January rolls around. We recover from our holiday hangovers and prepare to cleanse and write resolutions for the year. Typically, the same sort of reset happens with craft beer and indie rock. Both industries take a moment to breath in preparation for the new year, even if it’s our last.
I look at January as the “Dead Season”. There are no or very few major releases from either craft breweries or indie labels. Someone will point out that there are a few noteworthy releases, but this pales in comparison to the plethora of releases in November/December. Nope, this is the time of year little comes out as we collect our…er…collective breaths and prepare for what the year has in store for us.
Two notable releases will be my only respites during this Dead Season.
The first is the Guided By Voices album, Let’s Go Eat the Factory which features the band’s classic (and somewhat geriatric) lineup. And from what I can tell from listening to the stream on NPR, it’s an album that would have fit well among Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, and Under the Bushes Under the Stars. Now, it’s not as good as those albums, but Let’s Go… is a swell piece of nostalgia reunions alone could never completely fulfill. I look forward to my copy arriving in a few weeks and giving you all a complete review then.
The other release is Bells Hopslam. Hopslam season has been well-documented here by the coalition and probably will receive some attention when this year’s version hits store shelves. I’ve put in an order for my family to obtain a minikeg again. After months of imperial stouts and oak-aged barley wines weighing down my palate, that shining light that is Hopslam will burst into my mouth, most likely featuring loads of grapefruit and honeyed sweetness. Can’t wait!
So, the Dead Season will end joyously with the nectar of the gods rolling down my throat as the dulcet tones of Bob Pollard and his boys rattle my eardrums. The Dead Season will end soon enough.
I pay a lot of attention to label art for both beer and records. The album cover is one of the most revered pieces of accidental art/marketing ploys in modern history. However, I don’t know that I’ve ever really written about either all that much. Regardless, for this month’s session, we’re writing about label art. This month’s host is Hop Head Said… Basically, the goal is to choose one’s favorite artwork as depicted on bottles, cans, caps, and coasters.
This was a difficult choice to make. I love so many different craft beer labels. It’s hard just to choose one. I collect Stone bottles as I love the entire approach they have for marketing their beers. It used to be more difficult to accumulate these bottles before they came to Missouri. Now, it’s much, much easier.
I considered Mikkeller and Stillwater. I actually met the guy behind Stillwater’s artwork, tattoo artist Lee Verzosa, and he’s a nice guy. However, I write a lot about these breweries and figured it would be hard just to choose one label that rose above the rest.
Then, I considered the beer label that answered my prayers. It was a Friday after a long week of work. I wanted to sit back with a good beer. In fact, I had recently rediscovered my preference for really hoppy IPA’s. So, I went to the store in search of the hoppiest thing I could find. It so happens that Bell’s Hopslam had recently arrived. It’s label featuring a man being crushed by some giant hops was the sign for which I was looking. The rest is history.
Has there ever been a better image to represent the recent progression to bigger and hoppier beers? The image perfectly encapsulates this trend and matches the name perfectly. The beer itself is much more nuanced than the name Hopslam would suggest, but the image does the trick in warning consumers of the hop bomb within. Here are a couple images I’ve used of the infamous label and caps (which were a new touch this year).
I recorded a Hopslam vertical for posterity. Check the images and read my commentary afterwards.
I fully recognize that a hopbomb like Bell’s Hopslam should not sit around in one’s cellar for a year, nullifying said beer’s hop presence. Still, I ended up with a case of the stuff last year and figured it would be fun to sample a sixer throughout the year. Prior to Saturday’s vertical experiment, I found the beer pleasant with the honey coming out stronger with each tasting. It’s been maybe 4-5 months since I’ve cracked open a Hopslam, so this one is quite a jump from the rest.
First, the 2010 Hopslam demonstrates almost no hoppiness at all. This does not mean that it’s a bad beer. There’s a huge malt presence, almost like a mash smell. Grainy, bready, it’s covered. The residual sweetness from the honey is there, but it’s not pronounced. This beer reminds me of Bell’s 25th Anniversary Ale, making me think that Bell’s just bottled old Hopslam in hopes of passing it as their anniversary ale. Of course, I know this can’t be true. Still, it’s an interesting discovery.
The bitterness of the hops were still there…That is, until I sipped more and more from the ’11. The huge hop presence of the fresh beer overtook any residual hoppiness in the cellared beer. Eventually, the ’10 didn’t seem bitter at all. It began to taste like an American strong ale, a la Rogue’s Double Dead Guy.
