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.
Anyway, it’s interesting to hear their take on the beers. For the most part, they know what they’re drinking. The hoppy beers are balanced and lie more east than west when it comes to IPA character. However, where Founders gets it right every time is with their stouts, imperial stouts even. Overall, they were stoked to get something so rare…for LA.
This got me thinking about how regions can have completely different takes on the same products. Founders is based out of Michigan and generally only ships to states in the Great Lakes region along with Missouri and a few other eastern states. To those of us in Missouri, they’re fairly common, to the point that a few of these beers are considered disappointments on particular years.
The love for regional beers or music by those outside said region is always interesting to me. Beers and bands enjoy a certain kind of love close to home, some genuine and some obligatory. It’s more of an ownership thing that’s tempered by familiarity. A brewery or band succeeds when they get all kinds of love from outside of their homes, love that is based on performance and not just hype.
In the above video, the hipsters were excited by Founders’ hype on the west coast, but they were won over by the imperial stouts. Still, I wonder what the reaction would have been if Founders wasn’t all that good at brewing beer. I know that I’ve had some hyped beers from out of market and were somewhat letdown. Conversely, I’ve had others that did not disappoint, living up to and sometimes passing the hype. In the end, how the beer tasted, looked, and smelled won me over, not the hype associated with a scarcity based on regional distribution/limitations.
This is where I was reminded to appreciate what a rare treat it is that we in Missouri get great beers from Michigan (Founders, Jolly Pumpkin, Bells, etc.), Colorado (Avery, Great Divide, Ska, etc.), New York (Southern Tier, Schmaltz), California (Green Flash, Firestone Walker, Stone, etc.), the Pacific Northwest (Deschutes, Caldera, etc.), as well as places in between and from our own state (Schlafly, Boulevard). However, sometimes it takes an outsider’s appreciation to do the reminding.
Relatively speaking, Founders is pretty common around these parts. However, it’s probably a jolt to these LA food/beer bloggers. It’s the same when someone here shows up with something from Russian River, Three Floyds, or Dogfish Head – all breweries not commonly available in the Show-Me state. Although these breweries are great no matter where you are, they are even that much better where they are not normally found.
It reminds me of the time I saw Guided By Voices play on Coney Island. One summer weekend, a few of us drove all night to see them play in the inaugural Village Voice Siren Fest. As we rolled our collective eyes over the showmanship of the band, the crowd of New Yorkers went completely nuts for windmills and epic kicks.
See, living in Ohio during the 90’s and half of the last decade, one had many opportunities to see GBV in all its glory. I saw or could have seen the band play on every tour from Bee Thousand through Half Smiles of the Decomposed, plus special gigs in between. So, their shtick was pretty played-out for us by then.
The difference was that New York had not been able to experience nearly as much Bob Pollard as we Ohioans had. To them, it was all new or at least novel. To us, it was the last decade+ and we were ready to move on, forgetting how much we loved GBV and all those shows and all the theatrics we now detested. So, GBV’s popularity that day was mostly relative to them performing in front of a crowd not blessed to see them all that often.
Anyway, a good reason to keep beer distribution regional and small is the joy we get when we have a beer out of market, like the Hot Knives boys and their box of Founders. Some of the enjoyment we have – whether it’s beer or music – is relative to where we are, what’s normally available there, and with whom we’re sharing the experience.
I’m glad someone in LA got to try some Founders. They now know what the midwest has to offer that west coast IPA’s cannot always fulfill. I’m also glad that this video reminded me of what a nice craft beer option we have here in Middle Missouri with Founders in almost every grocery, restaurant, and bar.
1 It was a nice haul, but there are a few key bottles missing: Cherise, Pale Ale, Dirty Bastard, Red’s Rye PA, Porter, All Day IPA, Curmudgeon, Harvest Ale, and Backwoods Bastard. Plus, there are the super rare bottles like CBS, Better Half, and Blushing Monk.
2 With my limited palate, I am finding that I prefer the West Coast IPA to those of the east. A “balanced” IPA seems to be code for “tons of sweetness to balance out all the hops.” I’m growing a bit weary over Eastern and Midwestern DIPA’s. The IPA’s are fine. It just seems there’s way too much sweetness going on.
3 Of course, this has only been the case for a few years. Founders was one of the first big craft brewers to plunge into Missouri’s waters. Since then, it’s been an avalanche of new beer.
4 The Devil Dancer just didn’t do it for me this year. I blame the ridiculous amount of hops needed for a triple IPA (whatever that is). If the crop this year was even a tiny bit off, it affected the whole beer. Also, I really don’t care for fresh KBS. That beer needs a year to age before it’s good.
