Beer and Pavement

Starting Over

Posted in Beer, Massachusetts, Travelog by SM on August 4, 2015
The Dirty Truth

The Dirty Truth

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.

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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.

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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.

My Non-Encounter with Kim Gordon

Posted in Book, Life, Massachusetts, Travelog by SM on August 2, 2015

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Let me begin by saying that I am not a stalker. I do have a habit of obsessing over my heroes when there’s an off-chance I could meet them at the least and become best friends in my own delusional world at the most. Then, I realize I’m about to overstep and back off, because they are just working schmucks like the rest of us. Now, by overstepping, I would never do anything weird. I might just be a hanger-on or an awkward third wheel or whatever. But I’ll explain that all below.

So, as you know, we moved to Western Massachusetts. We live in Amherst (where J Mascis lives), next to Hadley (where there are farms, big box stores, and Frank Black), and across the river from Northampton (once the home of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore in a grand, old house on a hill). It’s liberal heaven and beautiful. There are five fairly progressive campuses on top of each other and two of them are all-women colleges (which are either cooler or lamer than your school, the former in this case) surrounded by wilderness, rolling farm land, and mountains.

As I hinted above, some of my heroes live or have lived in the area. Kim Gordon is one in particular. I’m reading her excellent memoir Girl in a Band. So, I was sure Kim and I would hit it off or she would find my daughter reminds her of her daughter or my son would charm her the way he charms everyone or my incredibly talented wife would make quick friends with her as they discuss feminism over wine or… You get the picture.

It was nothing creepy. I, like any Sonic Youth fan, went through a Kim Gordon phase (similar to phases involving Kathleen Hanna, Kim Deal, etc.), but that was a youthful crush. I have friends Kim’s age with similar sensibilities. I didn’t want to have steal a piece of her soul or spy on her or her child. I’m just a fan who wanted on the inside, but I didn’t want to harm my hero in any way.

That said, I learned Kim Gordon was having a garage sale. How could I not go to Kim Gordon’s garage sale? Would I score some cool piece of art or a X-Girl t-shirt or some piece of Sonic Youth memorabilia? Something. And I would hand my cash to Kim and we’d strike up a conversation and she would ask that I bring the kids by sometime and maybe her daughter could babysit… I have an active imagination, but it hardly resembles reality.

Using my expert Googling skills, I confirmed that the address on the flier a friend sent me a pic of was indeed Kim Gordon’s residence. Not wanting to overwhelm her street with parked cars, I parked on a main strip and walked the last couple of blocks. At the corner of her street was another sign with that distinctive flier. Running down the hill was what looked to be the type of aging hipster who would be good friends with someone like Kim Gordon. You know the type. These dudes can pull off longish gray hair, a pair of Ray-Bans, Chuck Taylor’s well into the nursing home. He was fixing the sign. So, I hurried in case he was closing up the garage sale.

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The house was old and somewhat stately. The landscaping was the typically overgrown New England jungle that somehow looked purposeful despite all the weeds. There were older foreign cars strewn along and in the driveway along the side of the house leading to the garage sale in the back.

I passed a for sale sign (same realty company we worked with) with more fliers covering one side and the other revealing an “Under Contract” add-on. This is when it struck me that this was more than an attempt at cleaning out some closets. Kim’s and Thurston Moore’s divorce had been known or in process for quite a while now. I guess I didn’t expect that she would leave Northampton. Rumor on the street is that Thurston lives in an apartment in Northampton with some rocker dude, but he’s rarely around as he’s been touring pretty steadily with his solo project. This was a divorce-caused-moving sale which is the saddest kind of garage sale. At that point, the sun felt a little more oppressive and the house began to sag a bit, but I was not to be deterred.

On my way toward the back, I could see some shelves, lamps, boxes of assorted stuff, and a couple of loaded bookshelves. A hipster couple walked in just ahead of me and an older couple was walking out with a newly purchased lamp. A few other people were perusing the piles as what sounded like a French woman oversaw the proceedings. And more aging hipster friends managed the merch.