This brings me to this year’s masterpiece. All the hoppy goodness is still there, but the beer actually tastes like freshly-cut grass when placed next to it’s elder. If anything, this vertical made me appreciate the beauty of the fresh beer even more. There’s no way I’ll hold onto a Hopslam for an entire year ever again. My only six-pack will last maybe a week. Then, I’ll return to pining for next year’s edition.
Still, it was a worthy experiment. If there’s anything to be learned here, it’s that you should always drink your IPA’s and DIPA’s as fresh as possible.
(Sorry for all the beer talk, mostly surrounding one beer, as of late. I’ll get back to more diversity in coming posts.)
Several things have crossed my network of RSS, Facebook, and Twitter feeds that could be worthy subjects on this blog. I’m using this post to sort through them and hopefully stumble upon one that can be developed. I’ll at least have a complete blog post when it’s all said and done.
Archers of Loaf Reunite
As I once proposed, it’s time for Archers of Loaf to get back together. Well, they did, but there’s no indication it will happen again. Still, one has to suspect that a tour is in their future. However, how many dates will they play and how far will the tour stretch? Some bands do a weekend in a major city. Others do the full-on Pixies/Pavement model. I’m hoping for the latter as Middle Missouri gets so few great bands as it is. That and I suspect Loaf will do smaller venues like they did way back when. I’m certainly not hopeful for a reunion record, though. There’s a reason that bands like Pixies and Pavement didn’t do much if any recording after reuniting. With band members taking up various projects, these bands stood no chance at picking up where they left off or even resembling their former selves. I’d be happy with a tour that stops through Missouri. That’s all.
Still, if you click through to the videos of the show last weekend, you’ll see why Archers of Loaf were considered among the best live performers in the indie circuit. They were so good that I think they’ve ruined live shows for me forever. So, let’s hope they make it this way at some point in the coming year.
The Beer Holiday I described on Wednesday has come and gone. By early afternoon, Sycamore’s keg was blown and nearly every store carrying the beer was sold out. There are rumors that more is coming to town, but it won’t be much. It was like a Depression-era bank run a la It’s a Wonderful Life.
That said, an offshoot of the Coalition emerged. My beer club pooled their resources and insured that none was without Hopslam on this great day. Facebook group threads kept folks abreast of developments. And when a few unlucky beer enthusiasts were without the sweet nectar of the gods, a few generous members either offered some of their own stash or provided hints as to the whereabouts of additional cases of the good stuff. For these efforts, this Coalition salutes you!
Here are some pics from the day. Those blatantly lifted from Facebook are so noted. Now, enjoy the beer porn…
No Rock Show
Even though my Freshly Pressed post claimed that attending more local rock shows is the way to get back into music, I skipped out on a show Wednesday night. Why? Well, it snowed like a foot here, I had a glass full of Hopslam, and there was a basketball game on TV. So, no rock show for me. Besides, I’m not 100% sure I wanted to see a poor man’s Animal Collective or whoever was playing. It’s probably for the best. I’ll hit the upcoming show on a Friday for my token local show this year.
At the end of every year, I find a ton of records that I somehow missed over the year. I’ll slowly begin to order said records just to
see hear what I’ve been missing. A few arrived in December, but I honestly haven’t given them enough of a listen to tell you what I think. There are two more coming soon. So, I’ll have old records to tell you about in the coming week. Stay tuned.
The Ace of (Indie Rock) Cakes
The Pavement reunion was etched in digitally-televised stone forever and it wasn’t MTV, rather Food Network did the honors. That’s right. MTV doesn’t do music anymore. Nope, Food Network’s Ace of Cakes featured Pavement receiving one of those ridiculous cakes only possible on basic cable. With Brew Masters on extended hiatus, Ace of Cakes had to fill a void Thursday night.
While it was nice to see my heros on TV, I had my issues with the episode. First, the Pavement cake split time with a cake for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Who cares? Second, the person in-charge of decorating the cake, Elena Fox, was supposedly a big Pavement fan. Of course, there was no way to confirm this fandom as Fox didn’t share any knowledge about the band and used this past year’s greatest hits comp as inspiration for the cake. The kicker was when Fox blushed that she never thought she’d get to see the band until now. Really? How is she such a huge fan that she’s never seen them before? Yes, it’s a bit ageist, but painting her as a huge fan was a stretch.