5 I once saw them play a tent in Dayton on a snowy St. Pat’s Day. My brother got us kicked out.
6 Guided By Voices gigs and things like cow tipping are probably the only two things that Ohio can say they get more opportunities to do than New Yorkers.
7 See #6. Why do I even have this footnote?
Another note…The use of “hipsters” as a descriptor was not meant as an insult. Hipsters tend to be creative and fashionable types. What’s not to like about that?
In no particular order, here are my ten favorite beers of the year. A few are new for 2011 and some were just new to the market in which I live (Missouri). What did I miss? Are there better examples from the following breweries or of the following styles? Discuss in the comments. Warning: There’s a whole lotta Miekkeller and Stillwater in this list.
Mikkeller Black Imperial Stout – I love the ultra-boozy, thick imperial stout. You know, the kind that is sold in 12 oz. (or Euro equvialent 11.2 oz.) that costs more than many six-packs and bombers. The ABV is obscene and they’re good now or after a couple of years in the cellar. This entry into the sub-style from Mikkeller is astoundingly good. It’s all I can do to keep myself from cleaning the shelves around town of the monster in a bottle. My bank account appreciates it, but my stomach and tongue glare at me with resentment.
Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout – Another huge imperial stout that is maybe the most hyped beer of all-time. Hyperbole aside, this beer lived up to the hype. It’s a mouthful as the maple syrup, coffee, oak, and all the things one would expect from a Founders imperial stout are there. I feel lucky to have tried CBS on tap and still have a bottle to save for later.
The Bruery Black Tuesday – A glass of this fantastic beer crossed my lips at the same event that provided my portion of CBS. More in the vein of Mikkeller’s Black, Black Tuesday is a gigantic imperial stout. Howevern, unlike Black that comes in a bottle more appropriate for a single serving, this Goliath comes in 750 mL bottles, meant to be shared with a group. Still, I lucked out by being in the right place at the right time and got to try this beast next to the one above. Life’s good for the beer geek.
Anchorage Bitter Monk – Moving on from imperial stouts, a surprising arrival showed up in stores this year. Anchorage makes what is one of the more complexly interesting beers I’ve had in a long time. The huge hop presence of a DIPA is balanced with chardonnay barrel-aging and even Brettanomyces… basically a dream beer. Despite its relatively high price point, I’ve noticed this beer doesn’t hang out on shelves for long.
Stillwater/Mikkeller Two Gypsies Our Side – Another beer that finds a way to bring piney hops to the farmhouse, making this hybrid style a sure thing to be cloned over and over in the coming year. Where Bitter Monk relies more heavily on the barrel aging and Brett, this beer keeps it simple but still strikes a chord with the beer nerd in search of a complex, challenging experience.
New Belgium La Terroir – A third, less-intense version of the IPA/Saison hybrid is New Belgium’s La Terroir. Technically, none of these beers really fits a style, but they highlight the best of the Saison/Farmhouse/wild end as well as capitalizing on the resinous hoppiness we all love in our IPA’s. This third in the hybrid group of beers on my list is more of a barrel-aged wild ale with the peachy presence of an Amarillo and Cascade dry-hop.
Stillwater/Mikkeller Rauchstar – Second Stillwater/Mikkeller brew on my list is also another hybrid beer. This beer also happened to just slide into the top-10 as it was consumed the day after Xmas. Yes, it’s a smoked beer, but it’s also highly hopped and there’s that Stillwater tang that’s unmistakable. Really, this was a shockingly good beer that I wished I had more of. Plus, the label is pretty wicked.
Odell Friek – I’ve really learned to appreciate Kriek Lambics and the like over the last year, especially when paired with chocolate. This one delivered and has made a brief return to our market right at the end of the year. It’s very welcome. My previous experience with Odell’s Woodcut series did not end well and I have another of their beers I’ve been advised to wait out. Still, when they do it right, I still have to give them credit. Friek is a freak of a good beer.
Firestone Walker Double Jack DIPA – I realize that this is far from a new beer for most beer enthusiasts, but it was new to our little market this year and very welcome. While some will go more for the bigger, richer, oakier varieties of beer, but this DIPA is exceptional. The only thing that may challenge it is their Union Jack IPA which just arrived.
Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA – Another welcomed sight on the shelves and coolers here was Stone. Then, they came correct with their 15th anniversary ale, a big, hoppy double black IPA. Really, this beer was phenomenal and has extended the legend of the black IPA.