The aforementioned hipster couple looked straight out of Singles. I guess grunge is back in style. They were raiding the racks of clothes. The woman was forcing a leather jacket around her torso, convincing her boyfriend that it fit. No doubt she was thinking it was Kim’s leather jacket, but the size made me think it was potentially Kim’s daughter’s, something she had grown out of years ago.

The lamp-carrying older couple looked a little less crazed grunge fan as they walked out with the retro metal lamp. We had a lamp like that once and I’m 99% it was also purchased in a garage sale. On their way out, the man turned to the screen door from where some loud music was coming on the side of the house and hollered “Goodbye, Kim” or some farewell message.

Kim Gordon was not actively supervising her own garage sale directly. However, I suspected that she might have been watching from her kitchen between packing boxes. Instead, a couple of dudes who were either in bands, owned record stores, or both managed some of the merchandise and took money from customers. The French woman wore a long, flowery dress and oversized sunglasses, encouraging people to look around and try things out.

This is when I started to shop. The racks were mainly filled with women’s clothing. I am terrible at shopping for women’s clothes, so I moved on. There were some nice shelves another couple was studying, but we just moved in and I didn’t know where we would put such shelves. Some card tables and boxes at typical garage sale junk. There was a box of framed art, but nothing hip of fancy. I grabbed a bicycle pump with a gauge. (However, in my haste, the pump was missing a nozzle necessary to actually pump up a bicycle tire.)

After browsing the bookshelves, I sauntered into the garage – one of those old, wooden, barn-like garages which probably got little to no use except to store some junk. The junk was there, but so were some Sonic Youth stacks or at least that’s what the masking tape labels claimed. Fifty bucks but you had to take the pair. I deliberated over this for a bit. I have a guitar with a pickup, but this seemed a silly thought as it’s an acoustic and I barely play. I then considered if the stacks would work for stereo speakers. Again, that’s ridiculous. Besides, we just moved into a smaller house and it was largely unpacked. I passed.

I clutched my bike pump and grabbed a bunch of kids books for my daughter. Kim’s daughter Coco was either an avid reader or she just had a lot of books. And they had all the right books from the last 15-20 years of children’s lit. I wanted some science books for my upcoming gig as a 4th grade math and science teacher, but it was mostly literature.

As I wrapped up my shopping, I still hadn’t found anything personal that screamed “SONIC YOUTH” or “this was Kim Gordon’s personal whatever.” Then I found a blank book or journal in the stacks. The cover was an Andy Warhol piece, one of those blank books you buy at Barnes & Nobles to use as a diary of journal. I opened it to see if it was still blank. However, inside the front cover was a collection postcards, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, etc. On the first page it read “Remember that Katie gave this to me.” I continued to flip through the pages. There were some crude drawings and comics, but most of it was blank.

There was a rush of blood to my head at this point. I had stumbled onto a tiny piece of Coco Gordon Moore’s childhood, but even worse, it was her private journal. Sure, it was unfinished and forgotten, but this was more than I bargained for. I am not a stalker. I do not need to be inside Kim Gordon’s or her daughter’s life. Despite selling her things on her driveway, she and her family didn’t deserve my snooping even if it was accidental.

I quickly shoved the book back into the shelf and went to pay for my items.

One of the aging hipsters came up with a price and I agreed to pay. (I don’t haggle.) The stack of books were a little unwieldy, so they offered me a tote bag from a bin of assorted tote bags. The French lady (not totally sure she was French, but it makes for a better story) grabbed me this “jazz in Paris” tote and I was on my way.

As I walked back to my car, I thought about Kim Gordan’s junk. I only use the word “junk” because that’s what everyone sells in a garage sale. There was an expectation of cool items that would connect to Kim’s celebrity, but that was unrealistic. Kim Gordon has junk in her garage sale like the rest of us.