That said, the tiny bit the band was actually on the show was sorta cool. We got to see the band with their spouses and kids. Mark Ibold wore a t-shirt that proclaimed “Good Evening We Are The Fall.” The cake itself was well-executed as it depicted a horse as featured on the artwork from Quarantine the Past and various other images from the record. I heard several snippets from “Cut Your Hair,” but that was all the Pavement Ace of Cakes could fit into the eleven or so minutes dedicated to the Pavement cake. Still, it was nice to see the band get a little love from basic cable that wasn’t nearly as awkward as their visit to The Colbert Report.
Beer Marketing Rant
A beer blogger went on a rant about gimmicky beers. While I recognize that this is not a huge surprise nor a new development, the rant itself is perplexing. The Mad Fermentationist rants about brewers using odd ingredients or over-the-top amounts in beers as marketing devices rather than sound brewing choices. In other words, he complains that the marketing around such “gimmicks” overshadows whether or not the beers are any good.
I find this odd as this blog mostly features homebrewing topics. The one thing nearly every homebrewer does is experiment with one-off brews that feature strange ingredients or hyperbolic amounts and varieties. And what is TMF doing but judging brewers and their beers by the marketing and not the actual quality of the beers?
Whatever, it’s a fucking beer. It’s good or it’s not. It might be good because it uses an ungodly amount of hops. It might suck because the combination of malt just didn’t work. Whatever. Judge the beer by how it tastes, smells, and looks, not what marketing tells you. That’s all.
Nanobreweries are growing all over the country and there’s one right here in Columbia. Hellbender is the brainchild of fellow beer geeks Jarrett and Josh who brew constantly and have a ton of great beers in their repertoire. Hellbender is certainly a welcomed member of the Coalition, a relationship that could blossom in coming months. The boys are primed for big things as their entrance in The Bruery’s Batch 300 contest is a sure finalist. “Rosemary, Baby” is the kind of beer The Bruery makes. It’s delicate, subtle, and an ideal pairing for poultry or fish with hints of rosemary (What else?) and low ABV. The nano is planning a party next month in preparation for the stretch run toward finalizing some paperwork that could make them a legit brewery. Cheers, boys! The Coalition supports your endeavor!
Monday’s post should be more of a normal post. In the meantime, stay warm, put a record on, and drink all your Hopslam before those hops fade into the ether.
1This is mostly because I don’t want to write an entire post about any of these things.
2Of course, we all know it means that they will play more shows. Once the rumor or even reality of an indie rock reunion begins, it will happen. It might be at an ATP or a full-fledged tour, but it will happen.
3A Pixies album would be awful and a Pavement album would be a simplified version of SM’s solo work. Neither would do these bands any favors. It’s better to leave their legacies alone and play the hits for all the kids who missed them the first time around.
4And now I hear we won’t even get any minikegs. I was hoping to score one for a birthday bash next month. Hopefully my Ohio hookup can…well…hook me up.
5I apologize for the misogyny. The kid’s just trying to drive home the point that the beer is really good. Let’s just say that he’s excited.
6My Buckeyes are now 19-0 and #1 in the country. Their schedule gets really treacherous over the next 2-3 weeks. So, we’ll see what they’re made of. It’s a team loaded with a solid group of seniors and a talented group of freshmen. Ohio State could have a football-sized dynasty in the making.
7Admittedly, that was a bit harsh. The bands playing all sound like Animal Collective is a major influence. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m just trying to justify not going. I’m the lame one. They rocked out in a snowstorm.
82010 records purchased: Double Dagger, Screaming Females, and Born Ruffians.
9Apparently, it’s coming back, but Discovery is trying to kill it. Why else would they continually change the nights it’s on and wait months between episodes without a programming note. #fail
10I’m not denying this woman a right to like or even love Pavement. In fact, I support her love of the band. My problem is that the show worked really hard to paint her as a huge fan and she wasn’t. Why not point out that Fox is in a band herself and knows something about indie rock? I’m probably just jealous, but I thought that connection to the band was forced. That’s all.
11Pavement has long been compared to The Fall. Some have even suggested that the band ripped off The Fall’s aesthetic. Whatever. The Fall wasn’t on Ace of Cakes, were they?
A little over a year ago, I wrote my first post for this blog (January 14th, to be exact). It was about waiting for Tuesday, the day Hopslam was unleashed in Middle Missouri. I compared it to the wait for Tuesdays when all the new albums are released.
Anyway, Hopslam has arrived once again and I feel I need to address it’s return to our shelves and, more importantly, our bellies.
