Beer and Pavement

On Beer

Posted in Beer by SM on April 8, 2011

I never really knew that I could love beer as much as I do today until one night at an Archers of Loaf show, many years ago. My friend Russ was drinking the shit out of some Columbus Pale Ale[1]. I joined him in the libations and was glad I did. The beer was so full of flavor and the bitterness was undeniable…but somehow this beer was très quaffable. How could anything that intensified the taste of beer, even drawing out the bitterness, be as good as this beer was?

Back in those days, the local brew was not that easy to come by[2], but I made it a point to order a Columbus Pale Ale whenever I could. Then there was the (once defunct, now back) Hoster Brewing Company[3], Barley’s, and Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Company. All of these breweries made some tasty beers, but I didn’t know what was good and what wasn’t. I knew that they were better than the typical industrial, rice-adjunct lagers served in every bar. However, these beers weren’t as easy to obtain.

So, I drank other beers. There was Pete’s Wicked Ale and Sam Adams. Imports made their way into my belly. I mostly drank Guinness[4] and the occasional Bass. However, I learned to stay away from any German beer in a green bottle. Even back then, Heineken never tasted right[5]. I started frequenting this bar/bagel joint called Bernie’s. It was a hole in the basement, but some great rock shows happened there. Bernie’s was also a place that boasted a huge beer list[6]. On the side they called “the Distillery[7],” one could find a many pewter mugs hanging from the ceiling. Regulars who tried every beer on the list received their own mug with their name engraved. I made it halfway through the list before always settling on Sam Adams Boston Lager or Guinness[8].

Eventually, I ventured out west for a summer, to Seattle. There, I discovered that same intense feeling I got from that first Columbus Pale Ale. The bitterness and citrus of the hops burst into my mouth with each new northwestern beer I tried. There was a lot of Redhook (pre-corporate takeover), some Elysian, and some breweries I can’t remember. Of course, there were still the nights of Corona I’d rather forget, but craft beer was taking a hold of me. I just didn’t quite realize it.

After several years of floundering with imports, “microbrews[9],” and the occasional seasonal release, I sort of reached my summit in beer drinking or so I thought. I was comfortable ordering anything that wasn’t made of rice and sold via ads during the Super Bowl. I wasn’t a connoisseur, but I wasn’t a bro either.

Then, one night, it happened.

I hoofed it up to the corner beer and wine shop at the end of my street while I waited for a sandwich to be delivered. I wanted a beer, maybe two. I didn’t really want to buy a whole six-pack. So, I perused the the stacks and coolers for something interesting. All the sixers that looked good were more than I was used to spending. Then, I walked around the corner and saw a cooler full of these big beer bottles with the most sinister images of gargoyles daring me to pull them from the cooler. One bottle caught my eye in particular. It said “Stone Ruination IPA” around a gargoyle ready to charge. The green and gold paint on the bottle told me that this was no ordinary beer. The narrative scrawled on the back confirmed this assumption. This beer challenged me to drink it and taste anything else for the rest of the night. I took two home right away[10].

Stone Ruination is the beer that “ruined” me. All that citrus and bitterness. This was nothing like the pale ales and IPA’s I had had previously[11]. It certainly wasn’t anything like the imports that once satisfied me. I grew to be obsessed with the beer. As soon as I discovered the pizza place down the street kept Stone on tap, I always made a point to go there for dinner or to see a show no matter who was playing. My bachelor party started at that very pizza joint and was lubricated with a pitcher of Stone IPA[12].

Then, we moved nine hours away to Missouri. I had no idea there would be no Stone, no Columbus Pale, and certainly none of my previous haunts[13] to supply me with the beer I was learning to love. However, I discovered some new beers and learned to appreciate those I had taken for granted back in Ohio.

It started with Boulevard and Schlafly, the “local” Missouri beers. Then, there was Flat Branch, the Columbia brewery[14]. I rediscovered Bell’s and learned to appreciate Two-Hearted Ale[15], a beer that was too much for me pre-Ruination. There was no Stone, but I was making due.

That was probably three years ago. I never really thought things could change, but they did. That was just the beginning for where I am today with my beer geekery. To learn that part of the story, you’ll have to come back Monday.

