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.
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.
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?
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.
The Saint Nicholas/flaming punch party didn’t happen, but my wife had her Women’s Studies department over for a party tonight. So, there will be no real post for Thursday. In the meantime, consider this beer I had tonight. An old ale on the low ABV side. Nice but not amazing. You won’t find it anywhere outside Missouri.
I am here to help you with your Thanksgiving music and beer pairings to insure a happy and enjoyable turkey dinner. That and I’m filling space until this post-a-day thing is over…
Indie Rock Thanksgiving
Here are five albums you should consider playing during Thanksgiving dinner. To some, this list may look “boring,” but to those I suggest that maybe we don’t want to rock out with our cocks out or balls to the wall, so to speak. Maybe this Thanksgiving, we want to be calm and reflective. That and my wife doesn’t want anything loud playing during dinner.
Jose Gonzalez – In Our Nature
Quietly haunting and intense, this record will carry the day with this unnerving feel that have you bobbing your head slightly. However, no one will notice as the quiet, hushed tones of Mr. Gonzalez will feed your soul the way turkey cannot. That and it reminds me of fall.
Nick Drake – Way to Blue: An Introduction to Nick Drake
I usually shy away from compilations or best-of albums, but this one is done right as a retrospective of Drake’s career. Throughout, feelings of the oncoming death of winter are prevalent at all periods in Drake’s catalog. His low whisper is pleasant enough not to interrupt dinner conversations, but his masterful guitar playing provides fodder over the table.
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
I had Thanksgiving dinner a couple of times in Wisconsin. This is what it sounded like (aside from the joyous times spent eating and getting drunk). The first time I made the trip up there, it was the last time I traveled anywhere with an old girlfriend. So, I can relate to Bon Iver’s dumping, the one that led to this album happening.
Nico – Chelsea Girl
I needed a woman mixed in here somewhere, but so many of the women I listen to are much to strong to play as background music at dinner. It’s hard to find a strong conviction in any music without interrupting the dinner. Nico’s somberness while being backed by the Velvet Underground pairs nicely with the whispery fellows on this list. That and it reminds me of Wes Anderson films that always look good at Thanksgiving.
Beirut – Gulag Orkestar
This album may be a little more bombastic than those above, but that tone fits with a raucous dinner that feels festive once familial tensions break over bread. Still, this is Beirut’s best album. It should be listened to during any feast.
Also: Sufjan Steven’s Come on Feel the Illinoise, Pavement’s Terror Twilight, Feist’s The Reminder, Beach House’s Teen Dream, Iron and Wine’s The Creek Drank the Cradle, Cat Power’s What Would the Community Think
Craft Beer Thanksgiving
Here are suggestions for each course of your Thanksgiving meal. There’s a style of beer as well as my favorite for the day. I’ll also tack on a couple of other beers that fit the profile. I’m basing this mostly on how my Thanksgivings usually go. This year will be different, but I think I can still keep up this pace.
Pre-game Warm-up: Lager (really, any kind) – Victory Prima Pils
The idea here is to awaken the senses without getting too drunk before you start. The light, effervescence of a well-carbonated lager can get your taste buds properly primed for the feast to come. I usually crack open the first one while I fire up the smoker.
Alternatives: Coney Island Lager, Great Lakes Brewing Company Dortmunder Gold Lager, Avery Joe’s Premium American Pilsner
Cheese/Appetizer Course: India Pale Ale – Firestone Walker Double Jack Double IPA
Cheeses tend to carry with them strong, pungent flavors and aromas that challenge any palate. The best beer to match a strong cheese is an IPA or DIPA. Even with softer, lighter cheeses, I find a west coast IPA brings enough fruity character that neither cheese nor beer is lost in the other. Plus, I just like IPA’s.
Alternatives: New Belgium Ranger IPA, Stone Cali-Belgique Belgian IPA, Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale
Main Course: Belgian Quadrupel – St. Bernardus Abt 12
We typically serve a smoked turkey which packs the juicy flavors we want in our Thanksgiving turkey as well as substantial smokiness. The malty Quad matches and stands up to the smoke like few other beers can. The dark fruit flavors in the beer pair with almost any food like a red wine does, but better. The Quad is the only way to go when it comes to turkey dinner.