First, after several delays, the beer we all covet was supposed to arrive in stores yesterday. It didn’t come due to yet another snafu. Meanwhile, my sister who happens to work in a Cincinnati-area Whole Foods said she witnessed 20 cases being delivered to the store last week. Our little college town is only (re)scheduled to get 30. So, jealousy is setting in.
In order to interrupt our Hopslam envy, the favorite local watering hole of the local beer nerd circuit tapped a keg Tuesday night for a Bell’s dinner they were hosting and made it public to the average beer enthusiast. Of course, I and every other beer geek within 50 miles was there for this year’s offering, even if we didn’t have tickets for the dinner.
How was it? It was like the year before last. Last year’s was full of grapefruit courtesy of loads of Simcoe hops. This year’s version toned down the cattiness brought a ton of heat. It’s super-balanced and not annoyingly sweet or syrupy. It’s a near-perfect DIPA and doesn’t disappoint.
Sure, the beer is good, but why do we
want need it so badly?
Well, it’s actually one of the few highly-sought-after beer releases we get here in Middle Missouri. It’s like going to a show for a band you’re kinda into mainly just because their only stopping in a few cities and towns. A lot of breweries who do special seasonals on par with Hopslam either don’t distribute here or don’t send us their special releases. So, this is a pretty big beer holiday in Columbia, Missouri.
Also, a seasonal that depends on so many hops really varies from year to year. The debates will begin instantly whether this year’s version measures up or not, especially since there are no more bottles of last year’s batch still lying around.
Hopslam Day is like Xmas in these parts. We talk about it all year long and chase this white rabbit as long as it holds down shelf space and bar menus. I remember a few years ago three mystery cases showed up about a month after our initial shipment. Last year, one bar discovered a rogue six-pack in the back of the cooler. In both cases, the beer was consumed quickly.
Music doesn’t have this same effect on me anymore, but I’m beginning to wonder if beer is close behind in my waning interest. The last couple of years, I’ve probably purchased a case or so of Hopslam for each release, but this year is looking like a one-and-done kind of year. Sure, the beer is as good as ever, but I have more diverse interests and don’t have the funds nor time for just one.
What I’m getting back to is actually enjoying beer again. I plan to pick up some new releases by Epic and Stillwater to supplement the hole in my cellar left by unpurchased sixers of Hopslam. It’s time to diversify and get back to rediscovering other kinds of beer.
Besides, cutting back on the Hopslam might actually help me to enjoy and appreciate this seasonal even more. Just as I am stepping back a bit from tired practices in music listening, I’ll get back to some discovery and a smorgasbord mentality when it comes to my beer consumption. Still, Hopslam will be relished for the fine beer that it is. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. It will be time to move on to the next great beer.
1Huge imperial IPA from Michigan brewing company Bell’s. It’s a yearly release that features tons of hops, particularly those of the Simcoe maybe Amarillo varieties, and lots and lots of booze. Plus, it has the malt backbone to hold up to even the most distinguishing tastes.
2Does anyone do this anymore? I try to pre-order records from Insound so that they arrive on Tuesdays, but they always come anywhere between the Friday prior to the following Wednesday. We need release days like Tuesday to keep the middle of the week interesting.
3I was so close to having her grab one for me, but I knew that we’d get our share eventually. It’s cool. I can wait.
4This is the swanky Sycamore. They feature just a few rotating taps, but every beer is high-end. Then you see their bottle list and know that you’re home. It is rare to find fine dining with such an extensive beer selection and excellent comfort food these days. And when you find it, I give them as much of your money as you can afford.
5However, I’m not really doing that anymore. I’ve made a point in the past to see bands I’m so-so about simply because they’re coming through town or doing an outdoor gig in the fall or spring, but that’s almost not enough these days. (See this post.)
6This list is very long, but instead of naming the breweries who refuse us their delicious beers, I’ll list a few who are on their way this year: Stone, Firestone Walker, Stillwater, and Epic.
7Looking your way Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Avery, etc.
8Generally, it’s a bad idea to hang onto an IPA/DIPA for a long time. What makes them great (citrusy, piny, bitter aroma and flavor) fades over time. However, Hopslam is one of the few DIPA’s that’s boozy enough to be cellared. What comes out are the notes of honey and caramel. I honestly have one more I purposely held onto for a mini-vertical. I won’t do this again, but at least I can say I did it once.
9That’s a “rogue” with a little “r,” not to be confused with Rogue out of Oregon. No one’s going ape-shit for their beers.
