same way some folks debate the attributes of the 60 versus the 90 Minute IPA. However, I’m not here to compare bands to bands and beers to beers. Yo La Tengo is more like the 90 Minute IPA in that while filled with moments of sheer joy and genius, both will often challenge the most novice consumer. YLT makes music for and by critics. 90 Minute does the same as it answers the giant hop-bomb bell rung by hopheads everywhere. Plus, YLT packs a ton of layers into a 90 minute set or album, featuring overwhelming power as well as a delicacy not often found in similar bands. 90 Minute IPA does the same as it can both make you pucker from hop fatigue and pair nicely with artisan cheese.
Pavement and 120 Minute IPA
Rounding out the holy trinities of both Matador and Dogfish Head are Pavement and 120 Minute IPA. Both made comebacks this year after long hiatuses. Both can be difficult to grasp as both redefined their markets. Both are highly sought-after as gateway white whales on many a record and beer collecting geek’s respective lists. What’s also interesting is that each batch of 120 Minute receives a ton of scrutiny, but is often appreciated only after it has aged a while. The same is said of Pavement records as we all hated each one upon its release to only come to terms with its greatness down the road.
Chavez and Oyster Stout
They were here and now they’re gone. Both were loved, but few got to know them. Hopefully, the Oyster Stout will return – even if for a short time – as Chavez did.
Cat Power and Palo Santo Marron
People either love them or they hate them. There’s very little room in between. Cat Power’s Chan Marshall used to record these hauntingly intense albums only to disappoint as she fell apart on stage. That doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore. In much the same way, Palo Santo Marron is an intense beer that’s hard to swallow. However, it has so many characteristics we love about beer. It’s boozy (also like Chan Marshall), sweet, roasty, and it goes great with blueberry pie.
What do you think? For those of you who know the beers, describe one and I’ll try to match it to a Matador band. If you know the bands but not the beer, I can pair a beer with the band of your choosing. What do you think of my comparison overall? Can you come up with your own?
Look for more indie label/craft brewer pairings in future posts.
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.