Alternatives: Three Philosophers Belgian Style Blend, Boulevard The Sixth Glass, Straffe Hendrick Quadrupel
Dessert: Russian Imperial Stout – Schlafly Reserve Russian Imperial Stout
Dessert is going to be something chocolaty, fruity, or pumpkin/sweet potato. Russian Imperial Stouts bring coffee, bourbon, and chocolate to match and/or pair with any of these desserts. Or you could just sip on one of these beers alone for dessert. It’s the same thing.
Alternatives: Stone Imperial Russian Stout, Mikkeller Black, Hoppin Frog B.O.R.I.S The Crusher Oatmeal Imperial Stout
Digestif: American Barleywine – Great Divide Old Ruffian Barley Wine
Barleywines feature a sweetness and hop bitterness thats nice to sip, not guzzle. Of course, after all this food, sipping yourself off to sleep might be the way to go.
Alternatives: Avery Hog Heaven, He’Brew Genesis 15:15, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale
What will you be drinking? What will be playing on your record player (or iPod)? Do tell. Also, be sure to point out my faulty reasoning.
The Beer and Whiskey Bros. provide me with a lot of ideas for beer posts here. This week’s top-5 was inspired by a post on go-to and no-go breweries. I will abstain from calling out the no-go breweries and just give you my top-5 go-to breweries, breweries that I’ll buy whenever I see their product on the shelf, in the cooler, or on tap.
5. Schlafly/Boulevard – These are the two big breweries in Missouri, Aside from that one brewery. Bothe breweries provide us with entry good beers from which to choose. Of special note are Schlafly’s bourbon barrel beers and Boulevard’s Smokestack series. Both breweries also offer nice (A)IPA’s as well as some seasonal favorites.
4. Founders – I’m not sure any brewery gets the intense flavor of every style of beer better than Founders. Their IPA’s are straight bitter with a citrus nose. The stouts and porters are blacker than night and easily some of the best in the business. The only thing I’ve found that Founders doesn’t do well is subtlety. And is that so bad?
3. Jolly Pumpkin – I pretty much always have a JP in the cellar. Whenever they put out a new brew, I am sure to grab one, despite their somewhat steep prices. A Jolly Pumpkin beer tastes like no other as they employ a wild fermentation with all their beers. Even their ESB’s and stouts are funky. We don’t get a ton of JP here, but whenever I can, I grab one.
2. Stone – This was the brewery (specifically Ruination IPA) that turned me on to craft beer. I consider them the Founders of the west (or vice versa), but they can do subtlety. At least when I pick up a Stone beer, I know every time that it will be enjoyable. This was a major get for our market this last year. Now, we have some of the best IPA’s, stouts, and barley wines available for very little money.
1. Mikkeller – Like Jolly Pumpkin, I pay an extra premium for these beers. The trouble is that we only get a few of their brews at a time. Then, one has to decide if $12 for 12 oz. is worth it. Often, the answer is yes. And they do every style imaginable, plus a few they made up. Even if I don’t like a Mikkeller beer, I will at least find it interesting.
For whatever reason, I’ve backed off of straight beer review posts. Still, I do drink a fair amount of beer and thought I’d share a few from the past week.
Founders Backwoods Bastard – I might as well have skipped the beer and gone with something stronger. The beer is super boozy, malty sweet, oaked to hell, and flat. At 10%, I could get more bang for my buck with something stronger like whiskey, bourbon, or scotch. Either way, it just made me sleepy. I’ll have to save the other three bottles to see how this beer mellows.
Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam – I swear that Jolly Pumpkin just brews variations of its popular Bam Bier and there’s nothing wrong with that. I opened this beer and stepped away to retrieve a glass only to find that the bottle had exploded all over the counter. I often don’t get a chance to enjoy the full 750 mL of a Jolly Pumpkin as this happens a lot. Still, the activity doesn’t take away from the beer, if anything, it only adds to it. Present is that Jolly Pumpkin funk and what turns out to be a rather cloudy beer. Surprisingly, the beer is rather flat after the initial onslaught of beer on my countertop. The sourness in this version of the Bam series is not as sharp as the original, but plenty enjoyable.
