Over the course of the last 10 years, I was part of a burgeoning craft beer scene in Middle Missouri. I was there before a lot of great breweries distributed and several new breweries opened there. I was at the first ever Columbia Beer Enthusiasts‘ tasting and eventually became an officer (a position I guess that I still hold despite moving 1300 miles away). At the height of the international and national craft beer boom, I was fully embedded in my own scene.
And now, I’m starting over.
I am no longer part of a scene outside of the fact I’m the “new guy” on a local Facebook group dedicated to craft beer in the region. However, I’m no longer a regular…well…anywhere. There are no local breweries following me on Instagram and Twitter. No one’s giving me the inside scoop on releases. In fact, I haven’t a clue when any beers are hitting the shelves. I’m lucky to stumble upon beers I’ve never had that are actually fresh.
It’s weird having to start from scratch. I don’t know that I have the energy to hunt down white whales or hit tap takeovers or hit the road on the weekends to travel to a nearby brewery. I received word of a beer fest in nearby Springfield and I scoffed at the $45 price tag. I don’t really want to start over.
So, my other choice is to ease into the craft community. And if it happens that I become an integral part again, so be it. However, it will most likely mean that I know a thing or two about beer. I know what I like and generally know where I can find it.
Somehow, I’m okay with this. I guess I kinda have to be. I mean, weeknight drinking (including Sundays) now becomes a lot tougher to maintain as my daily commute has tripled (10 to 30 minutes) and the demands of my new job have increased with less flexibility. Sure, I’ll get my summers off, but the coming fall will mean that I need to have a clear mind and plenty of rest to be effective. This is what I want and it’s worth adjusting my lifestyle.
Of course, there’s always the weekends…to spend with my almost-7-year-old and 17-month-old. The second kid made my participation in craft beer and homebrewing tough enough, but now I have to attend to my kids’ needs more that my time and availability is tighter during the week. Will I enjoy a good craft beer? Yes. Will I be ticking away at an impossible list of options? Probably not.
It’s similar to my place in the music scene. The scene here is so much more robust with five significant campuses and a couple of smallish urban centers loaded with creative types. So, it’s probably too big for me to put a dent in it anyway and once again, I honestly don’t have the energy anymore.
And all of this is okay.
Maybe my 30’s was my time to get involved in a scene or two. My 40’s seem to be about my family and career with a little enjoyment on the side. Through all my efforts in music and craft beer scenes, I feel I have a handle on how to enjoy them without being a part of them.
So, where do I get my craft beer fix now? I have Spirit Haus which is nearby – like 2 minutes nearby. This area is loaded with these little beer/wine/liquor stores with an assortment of odds and ends. This is good for exploring the possibilities of the region as well as scoring a gem now and again. Plus, there’s usually a guy at each of these stores who knows everything. At Spirit Haus, they have a guy (Gary, I believe) who knows wine. I haven’t been there enough to know whether or not they have a beer guy, but someone seems to know what they’re doing. The shelves are stocked with a nice spectrum of craft beer and there’s some interesting Belgians as well. The cooler is a labyrinth you enter at your own claustrophobic risk. I was in need of some unique tripels for a pesto dinner and instead of going for Belgians, I wanted some New England fare. What I got was the tripel from Allagash (maybe the best of the style I’ve had) as well as a somewhat older Fluffy White Rabbits – kept in the cooler as an older, hoppy beer should be. Spirit Haus is my neighborhood stop, something I’ve not had for a decade.
The other stops are not so close, but they offer a fix. Most beer folk know that to fully explore the range of a state’s distribution (if not always the complete breadth), you should hit a Whole Foods. The quantity is never amazing, but they feature locals, regionals, and some rarer, more expensive choices. If I want something local or high-end, I grab it at Whole Paycheck. (However, I’m going to avoid all the West Coast IPA’s that have been sitting there since last fall!) There’s also 44 Liquors which is a regional chain that’s just plain huge. They get everything and in large quantities. For a lot of special releases, places like this get a large share and it sits there for a while. There were so many 120 Minute IPA’s and World Wide Stouts not to mention a full lineup of Lost Abbey beers, that I was nearly overwhelmed. Of course, a place like this also has year-old IPA’s. I guess it’s all part of the learning process.