Breweries brew all kinds of beer, but only a few produce exceptional imperial stouts time and time again. Often, they use one base imperial stout in their aging and barreling programs, but other times they add ingredients to alter the flavor one way or another. These are the five best breweries at producing series of imperial stouts.
(Note – I considered including non-imperial stouts, but the list became too unwieldy and I tend to prefer imperial stouts this time of year. Had I gone with all stouts, Bells would have surely deserved a mention. Their imperial is excellent and their lineup of non-imp stouts is impressive.)
5. Mikkeller – Between the Black Hole series and all those Beer Geek Breakfast/Brunch beers, it’s hard to find a more intriguing set of imperial stouts. Add to that one of the better big beers I’ve had this year in Black, Mikkeller holds the title of best Danish/Gypsy brewer of imperial stouts all by himself.
4. Great Divide – Sometimes, it becomes easy to overlook the great beers that do regularly ship to one’s market. We get Great Divide here in Missouri which is a treat. Their Yeti series of imperial stouts is pretty impressive. They add chocolate, oak, Belgian yeast, etc. for a nice lineup of tasty imp stouts.
3. Three Floyds – I have had one Dark Lord in my lifetime and it was pretty great. If you look at any beer rating site, the top imperial stouts list is littered with variations of this one beer. This fact makes it hard to not rate it in my top-5, but the fact I’ve only personally had one bottle makes it even more difficult to rate it higher than the next two breweries.
2. Goose Island – GI is famous for a couple of things. One is the fact that they were bought out by ABI. The second is that they brew Bourbon County Stout. On it’s own, BCS is an incredible beer. However, GI does several versions that are hard to get, but if you do, it’s totally worth it. On top of that, they sell the base imperial stout used to age in those bourbon barrels known as Big John. Let’s hope the first fact mentioned here doesn’t interfere with the second.
1. Founders – Even beyond all the hype built for the release of Canadian Breakfast Stout in bottles this year, Founders brews a mean lineup of imperial stouts. The breakfast stout is the only beer with coffee (aside from some of the Mikkeller beers) that I will regularly buy. Then, there’s Kentucky Bourbon Stout and their “regular” imperial stout. Plus, there are periodically versions of these beers popping up here and there in kegs all over the Midwest. All of this make Founders the king of the imperial stout, IMO.
Southern Tier – The Darkwater Series is hard to deny. Check out Chokolat, Creme Brullee, Mocha, and Java for four of the tastiest dessert beers you’ll ever find.
Hoppin’ Frog – I haven’t gotten far into the Frog’s BORIS series, but what I’ve had is pretty good. It would help if they had a wider distribution in Missouri, but I can wait for periodic shipments from Ohio now and again. Rumor has it that a DORIS is coming my way.
Alesmith – Alesmith’s Speedway stout is a pretty grand imperial, but I just haven’t had enough of it or any of its variations to be able to report on it. Plus, although well-hyped in its own right, it just doesn’t hold the cachet of a Three Floyds yet.
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.
OK. So, Columbia, Missouri is not the smallest of towns. There are ~100,000 people here and a major university. However, we are a two-hour drive to any major city. We’re surrounded by farmland here. Columbia is far from metropolitan.
What this means for the beer/indie nerd is that we are often shorted our desired consumables. There’s no record store. There’s no 40+tap beer bar. Many bands pass over our town in search of larger crowds (or an unwillingness to make three stops in Missouri). And many special release beers never make it to our store shelves. One can feel pretty isolated in such a town.
We often turn inward, but even that has its limitations. Music scenes ebb and flow as kids graduate and move on before a new batch arrives. We’re relegated to the same two local breweries once we’ve consumed whatever’s left on the shelves. Small towns just can’t maintain a certain level of entertainment and consumables to keep the average gentleman dabbler properly occupied.
That said, there are benefits from time to time. These benefits or advantages don’t come around often, but when they do, it can be pretty satisfying. Of course, what I’m talking about mostly pertains to beer and indie rock as other small town benefits (decent schools, nice place to raise a family, everyone knows your name, etc.) are arguably not that great or not exactly for what one is looking. The biggest advantage to living in a small town is that when someone or something comes to town, there’s a much greater chance that one will be able to take part in the festivities than if the same thing happens in a larger city.