10That and homebrewing, bug I think I’ve caught again. I’m thinking up an IPA, Saison, and Wit for the coming spring.
Tuesdays used to be a big, big deal for me. I would see somewhere weeks ahead of time that a record was set to release on a particular Tuesday. The date would be marked on my calendar immediately. I’d count down those days, insuring that I had the money in my account to make that purchase (and a few others) on the day of the release.
There was a time in college when I’d even wait in line at midnight to pick up certain albums as they were released to the public. I don’t know why I had to have those albums right then. I just did.
Eventually, I learned that my favorite record store sold the new album’s promo copy days before the official release. It was technically cheating, but I didn’t care. Whatever I could do to get that new release in my hands was fine with me.
Things changed around the time Napster rolled in. Maybe it was because the record industry told us it was stealing as they sued unwitting college kids for ten times their tuition or it was my steadily growing income that kept me from pirating my favorite bands’ music. Whatever it was, I realigned my trips to Used Kids with the Tuesday release schedule.
Right up to maybe eighteen months ago, I was going to the record store religiously every Tuesday. As I grew older and had more responsibilities, I had less time to read the magazines and blogs in order to know what was coming out when. So, it was a surprise every week.
Then, I discovered Insound and the pre-order. Now, as release dates are announced, I put in orders for three or more records at a time, spread out over a couple of months. The UPS lady thinks I’m a DJ I get so many records these days. They’re always shipped several days before the release day and usually arrive by the weekend prior to the designated Tuesday. Even with this little end-around maneuver, I look forward to giving every record it’s due time by it’s release Tuesday.
I developed another hobby which involved release dates. Craft brewers like to do big PR campaigns whenever they bottle something new. Blogs start hinting at bourbon barrels, collaborations between breweries, and copious amounts of hops being dumped into brew kettles for weeks. Then, out of nowhere, much like a Pitchfork leak of an album cover, the label is posted somewhere. I drool much the same way when I heard Built to Spill or Pavement had another record on the way.
The difference between craft beer and music is that breweries have their own version of Tuesdays. Sometimes they’re Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, etc. A beer could be released on a Monday in Denver, but we won’t see it in Missouri for another two or thee weeks. Sometimes, it takes months to get a new release. The practice of waiting on Tuesday for record geeks just doesn’t equate for beer geeks.
As word spread that Bell’s of Kalamazoo, Michigan was planning on releasing their insanely hoppy and hyped double IPA early this year, the collective beer community waited patiently for word of the beer’s arrival. I mean, with a name like “Hopslam,” it’s no wonder why hopheads across the nation long for this annual release every year. We here in Columbia (aka COMO), knew our day was Tuesday.
For me as a record geek, the arrival of one of maybe my three favorite beers in the world made me feel right at home. I wasn’t swinging by the record store, scoping shelves for new arrivals, but I was bugging grocery employees for any information I could garner regarding the sweet, sweet nectar that is Hopslam.
When the day arrived, it was all I could do to wait and try my new purchase. When I still bought CD’s, I’d remove the cellophane and pop the disc directly in the player, take the long route home, and listen away. Beer doesn’t quite work that way. There are “rules” about not opening the beer in a car as well as “suggestions” not to consume while driving. I even had to wait until my work day was over to enjoy this year’s release.
And like a great new album by one of my favorite bands, Hopslam doesn’t disappoint. Last year’s version was an over-the-top hop bomb that punched you in the face with grapefruit and cat piss. Unbalanced for some, I enjoyed the beer immensely for its aggressive style. However, this year’s beer impresses me even more. It’s so well balanced with a more pronounced honey and malt presence, somewhat missing from last year’s fresh version. Either way, the hype and the wait for this beer makes this annual event a lot of fun.
Release dates – whether for beer or records – is a religious experience. My Tuesday is a Christian’s Sunday or Jew’s Saturday. Tuesday is my Sabbath. It’s the birth and rebirth of my savior rolled into one day of the week, every week. Even when the UPS truck arrives on Monday or that new Southern Tier imperial stout drops on Friday, Tuesday is the day I worship. And isn’t that what religion is about? It’s about practices that bring peace and calm to your life.
I don’t pray to a god. I crack open a Hopslam, take in its Simcoe nose and roll the malt and honey over my tongue. I tear off the cellophane from a newly-arrived LP and drop the needle before leaning back. These things bring me peace. These are the times I can reflect upon and feel OK with the world.
Tuesdays do all that for me.