And that’s when it hit me. The thing I like about the musicians I like is that they are all working stiffs like the rest of us. Sure, there are exceptions. There indie bands who have become insanely rich or down-to-earth megastars, but most indie rockers are often only a few months separated from a 9-5.

I’ve come to this conclusion on many occasions despite my near-worship of bands on indie labels playing the same shitty clubs my friends play. I remember chatting with a friend who was talking about his chance encounter with Tori Amos and how magical that moment was. As he searched for the words to describe his experience, he finally just turned to me and said, “You know how you feel when you meet one of your people.”

I didn’t know how he felt. My “people” are like me. They have to work really hard for a living – on the road or in a steady job to make ends meet. They have families. They have student loans. They have car payments. And they sell junk in their garage sales.

Yeah, there is the celebrity and often there’s a bunch of money they have from doing some rock festivals overseas or having one hit song. I looked for some clues online as to where J Mascis lives. I assumed he lived in a neighborhood like mine or closer to downtown, but it turns out his mansion with recording studio burnt down a few years ago. He doesn’t live in my neighborhood, needless to say. Kim Gordon’s house was listed as selling for 1.5 million dollars online. I don’t know how accurate that is, but she doesn’t live in my neighborhood either.

Still, there are all these moments where one rock hero or another demonstrated some bit of humanity that’s made me check my hero worship. There was that time when the guys from Archers of Loaf reminisced a raucous show they cut short because the crowd was too rowdy, stating that “they needed to be beat down with yard sticks or something.” There was that time Bob Pollard drunkenly talked my brother’s ear off about the importance of the teaching profession. There was just the other day when I was listening to the last Walkmen record and on the back cover was a portrait of the band members and their children. There are so many other moments, but the point remains that no matter the fame (or perceived fame), they’re all a bunch of working stiffs like you and me.

Kim Gordon sold her house and a load of her junk because she’s leaving the Pioneer Valley. She has to do all of this because her husband had a midlife crisis and hooked up with a much younger woman. They divorced and suddenly look as vulnerable as the rest of us. She played her last show in town and packed her car. Most of this move is documented on Instagram, much like the way I recorded my own move.

There’s some saying about how we all eat, shit, and fuck like everyone else or something to that effect. We have to remember this about our heroes now and again. I am the worst about getting wrapped up in celebrity. Luckily, people’s humanity shines through and I’m reminded they are people who are no better than I am. Conversely, I am no better than they are and I don’t deserve a piece of them, even if I pay for their junk at a garage sale.

Additional note about the book: Kim Gordon has a straightforward writing style that shows her story to be an interesting in worthy read. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that we should have been hearing more from her over the years than her ex Thurston Moore. Gordon is sharp, politically aware, open-minded, and in-touch with reality. This memoir – although I’m not done reading it – is right up there with the Patti Smith book, Just Kids. You don’t have to be a fan of Sonic Youth to enjoy this book, but you should be a lover of the arts and a leftist.

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Session #57 – Beery Confessions: Guilty Secrets/Guilty Pleasure Beer

Posted in Beer, The Session, Travelog by SM on November 4, 2011

This month’s session is “Beery Confessions: Guilty Secrets/Guilty Pleasure Beer” which is not the sort of thing budding beer bloggers want to share. We have reps to protect. However, if anything, it should demonstrate that even I will stoop to a lesser beer out of sheer pleasure and not just necessity. I’ll skip the opportunity to tell you about an embarrassing drunken escapade. There are just too many of those to share. Instead, I’ll stick with the guilty pleasure angle.

This past summer, my wife and I traveled to Spain, spending much of our time with a close friend. Spain is not known for great beers, but I had a lot of fun searching out the best. There were fresh pilsners to hold me over and even a few interesting craft finds. Overall, I can’t complain about the beer I had, but there is one beer choice I made on several occassions that I’m not completely proud of.