While Spirit Haus is in Amherst and the other places are in Hadley, my favorite place might be in Northampton. Provisions is one of those fancy food and drink stores that have everything. However, these stores often half-ass the beer and overprice everything. That is not the case with Provisions. They had the local breweries covered, including some rarer beers. I was even able to score several affordable offerings so that I could sample some beers from several breweries. Despite most of the beers being kept on shelves (there was a fully stocked cooler as well), the ages seemed appropriate. I suspect these beers move quickly. My only disappointing discovery was that the place with the largest number of bottles from Shelton Brothers (of nearby Belchertown who carry Mikkeller, Evil Twin, Jolly Pumpkin, everybody) was limited to a shelf in the corner. I opted not to check the dates of those beers as they looked to be not a priority to the store. Something I can overlook since the rest of the store is so amazing.
With unpacking and dragging a 17-month everywhere, I haven’t had time to check out local watering holes. That said, I enjoyed two. One was High Horse Brewing and the other The Dirty Truth in Northampton. I was told by a grad student that High Horse served great food, but the beer was so-so. The food was good, but I don’t know what beer these grad students must be used to. The Anti-Imperialist Session IPA was really good. If a brewery can do a good session IPA, they can certainly do most styles.
The other watering hole was sort of a spur of the moment stop. My father-in-law treated me to a beer at The Dirty Truth. After being carded and having to produce multiple forms of ID because my ID is still out-of-state (also, I’m 40), we slipped in at the end of a long bar to peruse the ~40 taps to try. I had the incredibly bitter Boom Sauce from Lord Hobo Brewing Company and my FiL sipped on White Lion’s Insane Mane (which I sampled as well). Nice, dark joint and they didn’t mind the antsy toddler at the bar.
And that’s about the extent of my beer adventures here in Western Mass. I feel so out of it not knowing any of the beers on tap (particularly local ones) or knowing where and when special releases hit the shelves. Just today I went looking for the Victory/Dogfish Head collaborative saison and two of the above places didn’t have it.
It’s either going to be a long time until I get fully acclimated with this beer scene or I just get back to enjoying the beer again. I mean, every time I go out or pick up something to take home, I’m having a beer I’ve never had before. So, that’s something right? It will be interesting to see how long I go before I start chasing white whales again.
For those who read this blog (assuming that you know it’s producing again) for the beer stuff, hang in there. I’ll find something to say. I might even go back to reviewing records with beers again which could be fun.
Also, I forgot to mention that it helps to have good neighbors. There will be more to say about this later, but I feel two families have been particularly welcoming and it would be wrong not to mention them in my quest for a place in the new beer scene. First, one couple has an in with Shelton Brothers. We’re hoping to set up a tasting sometime. I don’t need to tell you how excited that makes me. If/when it happens, that will be a night of epic beer drinking proportions. Probably.
The other neighbor only had two beers in his house when I was over last. It just so happens they were both two-year-old brews from Brasserie Fantôme. The first was Saison D’Erezée – Hiver which somehow tasted like a peaty scotch. How does that happen?!? Then, there was Fantôme de Noël which was also silly good. I suspect there will be more stories involving that guy when the only two beers in his house are two white whales of the highest order.
Crap. Where did the year go?
All I have done is taken several hiatuses in between some fairly mediocre blog posts. I would like to tell you 2015 will be different, but why lie? It won’t. I’ll be a sporadic blogger as it seems to be my ultimate destiny. So, you’ll forgive my momentary lapse in judgement when I thought a PhD was a good idea. You won’t mind when I prioritize my job and career over my hobbies. And you’ll give me a pass for being a parent of two who rarely gets a full night’s sleep.
That said, I still found a way to consume and as you well know, consuming indie rock records and craft beer are what I do best when I’m not parenting or working. I didn’t listen to nearly as much music as year’s past, but I did drink a shit-ton of beer as my waist will attest. So, I have something to say about both topics.
The format will be a bit different than years past. Usually, I write a list of records and/or beers. Last year I opted not to rank my choices for the year. This year I will simply name some arbitrary categories to fill with some sort of commentary. Do with this list what you will. However, I hope you can find the time to comment and even throw some money at the good people I’m about to praise.