Take concerts and rock shows for example. I attended a Built to Spill show a few years back, something I had grown accustomed to over the years, especially in a town the size of Columbia. If and when a band came to town, I could secure a ticket or two with little difficulty. That evening, I was chatting with friends who had previously lived in NYC. For them to see a band like Built to Spill would have taken an extreme amount of luck and $10-20 more per ticket. If a band comes to Columbia, I will be able to get a ticket or at least through the door with ease. Sometimes, there might not be that many of us in the room. It’s a definite perk.
Interestingly, this phenomena also applies to most small-to-medium-sized cities. It worked well in Columbus, OH most of the time with a few shows that sold out before I could get through to the operator or the Ticketmaster desk at Krogers. However, cities like St. Louis and Kansas City are even easier to gain access to marquee shows. Take tonight for instance. I’m heading out to Kansas City for the Wild Flag gig, something I would have difficulty doing in a larger city. The band has a ton of buzz and is touring like mad, but I suspect a ticket in NYC or Chicago is hard to come by at the moment.
With beer, it’s all about the special releases. Like the bands who may or may not stop through town, we have to hope that distributors can find it in their hearts to allow us a case or two of the good stuff. Some beer we will never see, but some makes its way onto our shelves. Yesterday, for example, while some were getting shut-out, stores here in Columbia were quietly placing Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout on their shelves. Actually, in the case of the store around the corner from me, I was able to get a manager to go to the back and retrieve me a single bottle of the liquid gold. I figured that I was lucky enough to get one bottle and would leave the rest for others. It really was that easy to get my hands on a bottle of what is turning out to be a super-rare beer. There was no mad rush, no lines, no crashing computers.
I will complain a lot about the seclusion of living in this town, but I don’t ignore the benefits. When a band comes to town I wan to see, it happens. When a rare beer hits our shelves, I’ll more than likely get my hands on one. The lack of competition means that gentleman dabbling can continue despite other deficiencies in availability.
Happy Labor Day, y’all! I wanted to make a labor-themed list this week, but I wasn’t feeling all that creative. Labor Day and unions will get their due in the list, but there are other things to cover…
1. SM on Fallon
I originally wanted to share this show SM & the Jicks put on at San Francisco’s Amoeba Records, but this two-song set on Fallon was too much to resist. The image of all those kids on stage peeing themselves over the awesomeness in front of them can’t escape my mind. All the live videos of material from this album further confirms that Mirror Traffic is the best I’ve heard this year and I doubt that will change any time soon. (I would have embedded the videos here, but NBC’s and Photobucket’s embedding doesn’t seem to cooperate with WordPress.)
2. Founders 2010 Nemesis
Recently, both Draft Magazine and The Hopry suggested that last year’s Nemesis is ready to come out of the cellar. They were right. Gone is the hoppiness and bite. Present is a smooth, luscious black barley wine, aged to near-perfection. I still have two left that will wit for at least another 6-12 months. It should be interesting to see how this beer matures even more.
I’ve had an influx of records arriving at my house lately (and still more to come). It seems an order of three albums was lost somewhere and finally arrived this past week. I’ve barely had time to listen to Let’s Wrestle, Boat, and Joan of Arc. The Joan of Arc is pretty wicked, though. Also, I ordered a couple records I missed along the way: Eleanor Friedberger’s new solo effort and Wye Oak’s latest. On top of that, I’ve been listening to a streaming Wild Flag all week. So, there’s music about which to write once I find a moment.
There’s always a constant flow of beer in my life. I recently tried and thoroughly enjoyed Dogfish Head’s Squall, which is a bottle-conditioned version of their 90 Minute IPA. This was the same beer without the bite, quite enjoyable. Also, over the weekend, I had the Schlafly raspberry coffee stout. Meh. Fruit in stouts doesn’t often work for me. In this case, the raspberry overpowered everything. Luckily, I have another to age to see if the raspberry mellows.
5. Ohio State is 1-0.
This is all that matters. The Buckeyes had a long, long off-season as wins were vacated, players suspended, coaches resigned, etc. Now, they’ve finally played a game. It was a 42-0 win over outmatched Akron, but it was a win nonetheless. First-time head coach Luke Fickell starts off undefeated. The defense pitches a shutout (which is a big deal no matter who you’re playing). The quarterbacks looked good. There was a new-found killer instinct lacking in previous teams. They even left at least 10 points on the field, fumbling once inside the 5 and missing a make-able field goal. Now, they welcome a slightly tougher – but still a MAC-rificial lamb – test in Toledo. Hopefully, a week from now, I’m writing that they’re 2-0 and ready for Miami.