As most beer nerds do, I checked out the tap handles at every bar, cafe, and restaurant we passed. While in Barcelona, we would often hang out at the cafe just below the apartment we were renting. Like most, smaller establishments, they had two beers on tap from the same brewery: Damm. One tap was reserved for the brewery’s flagship beer, Estrella Damm, while the other was reserved for my new guilty pleasure, Damm Lemon.

Yes. The beer geek who goes for 10% imperial stouts and DIPA’s measuring close to 100 IBU’s chose a shandy. The Damm Lemon (or “damn lemon” as it became known in our circle) was comprised of six parts cervaza to four parts lemon. It was the weekest of session beers in that it was low in alcohol (3.1%) and even lower on anything resembling beer.

My first clue should have been when I finally decided to order a damn lemon. First of all, my Spanish is terrible. I try to piece together what to say, usually pronouncing everything with a French accent. So, I think I asked for a “cervatha de la lemón.” I don’t know whether the girl laughed at my lame attempt at ordering in Spanish or the fact that I was ordering a shandy. Somehow, I suspect both. She corrected me and told me it’s called a “lata” or something that sounded like that. I drank two and recieved the same odd look both times. The second time around made me think that I was choosing a girly drink. Normally, this doesn’t bother me, but my inner-12-year-old cringed at the thought. Although, in retrospect, it may have been more of a case of “Why is this old guy drinking a kid’s beer?”

When our friend arrived in Barcelona, I introduced him to Damm Lemon and he loved it. we made a pact to purchase a sixer one night for dinner. The agreement was realized one evening after a long day of sight-seeing, tapas, and plenty of drinking. We were already a little buzzed. So, some 3% lemonade beer wasn’t going to hurt. We dutifully finished the entire sixer despite tipsiness to start with and what I remember to be a rather decadent dinner of various things soaked in olive oil, bread, lots of pork products, and a boatload of cheese.

I tasted many good things during my trip to Spain, but none could be quite equal the guilty pleasure Damm Lemon turned out to be. We even tried ham-flavored potato chips and that doesn’t seem as guilt-inducing as a shandy. Still, I don’t regret a thing and would likely do it again.

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Eleanor Friedberger at the Luminary

Posted in Life, Live, Travelog by SM on November 1, 2011

Those pants.

I won’t attempt to write a review of this show. Too much weird and surreal happened. So, I’ll attempt to just tell you how it all went down Friday night in St. Louis.

My friend Andrew has a college buddy who’s playing bass for Eleanor Friedberger and so he was on the guest list with a +1 (me). The venue was The Luminary, a convent-turned-art space. The basement is a large, open room with a stage that was both wide and shallow in front of a projection screen. To better illustrate the stage’s layout, the drum kit couldn’t sit behind the rest of the band. Rather, it had to be moved to the side.

As Andrew and I waited to meet up with his friend, Matt, we enjoyed a beer. Said beer was a Zwickel from Urban Chestnut, a newer brewery in St. Louis. I have to say that it was a nice beer. I’m not much of a lager drinker, but this beer is smooth, just sweet enough, and features a decent hoppy bitterness I wasn’t expecting. It was nice to have a good beer in a convent-turned-art space, totally unexpected.

Matt introduced us to the rest of the touring band, including Eleanor. No rock star pretensions or snobbery here. Eleanor was a lot of fun to chat with. She and Andrew had several mutual friends and hit it off right away. The entire band was like that, just really friendly and easy-going.

After I let Eleanor try my beer to see if she wanted one of her own, I promptly texted my sister who proceeded to freak out via MMS. She’s a big Fiery Furnaces/Eleanor Friedberg fan and was properly jealous. In fact, I purchased her record based on my sister’s recommendation. My only task as assigned by my little sister was to tell Eleanor that my sister loved her.

In case you weren’t aware, Friday night also happened to be when the seventh game of the World Series was to be played. If you were unaware of this, you also probably didn’t know that St. Louis was hosting said game versus the Texas Rangers. Being the baseball town that St. Louis is, even a joint like the Luminary was showing the game. As you’ll notice below, the game provided some avant-garde, performance art backdrop to the bands playing. We were in no danger of missing game seven despite our indie rock leanings.