The 2014 Beer and Pavement Recognitions and Such – Craft Beer Division
“My New Favorite Series of Special Release Beers”
A year and a quarter ago, I made my the voyage to Mikkeller’s home base(s) in Copenhagen. While there, I discovered that my favorite brewer can do lambics. And they don’t just do your ordinary lambic. Nope. The “Spontaneous Series” from Mikkeller features tart beers flavored with not your average additives like the evasive species such as buckthorn or the elderflower which comes from the potentially toxic elder plant. There are more typical fruits such as peach and raspberries, but you shouldn’t forget your root vegetables like beets(!). Mikkeller is known for pushing boundaries and styles, but with this series the boundaries are both stretched and strengthened like few brewers can do. I am not a completist, so I have yet to try all of these beers as they are pretty expensive and hard to find in this part of the country, but I buy one when I can and have enjoyed each immensely.
Close second: Stone’s Enjoy By Series is the freshest DIPA’s you’ll find as long as you enjoy them by the date on the bottle. 4/20 was particularly good this year. Rumor has it there’s an Enjoy After Series on the way which should be fun.
“Beer Style I Was Almost Over. Almost.”
Bourbon barrel imperial stouts are a bit played out. I mean, bourbon is great. Imperial stouts are great. So, you can’t possibly mix the two too often, can you? Guess again.
I grew so tired of anything bourbon-barrel aged and I like bourbon. A lot. However, aging every imperial stout in bourbon barrels gets old. The flavor is rich and often too sweet. It’s an easy way to make a beer everybody wants, but I’m moving on.
Well, sort of. Tonight with roast beef, I cracked open Avery’s Tweak. This is the bourbon barrel aged imperial stouts of bourbon barrel aged imperial stouts at 17% ABV and actual chunks of bourbon barrels in every bottle. Still, I don’t know how much more bourbon barrel imperial stouts I can take.
“The Beer I Like With Food”
I once discovered the wonders of a Dogfish Head India Brown Ale and a Booches burger. Oh, the wonders of hops and malts with a greasy burger… Well, I found my new favorite beer with comfort food: Broadway Brewery‘s Backyard BBQPA. Yes, a smoked pale ale is not everyone’s favorite, but Broadway brewed a beer that works with most of their menu, particularly anything smoked or meaty. I’ve had it with their burgers, pulled pork, and meatloaf sandwich. The mixture of malty sweetness and the bitterness of hops and smoke make for a nice beer to pair with fatty meats. I honestly don’t know that I’d like this beer on its own, but it is fantastic with Broadway’s excellent menu of locally-grown comfort foods.
“That Said, This Is My New Favorite Food-Beer Pairing”
Imperial stouts should be the only beer you ever serve with pie, especially a pie filled with berries. And don’t even bother with the a la mode bullshit. An imp stout has your creamy sweetness covered. I recently rediscovered the wonders of this pairing when a friend baked us some pie with blackberries and I showed up with a 2013 Deschutes Abyss nine months past its best after date. Whoa. What a brilliant pairing if I do say so myself. The glorious things going on in my mouth that night were enhanced by some killer Spiegelau Stout glasses.
A close second: The curried chicken pot pie we had before this pie was paired with Against the Grain’s Citra Ass Down DIPA and/or Stone’s Best By 12/26/14 DIPA. It’s hard to beat a perfectly balanced DIPA and spicy food. This isn’t a case of I got really drunk recently and wanted to include the experience in my blog. No. It’s an instance when perfect foods get matched with perfect beers and you all should know about it.
“2014’s Mikkeller – I.E. My New Favorite Brewery”
I nearly chose Texas’ Jester King Brewery, but I’ve followed them for a while and have always felt they were kindred spirits with the likes of Mikkeller, Evil Twin, Stillwater, The Bruery, etc. I was lucky enough to try quite a few of their beers at the SECraft Beer festival here in town where I sampled Snörkel, Detritivore, and Atrial Rubicite to name just a few of their excellent brews. They are now one of my top 3-4 breweries to gather while traveling to other beer markets.