Boulevard Saison-Brett (2011) – Apparently, there’s more of this beer lying around as a fellow beer enthusiast showed up at a gathering with a bottle. The sharpness missing in the beer above comes tenfold in this beer – as expected. This is a bucket list beer and I’m thankful it graces our shelves once a year.
Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project Hedgerow Bitter – I’ve had a couple of Pretty Things beers in the past. This brewery gets a lot of attention, mostly due to their lack available, queer brewery name, and unique artwork. However, my experience with the brewery has been somewhat disappointing. This beer came through, however. As an English Pale Ale, my expectations were already lowered, but this is a pretty solid beer. The bitterness is most dominant and welcomed. I don’t know whether the lowered expectations or just the fact that this is a really good beer. Either way, Hedgerow Bitter was thoroughly enjoyed Friday night.
Barley Legal Collaboration #1 – I hang out with these guys who brew every Sunday. Often, the recipes and ingredients are their own, but they like to help folks brew their beers (my Simcoe-Dependency was brewed there) as well as collaborate with whoever is interested. Recently, we gathered to brew this beer. I wanted it to have a molasses feel without getting too heavy. So, I contributed brown sugar and molasses. The results are a pretty amazing old ale-like beer. It’s super boozy and sweet with a surprising hop bitterness. It’s one of the more complex homebrews I’ve had and really worth the efforts of the entire group.
Schlafly No. 20 Volume 3 – Citrus Witbier – I had this beer a couple of times this weekend. The first was in the midst of a tasting that involved many of the other beers on this list. So, this little witbier didn’t stand up. The nose was citrusy and included the proper amount of funk. However, the results on the tongue were lost among all the other beers sampled. I gave the beer a second chance as I watched my Buckeyes stick a fork in this miserable season with a loss at Purdue. Alone, the beer is a solid witbier. The missing flavors from the night before were there when the beer was enjoyed alone. This beer would be perfect for a fish recipe I tried a while back.
Ska Euphoria Pale Ale – I had a moment to kill at a favorite water hole. This seasonal was on tap. I had purchased a full sixer last year and sort of struggled to get through it. It wasn’t that the beer was bad, I just grow tired of the same beer over and over. Anyway, I thought I’d have a glass on tap now for my annual indulgence. This beer is the dry, bitter APA I’ve been craving as of late. So, I may have to reconsider my aversion to the six-pack.
Founders Breakfast Stout – I don’t actually like coffee stouts. However, this one is different. The trouble with most coffee stouts is that the base stout is thin and relatively unremarkable so as to showcase the coffee flavors. Founders takes another route and brews a solid imperial stout with loads of coffee. The flavorful beer balances flavors of coffee, roasted malt, molasses, and a touch of bourbon. I will, however, need to be sure to drink these beers quickly as coffee fades much in the same way hops do in IPA’s.
He’Brew Genesis 15:15 – Lord have mercy! What a conglomeration of flavors and booze. This is a whole lotta beer at 15% ABV and including multiple fruits aged in barrels…You can only imagine all that comes with this beer. I had a snifter of the stuff at a bar and will hang on to a bomber to see how well it ages.
Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel – Someone had one of these when I was done drinking for the evening. The discussion surrounding it had me intrigued. I looked to buy the beer in a store a few days later, but couldn’t justify $18 for a four-pack I wasn’t even sure what I would be getting. Luckily, I found a bottle at a bar and took the plunge. This is the quad of all quads. Deep, dark, rich, complex, reeking of raisins and fig. And it’s huge at 11% ABV, but you don’t notice the booze which can be dangerous.
There have been other beers, but this is what I’ve had lately. You can follow me on Untappd. I don’t leave much insight there, mostly just keeping a list. What have you been drinking? Have you had any of the above beers? Tell me what you’d like in the comments.
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.
I’m starting over with this Monday top-5 list feature. Instead of five random things, I’m going to do an actual top-5 list based on some theme or topic. Some will be beer focused; others will be primarily about music. There might even be room for something else, but every list will make sense.
Argue with me in the comments. However, be aware that these lists are based on my opinions and feelings at that very moment and could change tomorrow.