Via @EleanorOnly

As a decent local alt.country act played (Pretty Little Empire), Matt asked us if we wanted to hang out in the green room which was actually green. The best part of the room was the high-quality selection of LP’s to keep us busy. Andrew and Matt caught up, I sat and figured this was my chance to relay my sister’s message to Eleanor. She seemed flattered and even offered to add my sister to the guest list for her next show in Ohio. (I watched her enter the name into her phone. So, I assumed she was serious.)

I saw the opportunity to tell Eleanor how much I really like her new record…

[It’s really an oversight on my part that I have yet to write about this record. I purchased Last Summer weeks after its release. So, I didn’t feel the need or opportunity to write-up a proper review. It will surely make my year-end list. I figured I’d say what I was going to say about it at that point. It’s a really great record. Some might even say that it’s more accessible than her Fiery Furnaces material. Either way, this is a fantastic collection of rock songs. The production reminds me a ton of the Destroyer record, but it’s far more tolerable than Dan Bejar’s eighties-inspired Kaputt. Highlights include “My Mistakes”, “Heaven”, and “I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight.” You can get an idea an idea by watching the video for “My Mistakes” here.]

That’s when my filter quit working.

Here’s a tip for any of you if you ever get to meet an artist whom you respect and really enjoy their work: Don’t tell them about why it’s so hard to like their music.

After telling Eleanor how much I liked her new record, I proceeded to tell her that it was more accessible than a lot of the Fiery Furnaces stuff. I expanded this thought by telling her how there’s some stuff FF recorded that I can’t stand, but I loved other material. The part about how much I loved some of the music was lost as everyone in the green room gave me a hard time over this social faux pas. I quickly tried to back out by explaining that I played Last Summer for my wife who promptly told me to shut it off. This didn’t help.

For whatever good karma I earned sharing my beer, relaying my sister’s admiration, and complementing Last Summer, it was all lost as I inadvertently insulted the artist I was excited to see perform that night. Ugh.

That was the moment when a kid working for the venue informed the band that it was time for them to set up. Andrew and I had to leave before I could explain my way out of the mess I had just made. At that moment, I hoped my sister’s invite to attend the show in Cleveland was still on. Either way, I had to pull my foot from my mouth so that we could return to the basement for the show.

A decent crowd showed despite the fact that the World Series game was going on at the same time. If I remember correctly, the Cards were up 6-2 at this point and were looking good going into the final few innings. Regardless, we would watch the end as Eleanor and her band mates played.

Like I said, I’m not writing a review, but this is basically what happened for the next hour or so…

The band opened with “My Mistakes” which is incredibly danceable and catchy. A new song was introduced and the night was off without a hitch. Backing Eleanor was a professionally smooth trio on bass, drums, and guitar. Matt played bass next to a drummer in hoody and jacket. I have never seen a drummer stay relatively perspiration-free while wearing so many layers, plus a full head of hair and beard. Still, he could hit some skins. That solid rhythm section was fronted by Eleanor and this kid from Tennessee (whose name I’ve forgotten) on guitars. This “kid” (he’s 21), told me later that he’s normally a drummer, but I would swear that guitar is his first instrument. He played effortlessly, even some of the more difficult parts appeared easy in his capable hands.

Eleanor was in synch with her band, holding the crowd’s attention with every word. She has a presence on stage for sure, something that would have been hard to imagine after hanging out with her prior to the performance, finding her relatively unassuming. Because I’m a lazy blogger, I’d compare her look and presence like that of Patti Smith, but it was even more like a Stephen Malkmus, sans the bratty attitude. She was easily the coolest person in the room. Even her attire suggested she was better than the rest of us despite her approachable demeanor. (I think Andrew said something like “Those pants!”)