That said, my new favorite brewery for this year goes to Prairie Artisan Ales, Sure, they are know for their various versions of Bomb!, yet another barrel-aged imperial stout, but I love their take on the saison as if it’s the new “ale.” Yes, I realize a saison is an ale by definition, but they like Stillwater treat the saison like it’s a centerpiece yeast strain and not just a side-project. There’s the Cherry Funk which is, well, funky. And there’s the Birra Farmhouse Ale, Prairie Standard, Prairie Hop, Prairie Ale, Puncheon, and a silly number of other saisons. All of these beers are grassy and pair well with any white meat or salad.
“Best Session Beer”
We got ourselves a brand-new spanking brewery this year by the name of Logboat. They do some nice beers and throw some good parties. However, they do provide the parenting/driving beer enthusiast some nice options such as their (GABF silver-medal winner) Mamoot Mild Ale and Bear Hair Belgian Blonde. These beers come in just under 5% ABV, but the beer that I love is just over that mark. It’s a wheat beer which are not always my favorite (except when they are hopped to hell). This beer features loads of ginger to help settle the stomach and awaken the tongue. Shiphead Ginger Wheat is the best session beer I’ve had this year. Sure, I enjoyed the IPA’s put out by Stone and others, but this beer’s gingery bite sets it apart from the rest.
“My Favorite Beer of 2014”
I could name so many new favorites from this past year like the ones above as well as Four Hands Alter Ego Black IPA, 3 Floyds War Mullet DIPA, Logboat/Four Hands Loghands Saison, Four Hands Cash Money, Founders Dissenter, Prairie’s Bomb!, Crooked Stave Vieille Artisanal Saison, Three Taverns’ White Hops, my own Aaawrange IPA and Smoke without Fire, Stone Go To IPA, Cigar City Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout (2013), Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery Oil of Aphrodite, etc. I could also consider some old favorites that showed well again this year like Boulevard Saison Brett, Boulevard Love Child #4, Boulevard Rye on Rye, Bells Dark Note, Deschutes Hop Henge DIPA, Bells Hopslam, Mikkeller Citra, etc.
However, this year’s favorite beer has to be the one I predicted almost three years ago. I wrote the following:
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.
I was pretty close in my prediction and although I didn’t correctly predict the name of the beer, I did name a two-episode web series the same as my beer of the year. This beer wasn’t necessarily the best or even my favorite for taste, aroma, etc. This beer captured the connection between craft beer and indie rock I have been preaching about here when I actually find time to post.
That beer, of course, is Beer Thousand, the imperial lager Dogfish Head brewed in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand. Never has a beer more perfectly deserved recognition on this blog than now. And somehow with the help of my brother (who happens to live in Dayton), I was able to score a 4-pack. The beer is excellent. It hides the booze well and defies the style. While it may not rank high in tartness or hoppiness, it certainly tastes like Bee Thousand sounds: gloriously lo-fi and bound to get you drunk.
Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery and Momofuko’ David Chang had a spat. That’s a story, I guess. Or at least it’s GQ drumming up some page views with an internal disagreement from contributors, contributors who happen to be at the top of their respective fields.
Basically, David Chang hates snobbery in food and especially beer. That said, the dude runs with a crowd that hangs at restaurants you nor I will ever enjoy. (Although, my wife did eat lunch at Noma once. Whatever.) It seems that he draws the snobbery line at beer. Guy hates himself some beer geeks:
Beer snobs are the worst of the bunch. You know the old joke about cheap beer being like having sex in a canoe? I will take a beer that’s “fucking near water” every night of the week over combing out my neck beard while arguing about hop varieties.
Garret Oliver who is one of those epicurean snobs with which Chang eats and imbibes took issue with the jab. He calls Chang’s shit out:
It’s not the fancy beer you don’t like. You don’t like us, your people. You have a “tenuous relationship with the Epicurean snob set?” You are the epicurean snob set! I’ve seen you with champagne in one hand and a Noma lamb leg in the other, chatting up celebrities. Why you frontin’? You spent your first three paragraphs insulting people just like you…is the cash, fame and luxury not working out?
So, a maker of snobby things doesn’t like some other snobby things. In this case, it’s beer. Fine. Like your shitty beer. More good, craft beer for me. Except that his snobby beer friend points out the hypocrisy of such an opinion coming from said maker of snobby things.
I’ll come back to this.
In other signs of the craft beer apocalypse, The New Yorker just figured out that craft beer is suddenly fancy stuff. This realization is due to beer-centric restaurants getting respect in foodie circles, not because the beer is good (which it is). Beer is big in Brooklyn, so now we have to pay attention to it.