For this week’s list, I’m listing my top-5 session beers. A session beer, according to Beer Advocate, is a beer that registers at no higher than 5% ABV. This post isn’t intended to question the validity of this definition or to argue the finer points of a session beer. My intention is basically to list five beers that could be enjoyed throughout a period of time with drinking buddies. The idea that there is a huge difference between a 4% and 5% beer is ludicrous and somewhat arbitrary. For the purpose of my list, I’m drawing the line at 5%.
5. Schlafly Kölsch – Honestly, there were some hoppy pilsners and sweet bocks I wanted to include in this list so as to represent all the decent lager alternatives that are out there, but all my favorites don’t meet the 5% standard I set above. So, I’ll go with a Missouri beer in Schlafly’s Kölsch, the closest an ale can get to being summary and lager-like. The beer is a pleasantly crisp, clean drink during the hot Missouri summers.
4. Stone Leviatation Ale – If you want the hops and malt presence of an American IPA/DIPA without drinking yourself under the table, Levitation is the way to go. The bitterness and floral aroma we hopheads crave is there only in a much lighter package. I’m not one who likes to limit a beer to a style, but this one still manages to adhere to the boundaries for an amber without boring me to sleep. This is seriously one of the best hoppy beers you can drink while standing.
3. Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere – It’s no secret that I love oddball breweries who tinker with style and fermentation processes to create lovely beers. Jolly Pumpkin is one of my favorite breweries and Bam Biere is a go-to whenever I can find it on tap. Even a 750 mL bottle won’t put me under when a beer like this measures at 4.5% ABV. It’s a dry, earthy Saison that also features a pleasant amount of bitterness. This is a fine example of a beer that can be low in alcohol and big on flavor.
2. The Bruery Hottenroth Berliner Weisse – I love what The Bruery does. Aside from Dogfish Head, I’m not sure another brewery makes beer that is more ideal for the dinner table than The Bruery. This beer is an example of the under-brewed style of Berliner Weisse. The Bruery adds lactobacillus and brettanomyces to the beer to attain a certain tartness, but it seems that this may be a departure from more traditional brewing methods of this style. Either way, it’s a beautiful beer and something one can enjoy all day long.
1. New Glarus Wisconsin Red – It’s funny to me to include a “Wisconsin Red” to the list after what transpired this weekend, but I would be an idiot not to include this beer on my list. In fact, Wisconsin Red has a permanent spot on my all-time-favorites list. From the first time I tasted it, I knew that I would always have to have a bottle of this nearly perfect beer in my cellar. Whenever someone heads to Wisconsin, I always ask them to bring me back a bottle. The tartness of the cherries is nailed without the overwhelming presence of cough syrup. It’s light and flavorful, pairs well with all kinds of food…I could go on and on about Wisconsin Red, but I’ll stop there. Maybe I’ll do a proper review when I finally open the bottle I have.
What are the session beers you like most? If you have an issue with my arbitrary definition of a session beer, let me have in the comments.
On a programming note, look for reviews of Eleanor Friedberger watching the World Series, Sebadoh battling me on the Twittersphere, and a post a day for the month of November.
For more on session beers, follow The Session Beer Project.
The pumpkin beer is a strange, strange thing. Either people crave it, always in-search of the perfect pumpkin beer, or they hate them, preferring to drink a Märzen or even stouts and porters during autumn months. I used to belong to the former group. I don’t know that I ever loved pumpkin ales, but I was certainly always on the lookout for the perfect one.
There have been a few pumpkin ales that have satisfied my needs over the years. Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale tastes and looks like it is boozier than it really is. There’s not a load of heat, but it has the thin, alcohol-y feel and almost no head of a high ABV brew. The Dogfish Head Punkin is another I’ve enjoyed. This is a malty take on the fall classic. Finally, Southern Tier’s Pumpking is the bready, vanilla-dominated version many a beer geek crave.
Interestingly, for me, all three of these beers feature more of a pumpkin flavor than a cinna-nutmeg bomb that tastes like pumpkin pie in a glass. The spices are typically too heavy in pumpkin ales, making them just another failed homebrew experiment with spice. I like that these three beers generally steer away from spice and actually showcase the pumpkin.