In both beer and music, freshness matters. As a hophead, I understand that the fresher the beer (particularly IPA’s and DIPA’s) the better it is. You can smell the hops. The citrus and pine flavors really stand out. In the case of music, the latest album often feels like the best until the newness rubs off. Even better is a new album from an old favorite, especially when the musician is trying a new direction.
A fellow beer enthusiast returned from a trip to Minneapolis with a four-pack of Surly Furious for me. These beers come in cans, meaning that their freshness stays locked in for a long time as virtually no air nor light can ruin the beer. I was excited to get another taste of this particular beer, but my middle-man had me even more excited when he informed me the beer was merely three weeks old. Now, that’s fresh.
Furious is about as good an IPA you’ll find. Citrus. Pine. Caramel. Malt. That’s probably all you need to know. If one needed a perfect or near-perfect example of an American IPA, look no further than Furious. It’s good to know that brewers in the Midwest continually hold their own versus the much more glorified West Coast hop bombs. I’m sure it helped that the beer is so fresh. I’m curious as to how long it will last around here. Luckily, I have other beers to drink…
Fall is a time when many breweries come out with their freshly hopped harvest ales. They buy loads of fresh hops from the fall harvest to make one-off or seasonal brews whose hop characters vary from year to year. One of my favorite harvest ales is the one produced by another Midwest brewery: Founders. Founders Harvest Ale is yet another monster of a hop bomb. FHA doesn’t contain the same blast of Simcoe aroma Furious unleashed from its can, but it did satisfy the nose the way a nice IPA should…Of course, it’s just an APA. This beer is easily in Alpha King territory when it comes to an overwhelming hop presence for an American Pale Ale. Again, the freshness of this beer is felt and one can fully appreciate the full 70 IBU’s, realizing that this beer will be gone soon when the winter winds come and I empty my cellar.
These two beers present the ideal of freshness as something new and at its peak aesthetic potential. Another kind of freshness might apply to a new and challenging idea or concept. An artist might create something never seen or heard before, at least not by him/her previously. When an artist switches direction and tries something new, it is even more challenging as the artist has created a following with an established aesthetic, choosing now to throw that niche to the wolves in favor of fresh material.
Sufjan Stevens did this. Long gone are albums about states (Midwestern ones at that). The orchestral pop with ambivalent religious messages are no longer as prevalent as they once were. Abnormally long song titles even fail to make an appearance in the liner notes. Sufjan is going for a fresh start and it sounds like The Age of Adz.
And unlike fresh beer, no one knows what to make of Sufjan Stevens’ fresh offering. However, like the freshest IPA, the freshness of Stevens’ material ignites the senses and makes you aware of opinion, emotions, etc.
The imagery on the album is particularly perplexing. Strange sci-fi images with even stranger messages written throughout the artwork elude to something sinister yet beautiful inside. When I look at the packaging for the beers, they give completely different messages. Furious is a fiery, slick can and its Founders counterpart provides an image of the freshly harvested hops contributing to the flavor and aroma. However, all the images are robust and full of meaning and life. All three are a lot to take in and their packages hint at this headiness.
How is The Age of Adz fresh?
Say goodbye to traditional, pop orchestral arrangements – those created by humans and analogue in nature – and hello
to blips, bleeps, and mashed up sounds. However, once the listener gets past the striking change in aesthetic, he realizes this electronic noise is delicately arranged and as orchestral as anything he’s ever done. It’s also intricately weaved with more familiar Stevens’ fair.
Say goodbye to Sufjan’s trademark falsetto, or at least for the most part. In fact, Stevens shows incredible range and control of his voice, jumping from octave to octave, utilizing his voice as an instrument in a way few can match. It’s not so much that the whispers and elevated notes of his past performances is gone; there is more range and complexity to his vocal work. Adz showcases an incredible vocal talent, rarely recognized and even less often imitated.
At first, the musical arrangements and electronic noise is off-putting. It’s annoying, almost disappointing in its obvious nod to current musical trends. Hell, he uses auto-tune in the album’s 20-minute long closer. Then, you pay attention to the music and find that the electronic masturbation is purposeful and subtle. As with all Sufjan Stevens albums, he’s so careful in crafting an exact-sounding album that doesn’t stray from the core but expands upon itself with each advancing track.
Now that he’s free from the fifty states project and the need to experiment, Stevens has written a record focused on himself. One probably shouldn’t read too much into some of the lyrics, but he very obviously seems to have turned the songwriter’s lens on himself in creating some of his most engaging songs to date. The songs don’t seem to have anything to do with the others, but that works, which must be a relief for a guy who once thought writing an album for each state would be a good idea.