This third anecdote is not necessarily about snobbery, but stick with me. Martha Stewart has a certified cicerone. Said in-house, beer expert/blogger did this little post selling the sour beer to soccer moms worldwide. Hops didn’t win wine drinkers over, but maybe open fermentation will. The sours in the post are presented as the sophisticated subset of craft beer, not like brutish IPA’s and imperial stouts.
And this is where beer is in 2014.
No longer do beer enthusiasts need to advocate for their favorite beverage. Craft beer has arrived, but is this what we wanted? Did we want beer to be unreachable? Did we want to turn beer snobs into just snobs? Did we need New York to discover craft beer?
What attracted me to craft beer was the accessibility. Here, in my glass, could be one of the best beers in the world. The best anything in the world usually demands a hefty price tag, but my beer didn’t cost me more than $5 at the bar or $10 for sixer.
Maybe this is what Chang is arguing. He would rather drink cheap, rice-adjunct, industrial swill than succumb to perils of beer snobbery. However, if you’re the kind who washes down your Noma lamb leg with champaign, what’s the point? Why not wash down that lamb with a barley wine or IPA
made brewed by a local brewery? If you eat fine food, you should wash it down with a fine beer.
Still, the perception of beer has changed. Sure, there are still beer evangelists and those who think craft beer doesn’t get its due respect, but the need for craft beer promotion is dwindling. A craft pint in this town has gone from $3 to $5 with some beers demanding $7-10 a glass. Beer dinners and tastings are becoming as common as wine events, possibly even more. Beer has arrived, but is this what we wanted?
When I watch craft beer grow and evolve this way, it reminds me of the indie rock/alternative boom of the 90’s. Hardcore punk and indie rock of the 80’s was underground and of a certain accessible quality that mainstream rock could not replicate. Eventually, Nirvana happened and every band was signed. That or the audience grew for those still on indie labels, making it possible for a band like a Pavement to travel in tour busses as opposed to broken-down vans. The music was still as accessible as ever, but suddenly, it was held to a higher standard. The indie snob became a thing. It ushered in the age of Pitchfork where suddenly an organization primarily covering independent music was the trend setter and not MTV, FM radio, or major labels.
And then there’s the backlash. Pop music and less sophisticated forms of hip-hop became popular again. Ironically, this shift back to the superficial mainstream has meant a decline in profits for the industry as a whole. I don’t need to link to the endless number of Billboard articles to prove this point. Still, the indies that rose in the nineties are still going strong.
This brings me back to beer. Is Chang merely calling attention to craft beer’s inevitable backlash? Is this part of our collective beer evolution? It certainly seems to mirror the evolution of modern music. Even as some return to cheap American lagers, beer sales as a whole are down, except for the craft brewers who continue to succeed.
Craft beer and its fans should realize that we are getting what we wished for. We wanted beer served alongside the finest wines in the finest establishments. However, it comes at a cost – literally. The backlash is in full swing and it was inevitable. Still, craft beer should weather the storm the way indie rock has.
Just quit your prosthelytizing and snobbery and enjoy another beer.
Man, I haven’t done one of these beer/record reviews in a long, long time.
Above you will find an image of a record – a 10″ record to be exact – and a beer. The record is Once More with Feeling, the new EP by Ought I picked up at their show over a week ago. The beer is a little something from Founders I picked up before the show. It’s black IPA/Cascadian Dark Ale called Dark Penance.
This is not your typical Ought release. Well, they have basically only released the stellar More than Any Other Day on Constellation and a self-released EP of mostly the same material, but this offering is neither of those. From what I can tell and have read, Once More… features older material that was rerecorded and slapped on some 10″ vinyl. Half is recycled from the mentioned EP, but it’s been completely reworked. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t measure up with what might be one of the best LP’s of the year. In fact, this 4-song EP perfectly compliments it and adds to the still-young oeuvre in a meaningful way.