That said, even the pumpkin ales I’ve liked eventually grow old. After a while, I feel like I’m drinking vegetables. In fact, I had sworn off this season’s offerings in favor of other autumnal beers. Bottles of liquid pumpkin pie or vegetable just don’t do it for me.
Now, there was once a completely different pumpkin ale that got me thinking there could be potential for the style. Of course, it’s the highest rated pumpkin ale on RateBeer and it happens to come from one of my favorite breweries, Jolly Pumpkin. JP’s La Parcela didn’t blow me away, but it did help me question what could be done with a pumpkin ale under the correct brewer-ship. The idea of a pumpkin beer that is a bit sour and features other flavors outside of nutmeg and cinnamon really intrigued me. However, this was not a fantastic beer for me.
So, the search continued…
And like I said, I thought I had sworn off pumpkin ales. That’s when New Belgium’s Kick hit the store shelves. Kick was the new sour pumpkin ale put out on NB’s Lips of Faith Series…
Lips of Faith is one of the better brands of beers put out by a large craft brewer. Like Boulevard, New Belgium uses less-challenging flagship beers to fund forays into Belgian-styles or even Belgo-American fusions. I am a huge fan of the series. Although I don’t like a ton of NB beers, Lips of Faith brews are always interesting and often quite good. You know what I think of La Folie and that’s just the beginning as far as this series is concerned.
Kick is actually a collaboration with Seattle’s Elysian Brewery. Elysian brought the pumpkin and New Belgium brought the sour in the form of cranberry. The result is a pleasantly subtle experience with just a touch of tartness. I get more cranberry from this beer than I get pumpkin. In fact, this beer is subtle in every aspect, but the tartness is its clear strength.
So, the pumpkin beer I’ve now decided is okay to drink is the one that doesn’t really taste that much like pumpkin. What’s the point? Why drink a pumpkin beer that doesn’t really taste of gourd? Well, maybe I don’t actually like pumpkin beers.
And what does pumpkin add to a beer? Sweetness? Mostly, I think it has to do with the incessant spicing home brewers do to their beers. The pumpkin ale is an opportunity to spice your beer like a pumpkin pie. For my money, the addition of chocolate (La Parcela) or cranberry (Kick) is far more interesting than anything associated with pumpkin pie.
This brings up another point that’s been alluded to in describing Kick: subtlety. I want to give this topic its due, but I would be remiss not putting the idea out there that subtlety is maybe just a nice way of saying “flavorless” or “bland.” I don’t think that’s the case with Kick, but it’s a topic to discuss down the road.
Anyway, my search for the great pumpkin ale has ended with Kick. It’s not exactly where I thought I’d end or the beer others would suspect, but it’s a nice fall beer nonetheless.
1What is it with home brewers and spices? They skimp on hops, but spice the hell out of every pumpkin or winter warmer they brew. And since most craft brewers started out as home brewers, this despicable practice carries on.
2Sometimes quite literally. I bought two sixers one year of Schlafly’s version and quickly wished I hadn’t. I think I actually tossed a couple of bottles and used a couple more for pumpkin beer bread.
3Apparently, they do it for some. The displays this year for Schlafly’s Pumpkin ale are huge and the biggest event at Flat Branch (brewpub here in Columbia) is the pumpkin beer release.
4Some breweries don’t go Belgo-American and typically brew big, extreme beers on the flagship’s profit margins.
5Elysian and I have quite a history. I was once in a bind in Seattle (long story). A friend took me to Elysian to sort things out. That day, I discovered that beers could feature citrus flavors without a lime jammed down their necks. That was like 14 years ago(!).
6This is where I imagine the Wonder Twins go into brewing and take the form of their most important ingredients. “Form of two-row!” “Form of Centennial!”
7See. I hate spice in my beer.
8Particularly chocolate from my friend, Alan. He also supplies Northern Brewer with their cocoa nibs.
I haven’t done one of these reviews in a while. In fact, I once thought I’d do them all the time, but the timing just never worked. There have been a lot of records to review recently, but beer has been neglected. The recent arrival of Okkervil River’s new album and Schlafly’s AIPA came at the perfect time for me to throw down one of these ill-conceived reviews. I won’t bore you with the old template. Instead, I’ll bore you through my prose.