Throughout, Eleanor and the band had fun and it encouraged those in the audience to do the same. They checked in on the band between songs. Sometimes they became transfixed with the commercials. At one point, Eleanor decided to sing to the screen only to find an American Idol commercial was playing. She nearly lost it mid-song.

Adding to the fun was the fact that 3-4 new songs were thrown in and none disappointed. If anything, these new songs added to what is potentially great oeuvre. Of course, the songs from Last Summer translated well live. A live show featuring newer material can make or break an album’s staying power for me. Friday night’s show assured me that Last Summer is good art and even better pop. Of course, good songwriting, charisma, and solid musicianship has that effect.

The set progressed as did the baseball game in the background. Eleanor announced the last song during the ninth inning. It was a perfectly timed selection “I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight.” Watch…

Yep. That’s how it went down. The band did come back to play [enter song here that escapes my memory] in a rather Ramones-like way – you know, punk rock oldies. The song finished what was a pretty fantastic night of music and baseball.

We said our goodbyes to the band. I sheepishly went over to the merch table to say goodbye to Eleanor. She assured me that my sister would be on the list in Cleveland, demonstrating that she wasn’t sore about my unintentional insults. It was cool for her to offer in the first place, but even cooler to ignore my rudeness and assure me that my sister was still on the list. Nice girl, that Eleanor Friedberger.

In Defense of BrewDog

Posted in Beer, Travelog by SM on June 22, 2011

One of the most amazing achievements of the American craft beer scene is its overwhelming influence on foreign brewers, particularly those from lands with their own brewing traditions. The movement toward traditional brewing techniques with “extreme” ingredients has greatly influenced craft beer all around the world. One such brewery who has taken what American breweries have done and run with it is Scotland’s BrewDog.

Some like to criticize BrewDog for being putting more hype than hops in their beers. The attitude displayed in their copy and graphic design suggest a similar arrogance found in that of Stone but without the great product to back it up. BrewDog often goes for the gimmick with their insanely high ABV beers like Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32%), Sink the Bismark (41%), or The End of History (55%). There’s also the insanely low ABV brew Nanny State that comes in at a whopping 1.1% ABV. Such stunts cause the skeptical beer nerd to be…well…skeptical.

While the perceived gimmicks above don’t bother me, the fact that I had tried few BrewDog beers that I actually liked said more about the brewery than any marketing strategies. The Tate Modern Saison was nice. Their collaboration with Stone was interesting but not mind-blowingly good. And the IPA’s and stouts I had were okay, I guess. In my opinion, BrewDog did very little to earn my beer money.

Then, I had their collaboration with Mikkeller, the I Beat U. I’m a sucker for insanely hoppy, American craft-style IPA’s and DIPA’s. This one certainly did the trick. I figured that maybe BrewDog had figured out how to brew a proper American-style IPA or that, at the very least, Mikkeller had a positive influence on the brewers from Scotland. I was intrigued enough to keep an eye open for BrewDog’s beers. However, due to some changes in distribution, BrewDog is no longer available here in Missouri.

Enter my trip to Spain.

I have more to say about the trip and the beer there, but BrewDog deserves their own post, review. After several fruitless searches for good beer bars and stores, I finally discovered a gourmet food store on the Rambla de Catalunya in Barcelona. While there were many interesting beers from which to choose, I had to think strategically. My day pack didn’t allow much room for beer (nor did my back want to lug that much extra weight). Plus, we were leaving the next day for Granada. Carrying a load of beer on a plane with no checked luggage did not appeal to me. So, I went with six 11.2 oz BrewDog beers. Let’s review…

IPA Is Dead Sorachi Ace and Citra
Both IPA’s were single-hopped with identical malt profiles, 7.5% ABV, and 75 IBU’s. The idea was to single out popular hop varieties in order to discover the virtues of each. Mikkeller has done the same, but rarely have their versions been as intense as these two beers. First, I tried the Sorachi Ace, if you recall, the centerpiece hop in my own New Slang Saison. The flavor and aroma were huge on this one, but Sorachi Ace really should be used sparingly or in combination with other hops. The hop at 75 IBU’s just comes off like lemon-scented cleaning supplies. Still, it was an interesting experience as I watched The Simpsons dubbed in German on the airport hotel TV.