The EP opens with the slow burn that is “Pill” with frontman Tim Beeler’s vocals light but in front instead of his typical holler. This is a reimagined version of the opening track from their EP New Calm. It’s straightforward and sweet with some sad, sad lyrics before it unravels into a beautiful mess, Beeler demanding that you give it to him before he fades into oblivion. “New Calm Pt 2” is another rerecording of the final track of their self-released EP. Beeler’s talking, Byrne/Reed vocals are out front ahead of a Joy Division-esque groove and early U2 guitar onslaught. The experiment of “New Calm Pt 2” doesn’t stand alone, but it demonstrates the certain constraints and potential of the band to carry out a jam. It’s abstract musically and lyrically, featuring a rambling singer backed by a rambling band. The EP closes with “Waiting”, a more conventional track. Quick, moving, urgent, the band moves like a mid-nineties Chicago outfit in a hurry with that familiar David Byrne-like mumbling before breaking into his usual cries. This track could be described as the band’s “dance song” but I find a lot of Ought’s faster stuff danceable. Beeler asks, “How long have you been waiting?” over and over. I hope not wait too long before another release or live performance.
Up for the challenge is a first-time release from the Midwest’s best brewery: Founders. Intensely bitter, Dark Penance is painful to the tongue upon the first sip. The roastiness and extreme hop presence (100 IBU’s!) are unforgiving. But as one sips, the roast and hop flavors begin to separate themselves, allowing the drinker to take in the brilliance of this beer. There are two types of black IPA’s: the hoppy porter variety or dark hop bomb that’s really just an IPA in a cloak. However, this beer finds a balance in pushing the envelope – typical of a Founders beer. Founders just makes their beers overwhelmingly flavorful which somehow balances out. I wonder if as they were developing this beer, the brewers thought “oh, that’s too hoppy” or “the malt is too forward” or “it’s all roasted malt.” And instead of backing off any of those flavors, they brought up the other components to balance the whole thing out. And this works.
On the surface, both Ought’s EP and Founders black IPA are immensely pleasurable. As I sipped the beer, I wasn’t sure if I was nodding to the blackness spinning on my turntable or the one in my glass. Both are exceptional contributions.
However, I find it more interesting in how they differ. Ought builds from abstraction, a dance beat, a sweet ditty into something gorgeously chaotic. However, Dark Penance was the opposite in that it opened with a punishing onslaught only to eventually reveal a balanced, glorious drink, perfecting for sipping with a great record on the play. The pairing was a success in contrasting styles with similar elements. I may have to try it again.
This past spring, the college town in which I live (Columbia, MO) welcomed it’s 4th and 5th breweries to the scene. On of those breweries is Logboat Brewing Company. Since their arrival, our town has been treated to many events (including a beer festival), food trucks, bocce ball, and, of course, some really good beer.
If there was a blueprint for how to roll out your craft brewery, Logboat would be the model. First, they built a beautiful facility with a small tasting room leaving plenty of space for a shiny, new 30-barrel system. The combination of reclaimed wood, cement, and metal gives the place a clean, industrial look without losing any midwest charm. The building is adorned with the brewery’s simple-yet-recognizable logo: a canoe (or cut-out log, AKA “logboat”) carrying a couple of whities led by their Native American guide. Of course, those logos are everywhere now, featured prominently on every other bumper in town (including my own).
The space does not allow for a kitchen or dining area, but there’s a workaround. On most evenings and a few weekend afternoons, local food trucks are parked on or around Logboat’s spacious green space. Ozark Mountain Biscuits, Playing with Fire Wood-fired Pizza, Pepe’s, and STL’s (soon to be COMO’s) Seoul Taco. There are picnic benches and lots of room for lawn games, kids running around, and a stage now and again. That stage has seen several local bands perform for various events, but the highlight of Logboat’s start has to be the SECraft Beer Festival. Breweries from all over the Southeast came to Columbia for a hot, August afternoon to share their beers with the locals. The highlight for me was getting to work my way through an impressive lineup at the Jester King tent. Overall, the fest was not too crowded, featured short lines (for beers and toilets), and provided tons of swag (t-shirt, a real glass, mixed sixer of beer, and a swag bag).