How did he get here from those highly conceptualized, state-themed records to this electronic mish-mash of personal tracks? The evidence is there throughout Stevens’ catalog and life. Had he released a complete album mixing the best tracks from his first two efforts (A Sun Came, Enjoy Your Rabbit) The Age of Adz would seem a perfect follow-up. Of course, the orchestration and subtlety of his state albums help set up the intricacies found in this latest effort. Much the same way these works create a base for The Age of Adz to stand, The BQE and All Delighted People EP bridge the gap in their incomplete and perplexing results. Stevens’ strangely religious Michigan upbringing, Brooklynite hipster status, and the time he had to give up music due to a viral infection helped create the uneasiness, introspection, and dramatics of this album.
This is Sufjan Stevens’ Odelay. Like Beck, Stephens was pigeon-holed with an early hit. For Beck, it was Mellow Gold with its infectious “Loser”. In Stevens’ case, his hit came later in the form of Come On Feel the Illinoise, featuring the brilliant “Chicago”. Both artists diverged only to collect the pieces that would become uniquely magnificent long-play records. Beck’s was Odelay; Sufjan’s is The Age of Adz.
Is it fresh? Hell yeah! Like the beers mentioned above? Sort of.
Freshness breaths life into its consumer. The Simcoe on the nose as I poured the Furious or the sharp bitterness on the back tongue caused by every mouthful of the Harvest Ale enlivened my senses. Left out was my sense of hearing, until I put on The Age of Adz. Ever since, I’ve been pouring over every detail of the record, trying to get a grasp on what Sufjan Stevens has done here. And every time, I get something different.
I don’t know that this post on freshness does either beer or album any justice, but I cannot put into words how these sorts of experiences help me freshen my perspective. The change of season, a new flavor or smell, something that catches my eye for the first time… Experiencing something new and fresh helps us get up in the morning. Great craft beer and a new record does that for me (along with the many new things my daughter discovers on a daily basis, of course).
The important thing to walk away with is that freshness matters. It’s what sustains us, motivates us. That’s probably why I still buy records and have to have the newest beers. When the freshness dies, things go stale, become inconsumable. So, we go out looking for more. I found two beers and a record that are fresh, fresh enough to satisfy me…for now.
1Unless, of course, it doesn’t. Then you’re talking about a classic, desert island kind of record.
2I say this because it’s a rare occasion when I can enjoy some Surly and even rarer when I actually possess my own cans as Surly is canned in Minnesota and only sold in a few other states, not including Missouri.
3It’s been suggested to me that Midwest brewers brew IPA’s and DIPA’s that better represent hops than their Northwest counterparts. The person who suggested this blasphemous idea is from Seattle. So, there’s that.
4For the craft beer noobie, Alpha King is largely considered to be the best APA on the market, produced by possibly the best brewery in the world: Three Floyds. So, to say that Founders’ Harvest Ale is in the same class is a huge compliment.
5That’s huge for a pale ale. Of course, this is an American Pale Ale. Also, the Furious weighs in at a whopping 99 IBU’s. That’s bitter.
6From what I understand, the images are by an outsider artist who creates strange sci-fi images along with semi-literate messages as a sort of social commentary or some shit like that.
7I like my share of blips and bleeps (see Joan of Arc), but I think they’re overused as well (see the last Archers of Loaf record).
8Why isn’t Sufjan Stevens more recognized for his vocal prowess? I have never understood this. Sure, his songcraft and arrangements are second to none, but the most amazing skill he may possess are his vocals.
9How much do you want to bet that Stevens leaves a spot on his already crowded stages for a MacBook or two?
10That final track is more of a 4 or 5 song EP than it is one song. It has definite parts and even pauses. I don’t know what the thinking was for this sort of formatting. I wonder if he didn’t know where to put these tracks individually in the sequence and simply decided to combine them for one epic closer.
11Although I am terrible at picking out lyrics (I often sing made-up lyrics that maybe rhyme or sound similar without much attention to meaning, much like the Japanese), I did make out the chorus directed at Sufjan in “Vesuvius”.
12I still contend that the 50 States Project should live on. Even if he maybe does ten or twenty, the stories found in a state’s history has proven to be pretty remarkable for Sufjan Stevens.
13Aside from the cool comic book included, this was hugely disappointing for me.
14This shouldn’t be so remarkable for such a new album (doubly, since my copy was on backorder), but the new discoveries are striking every time. I imagine finding surprises for a long time with this one.