Next came the Citra-hopped beer. Wow. I can see why this hop is quickly replacing Simcoe as the hop-du-jour among professional and amateur brewers alike. It’s so citrusy and not harsh at all. Excellent beer.

Hardcore IPA
Before heading out for the evening, a friend and I decided to break open this DIPA. Hoppy with the proper malt backbone to balance…This was nothing like any BrewDog IPA/DIPA I had consumed previously. Aside from the single-hop beers, this beer easily proves BrewDog’s worthiness among American craft beers.

Bitch Please, Paradox, and Tokyo
After the Hardcore IPA, we had a dinner with friends in their mountain-side village home. I brought these beers as a contribution to the meal. We saved them for after dinner, which was the right thing to do. I opted to start with the Bitch Please barley wine, a collaboration with Three Floyds. Fucking A. I figured the barley wine wouldn’t stand up after the two big imperial stouts, but that was a silly thing about which to worry. It was the peatiest thing I’ve had not in a Scotch bottle. Unreal how peaty this beer was. Luckily, I was sharing.

Second was the Paradox…oak, bourbon, molasses…This was the quintessential Americanized imperial stout for which we all crave. This beer came correct and stood up to the peat in the previous beer. At this point, I was clearly sold on the BrewDog’s legitimacy, but the ability to brew an imperial stout such as this one cinched it.

Finally, we opened and slowly sipped on Tokyo. I am a huge fan of Dogfish Head’s World Wide Stout and this beer is its equivalent. Sweet, syrupy, black coffee, and bourbon…Oh, and tons and tons of booze. They aren’t joking when they claim this beer to be 18% ABV. It kicked our ass for good, but it was totally worth it.

After trying these six beers while on holiday, I am a huge BrewDog fan and believe in their ability to brew big beers. I know that between their hype machine and forays into mediocre brewing, they have lost some of you. However, it’s never too late to come back and try BrewDog again. Now, if only they shipped to Missouri…

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Still In Spain, Still Alive

Posted in Beer, Travelog by SM on June 9, 2011

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We’re still here and I’m making due. Trust me, the selection above is not what I’ve typically had here with my tapas. Still, it’s been interesting. I’ll get back to full-on blogging within a week.

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Ohio, Here We Come

Posted in Beer, Life, Travelog by SM on May 26, 2011

Then, it’s off to Spain.

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Saturdays with Beer Geeks

Posted in Beer, Travelog by SM on May 3, 2011

I work and have a family. So, a lot of beer geeking happens on the weekend[1]. This past weekend, some headed to Munster, IN while the rest of us slummed it in Kansas City. This is what we do. We fill an entire day (or weekend, vacation, lifetime, etc.) with beer.

My beer enthusiasts club hit Kansas City for a day trip which included a brewery tour, lunch at a place called “Beer Kitchen,” and a large chunk of the day spent at a beer festival. Yes, we really spent the entire day immersed in beer and no one got completely wasted…well, not in our group anyway[2].

The brewery we toured was Boulevard in Kansas City. It’s a huge facility that produces all the beer for the tenth largest craft brewery in the US. We saw barrels used for the brewery’s high-end Smokestack series, enough brewing equipment to almost fill a city block, and a bottling line that now stands on the brewery’s old basketball court[3].

For a group of seasoned home brewers and beer nerds, the process of making beer was not all that impressive[4], but it was pretty cool to see Boulevard’s setup which has to be one of the most unique in the industry. The room below the fermentation tanks was right out of a sci-fi flick with the stainless steal pipes and nothing but the bottoms of fermenters protruding from the ceiling. The building utilized the original architecture of the old warehouse as well as incorporating some newer wrinkles. All of it was super modern with exposed skeletal structures and polished concrete. It’s really a nice facility. Even nicer were the samples waiting for us at the end of the tour. Of particular interest was the dry-hopped wheat, suggesting that hoppy wheat beers might be the next big thing in craft brewing[5].