And how is the beer? Pretty great. I’ve know the brewer, Josh Rein, for a while. I’ve been sampling his home-brew forever. He once sold me a keg converted to a brew kettle. His beers have always been solid and true to style. He doesn’t do a ton of experimentation, but when he does, it’s always well done, not overdone. The regular lineup includes Lookout APA, Shiphead American Wheat Beer (with ginger!), Snapper American IPA, Mamoot English Mild, and a few one-offs with several barrel series on the way. Knowing of Josh’s travels and collabs, I fully expect coffee-infused beers as well as some barrels chockfull of Rainier cherries. The APA is ridiculously fresh and the wheat is a new favorite. The ginger comes through so clearly and it’s an easy drinker at 5.2%.
Of course the strength of the lineup may lie in the Mamoot, a true English mild sitting at only 3.6% ABV. At this past week’s GABF, Mamoot earned Josh and Logboat their first medal, placing second in the English Mild category. I’ll admit that this is not my favorite style, but the beer packs a lot of flavor for such an affable brew.
Last weekend, I headed over for Logboat’s latest release: a hoppy saison brewed with STL’s Four Hands called “Loghands.” For some, it was too hoppy for a saison. For me, I loved it. It reminded me a lot of the Mikkeller/Stillwater collab Our Side, a hoppy saison of its own. The brightness of the Belgian yeast strain really pops with fresh hops. It’s not a traditional beer and could go horribly wrong, but Loghands worked. I only hope that I’ll see more of it.
When a brewery like Logboat opens, it makes it easy to drink local like so many craft brewers and enthusiasts tell us to do. There are other breweries in town, each with their own strengths, but they all have a lot of work to do in meeting the bar set by Logboat in their short stint. In fact, anyone thinking of starting a brewery should check out what Logboat has done. It surely is a roadmap to success. That and the beer is good.
Hopslam arrived here in frigid Middle Missouri and it brought along with it loads of hype and hops. My love for the beer has cooled but not totally gone cold. I have learned to temper my expectations, not lower them. This is a lesson learned from years of buying records and seeing rock shows. See, this blog’s original premise still works.
See, a beer like Hopslam is almost as much about hype as it is anything else. It’s released only once a year in limited quantities. It’s a beer geek’s beer, loaded with hops and booze. Those bright green labels picturing a poor bloke begin crushed by a giant hop calls craft beer consumers like voiceless sirens. (Can that even work?) The ~$20 makes you think that it’s a big deal. Oh, and it is a pretty good beer.
However, the next Hopslam doesn’t ever taste like the first one. This year’s version never tastes as good as last year’s or the one you drank seven years ago. I don’t know if it’s a problem of drinkers building it up too much in their own minds or something more akin to a heroin addiction. It’s probably a little of both. Either way, the hype and misperception leads to bitter disappointment every time.
Still, Hopslam is an excellent beer. I have come to expect a well-crafted beer that hides an incredible amount of booze while introducing my palate to some sweetness and bitterness without fail. What I don’t expect is the same burst of grapefruit or cat piss or whatever aromas the hops might unleash. It seems that big DIPA’s like this are really dependent on a large amount of hops. If one harvest or another is slightly off or just different in one way or another, the effects are magnified. The beer tastes different every year, but it is always well-brewed and worth a try.
I’m good with Hopslam these days, but that wasn’t always the case. Two or three Hopslams ago, the beer didn’t meet my expectations. I wanted that crazy honey-coated grapefruitiness that smelled of a cat lady’s house sweater I tasted just the year or two before. However, as explained above, the beer was different. On top of this disappointment, I really had to go out of my way to spend a lot of money on beer. Here in Middle Missouri, Hopslam lasts tens of minutes, not days or hours. So, if you want some, you better be prepared to stalk the local beer dealer. Then, you’ll pay $20 a sixer. I used to buy at least two, sometime more. If I had to work that hard and spend that much money on a beer, it better meet my expectations.
Hopslam didn’t meet those expectations. So, something had to change. Last year, I didn’t buy any in bottles, only on tap. The 2-3 Hopslams (plus a bottle from a friend) were more than enough. I didn’t overdo it. I don’t blow a wad of cash. It was a good beer among many. I was satisfied, but my exportations were not lowered as much as they were tempered. “Enjoy the Hopslam, not the Hypeslam” was my new mantra and it worked.
2014’s version rolled out this past week and I welcomed it. I wasn’t going to buy a sixer this year. I have a deal with my mom to grab one in Ohio where it sometimes sits on shelfs for weeks or months. Then, coworkers were running out in the middle of the day to see if the grocery nearby had some Hopslam. I joined them and scored a sixer. One’s enough.