Why these two in this particular challenge? Well, aside from the timing of their releases, both record and beer share a decidedly American aesthetic. And in this time when America feels particularly good about itself, celebrating things that are very American just seems like the right thing to do. Okkervil River with its take on Americana and Schlafly’s attempt to make a big IPA like every other American craft brewer connect these two loves of mine, but which one wins out in the end?
I Am Very Far is not what we’d expect from Okkervil. It’s slick without losing heart. The emphasis is on the sound and production over the words, yet it’s impeccably written. Even the emotive qualities of a typical Okkervil record are absent without the album being dull and dry. It’s a great record without being a great Okkervil River record.
When I think of their progression, I think of a few other bands with similar trajectories. Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst is a lot like Okkervil’s Will Sheff in that they are the primary piece in bands that feature the most confessional lyrics delivered in the most recognizable of voices. However, Sheff has placed more burden on a band that has not changed as much as Bright Eyes.
My Morning Jacket also comes to mind as a similarly positioned alt.country act that tried to step out with a new sound. In my opinion, MMJ flopped with Evil Urges, an album that saw the band take a major leap in aesthetic. It may or may not have sold well and did decently with the critics, but the project seemed to dash a lot of the momentum the band was building. Conversely, Okkervil River scores a huge success that both achieves a new direction without changing who Okkervil River is.
One cannot use the phrase “wall of sound” too often when describing this album. Will Sheff put his efforts into the production end rather than weaving intricately detailed narratives throughout his songs. The lyrical content is not lacking, but it’s not the typical, literary Sheff we’re used to. Where Fleet Foxes made the leap forward by saying something pointed and specific, Okkervil River made a similar leap by withholding some information. And this slick production is surprising for a band known more for folksiness and emotion-laced tales of woe. This is not your father’s confessional emo/alt.country.
Schlafly’s American India Pale Ale takes a similar path to enjoyment. It’s not the hop bomb so many us become accustomed to when there’s a yearly release featuring a hop-forward style. The American craft brew industry prides itself on upping the IBU ante with each new release, but this beer didn’t participate in such a hoppy arms race. Nope. The ABV in this year’s batch is actually lower than last year’s and the hop bill was also altered.
The AIPA has a few peers in these parts. There’s Bell’s notorious Two Hearted Ale with it’s Centennial-induced bitterness that packs quite the wallop when fresh. There’s also cross-state rival Boulevard Single-Wide IPA and its decidedly dry finish. Although all three are in the same category, none are exactly alike. Schlafly’s AIPA is sort of sweet at first taste. There’s certainly a bitter finish, but the middle is lacking that intense strain often associated with an American IPA. As the beer warms, however, a complexity is revealed. The aroma is straight-up hop pellets (so says the homebrewer) which is always pleasing to the nose.
Schlafly’s yearly stab at an American craft beer classic may not be the most overwhelming beer out there, but it’s balance is something sorely lacking in today’s market. Although not the hop bomb I expected upon first sip, the beer expands and satisfies as it warms. It’s not your everyday American India Pale Ale, but it’s a good one nonetheless.
Both the Okkervil River album and Schlafly AIPA surprised by not meeting my American expectations, but that might have been the most American thing to do. If there’s one thing people do in this country when perfecting their craft, it is doing the unexpected with said craft, pushing expectations. Sometimes those expectations are pushed to extremes where the product no longer resembles the original. In the case of this record and this beer, the product resembles the original in ways we did not expect. Okkervil River didn’t make another emo rock opera over folksy guitars and Will Sheff whines. Schlafly didn’t overdo it with the hops. Instead, both made calculated moves in creating balanced, enjoyable final products I will continue to enjoy.
Who wins this round? I call it a draw. The lesson I learned to not expect the expected from American craft means that we all win or something equally cheesy.
*Sorry for the lack of footnotes, footnote fans. Familial duties didn’t leave time for such supplements. Maybe next time. I also had no time to read this over. Make revision/editing comments below or just tell me what you generally think.