After a few samples, we all needed food in our bellies. Luckily, the Beer Kitchen was not too far away. Since I was driving, there wasn’t much for me to enjoy, except for the corned beef hash (off the brunch menu). Still, they offered six-ounce samplers of which I accepted and sipped on one of the nicer surprises of the year, New Belgium’s Le Terroir[6]. Someone bought a $15 Scandinavian IPA and we were off to the festival.

When I say “festival,” what I mean to say is a row of tents with lines of people extending about thirty feet of expectant beer drinkers. The breweries held down posts inside the tents and spent their day pouring. Breweries from Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri were present as well as regional favorite New Belgium and newly MO-accepted Stone. I wasn’t fooling myself. This was not a festival of breweries from the Pacific Northwest or Belgium[7]. A lot of the beer was just okay. Conversely, I didn’t have a beer I’d pour down the drain either. Our crew basically waited in line for beer, received said beer in our commemorative glasses, and proceeded to the next line where we would drink the beer until reaching the next brewer.

I honestly can’t remember which beers I liked best. It was good to try Nebraska Brewing Company, a brewery about which I had heard many good things. However, when I asked for the IPA, I got the Hop God, a blend of IPA and Belgian Tripel. Let’s just say that it was not what I wanted it to be[8], but someone let me sample their IPA and I was glad I did. I seem to remember that the Upstream IPA was good as was the refreshing Hopluia from Spilker. All of these breweries hailed from Nebraska, leading me to think that there’s something going on there besides corn.

We finished the day at a pizza place in a shopping center…which happened to possess forty or so taps. I kept it simple and sipped slowly on an Oaked Arrogant Bastard while washing down some pizza. It would take a venti iced latte to get me home, but I made it safe and sound.

This is what beer geeks do. Instead of traveling or attending festivals where there might be beer, we travel for the beer. Unfortunately for me, I’m the only one in my family who enjoys beer enough to do this[9]. So, I have to take my opportunities for beer travel when I can get it, even when it’s just a day. It might not sound like fun to talk, drink, and “eat” beer for an entire day or longer, but that’s what we do.

Notes:
1It’s not just on weekends, but weekends seem to be the easiest times to fit in some beer geeking.
2I saw many a bro suck down too many 3-4 oz. pours in the sun without eating or drinking water. Not cool, beer festival bro. Not cool.
3Interestingly, the old bottling line used to take up about the same amount of space the barrel room now occupies. The new bottling line takes up space in a pretty large room with high ceilings and yes, they used to play basketball in that room. The new line is so efficient, it doesn’t have to run on the weekends. Typically, it’s done by Friday of every week. The old line ran straight through the weekend.
4Most of the “action” occurred on video screens. There were mini-docs on the brewing process at each stop. It certainly gave the tour a Disney feel and relieved the volunteer tour guides form having to know everything.
5It seems these little trends in craft beer pop up now and again without warning. I finally feel like I’m aware of one as it happens. Of course, dry-hopped wheats, while refreshing and floral, are not as exciting as Black IPA’s and anything bourbon barrel aged.
6While dry-hopped sour ales are not really a trend as of yet, I do like the rash of well-balanced sours hitting the market here and there. Sure, I like a beer that only brings the sour, but a beer like Le Terrior is a welcome respite from beers that make you pucker.
7I think I just peed a little. The idea of attending a beer festival in the Pacific Northwest or Belgium excites me.
8I wanted hops. I got some muted hops behind Belgian sweet. Never does this work.
9Although, the 2.5-year-old often likes to tell me that she’ll gladly drink (and brew) beer with me when she’s bigger.

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