I won’t write a beer review now. You should know that this year’s version is good. I’m glad I bought some and look forward to having more on tap or in a few weeks when my mom delivers the sixer she bought for me.
What I wanted to focus on was the idea of tempering expectations. As I mentioned above, tempering expectations is something I do. However, the ability to do such with beer has been a recent development. No, I’ve been tempering expectations for a long time in terms of what I expect to get from a new record or rock show.
I realize that it’s semantics and someone will undoubtedly argue that tempering expectations is the same as lowering them, but this is my blog post and I say it isn’t the same. Tempering expectations considers contexts and past experiences. It keeps me in the moment and more mindful of what I am experiencing. Tempering expectations doesn’t allow those expectations or preconceived ideas to taint reality. Instead, I can enjoy the experience in real time.
Take Stephen Malkmus’ new album Wig Out at Jagbags as an example. I loved, LOVED Mirror Traffic. My expectations were high for Jagbags, but I realized that this was going to be a different record and it needed its own opportunity to win me over. Of course, the album didn’t have to impress me at all. Malkmus has done enough in Pavement and with Jicks to earn my loyalty. Still, I listened with anticipation. To be honest, the first few listens didn’t impress. It took 3-4 concentrated listens for me to appreciate this record, but I did. Is it as good as Traffic? I don’t know. Does it have to be? All I know is that it’s a good record at this moment and I enjoy listening to it.
See? It’s all about tempering those expectations so that we can enjoy what’s right in front of us. Stay in the moment. This year’s Hopslam doesn’t have to be last year’s or the version bottled six years ago.
I bristled at the idea of writing yet another post about hipsters, but I felt this had to be addressed.
First, let me say that I am decidedly pro-hipster at best or ambivalent toward them at worst. It’s a label placed on certain stereotypes that I don’t feel like getting into at this point. All you should know is that being a hipster is relative and that we’re all hipsters compared to someone.
When I say that craft beer has a “hipster problem”, what I am referring to is a perception of pretentiousness. Hipsters – right or wrong – are seen as pretentious. Whether it’s fashion, music, transportation, decor, or food, “hipster” is considered equivalent to “pretentious douchebag.” So, maybe it’s hipsters with the problem, but I digress.
Craft beer is neither exclusive to hipsters nor pretentious. However, as they say, perception is reality. And the perception is that craft beer is exclusive and loved by snobs. Exclusivity these days is blamed on hipsters for whatever reason.
The actual reality is that craft beer is decidedly not a hipster thing. The movement has been around for a while. The people I connect with craft beer are not very hipster-like. Just within my social circles, craft beer enthusiasts aren’t exactly the hippest lot. This is not a putdown. It’s just a reality. They are mainly white men aged 30-50. Yes, some of them own an Arcade Fire CD. Yes, some will wear ironic t-shirts. However, these are fairly benign practices these days. Ten years ago, they totally would have been hipsters. In 2014, not so much.
Now, a lot of hipsters are getting into craft beer. It’s artisinal. It’s really popular right now. It’s beard friendly. There’s a lot in the craft beer community for hipsters to like. However, when push comes to shove (and as the wallet empties), PBR and Hi-Life aren’t that bad.
Seriously. Craft beer is attractive to the North American Hipster because craft beer tastes good and gets us a little tipsy. That’s basically the same reason we all love it.
The more insidious part of craft beer’s perception problem is the pretentiousness with which the community has been unfairly labeled. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it features exotic flavors and production techniques. Yes, it’s better than what you normally drink. Yes, they have silly names. However, a preference for the finer things does not necessarily mean that one is pretentious.
If anything, craft beer enthusiasts and brewers are some of the least pretentious people I know. They willingly share. They participate in online forums such as this one. They share. They fucking drink beer with you. And they share.
I don’t know how craft beer can fix their “hipster problem.” I suggest we all continue to buy beers for our more skeptical friends and drink an industrial, rice-adjunct lager now and again just to show our more human side. The hipster perception is not a problem. Trust me. But the perception of beer snobbery is and we must do what we can to fix it.
(Maybe I should do the same for indie rock. Right, Taylor Swift?)