To be continued…

1If you haven’t been reading this blog for long, I’m from Columbus, Ohio. Columbus Pale Ale was the beer we drank at nearly every bar in town. It was a heavier, more bitter pale than one would normally find. However, that flavor-forward character has waned in recent years. This is either due to my evolving palate or a change in the recipe.
2None of the locals bottled and not every bar served the local brews in the beginning. By the time I left central Ohio, nearly every bar in town served Columbus Pale Ale.
3Hoster had a nice restaurant/brew pub in the Brewery District, but it eventually closed. In recent years, another company bought the rights to the name and recipes and Hoster lives on.
4This was my session beer through most of my senior year of college. At the time, this was impressive. However, now that I know Guinness has an ABV just over 4%, it’s not such a big deal and explains why I could drink so much without getting drunk.
5What’s funny is that some people still prefer Heineken, despite the fact that those green bottles are perpetually skunked in this country.
6I believe the list was somewhere in the 70’s or 80’s. It was boosted by a ton of weird imports they rarely had in the case anyway. I grew tired of drinking skunked imports for extra cash and eventually turned to a few favorites.
7It wasn’t actually a distillery, but it did serve a lot of drinks for such a tiny bar.
8I’ve explained my healthy intake of Guinness, but I drank a lot of Sam Adams as well. To me, it was heavier than the Guinness and quite tasty in those days. Then, things blew up for Sam Adams. While I still respect all that they’ve done and do for the craft beer community, the beer just doesn’t taste the same.
9The old term for “craft beer” was “microbrew.” This contrasted with the corporate brewers being called “macrobrewers.” This false dichotomy suggested that what microbrewers did and macrobrewers did was the same aside from the scale. However, it is clear today that craft brewers produce beer that is completely different from anything churned out by their corporate counterparts.
10I think in an earlier blog post, I reported that I purchased one of these bottles along with a sixer of something else. Upon further review (meaning that I thought about it for a moment), I remembered taking two bottles home. I planned to drink one, but I drank them both instead.
11It was a long time before I discerned the difference between pale ales and India pale ales, but it’s rather clear today. Honestly, aside from a few American pale ales, I don’t really care for the basic pale. Give me an IPA every time.
12Yes, it was not Ruination, rather Ruination’s little brother. Still, that IPA on tap is potent hopbomb.
13Some of these “haunts” include two beer shops that I had no idea were as stocked as they were. I recently revisited two beer stores within a five minute of my old house and found pretty much every beer on my theoretical wish list. Sadly, I don’t make enough money to fill that list, so I made due with what I could gather.
14At the time, there was another brewery that didn’t last long. The owner also happened to be a bee keeper. So, there was honey in every beer and not in a good way.
15This beer used to just seem so heavy and filling to me. Now, it’s a go-to beer.

Ten at the Middle of ’10

Posted in Beer, Records by SM on June 17, 2010

Sorry for the inadvertent two-week layoff. Time just got away from me. I did start about three posts in that time period which is my typical schedule1. Now, on with the post…

Usually I like to list the best records at the midpoint of the year. So, below, you will find a rather pathetic list as I’m not sure I’ve purchased ten good records2 to include at the midpoint of 2010, but I must keep up with the Jones or whatever. This list is in no particular order and is surely missing something, but I’m sure you’ll tell me what that is in the comments.

Spoon – Transference
I know some people don’t like Spoon. They’re too whorish. They smirk too hard. They demand attention. They only put on a good show half of the time. Their frontman is named “Britt”. This is all forgotten as one puts the needle to the record. Britt Daniel writes how I think. It’s not always PC, but it’s brutally honest. The production on a Spoon record is like nothing else3. It’s sparse and it echoes. It’s textured without being too much. Spoon doesn’t make bad records and Transference is just another example of this fact.

Let’s Wrestle – In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s
I love naiveté in my indie rock and these boys bring it wrapped nicely in a Billy Bragg package. It’s punk without being cliched. It’s fun without being too stupid. In the Court of the Wrestling Let’smakes me feel young. I sing to it in the car. My 21-month-old likes it. It’s on Merge. How can you hate this record? The answer is that you can’t. No matter how hard you try not to, you love this record. This is the album you will grow to love soon.

Los Campesinos! – Romance Is Boring
So emotive Brits singing anthem after anthem about sex and getting drunk and dancing doesn’t do it for you? That’s fine. This record is big and fun without losing touch.

The Soft Pack – The Soft Pack
There’s not enough straight-up college rock anymore4. This was what they called music before alternative and indie that wasn’t hardcore or on the radio. The Soft Pack have hit that nerve. They’re like a post-90’s-indie Smithereens5. It’s nothing flashy. It’s just good.

Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
I went into this one with low expectations and came out happily surprised. The pleasure from this record has carried over the last month or so since the record was released. Sure, it’s not the best BSS album, but I’ll listen to it a ton more than that outtakes record. Really, it is one of the top ten albums this year. However, I still contend the last two tracks are two of the weakest in the BSS canon.

Wolf Parade – Expo 86
Like BSS, these Canucks6 are graded by a different set of criteria than everyone else7. Though this is their third-best record, it’s better than 99% of the crap that passes for music these days8.

The National – High Violet
Everyone’s album of the year had to make my list. It really is that good. I can’t guarantee that it will finish at the top of the heap by year’s end, but it will certainly be on the list. That and there’s something there to which I’m connecting. It could be the Ohio-centric narrative or the album’s struggle to break free of the limitations of adulthood or it’s just a really cool-sounding record.

Quasi – American Gong
I was close to writing this band off. Then several folks in my circle saw them live and reported that the band was doing well. It seems adding a bassist and replacing the keys with some strings has worked. American Gong is maybe the band’s best work in 10 or 15 years.

The Tallest Man on the Earth – The Wild Hunt
The new Dylan has arrived9. I don’t mean to make it sound like TTMONE writes songs as timeless and inspiring as Dylan, but he comes close. That and he sounds a shit-ton like the old man10. That has to count for something in this post-pop, post-hip-hop world.

Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
Rock ‘n roll did not die. Bruce Springsteen has seen to that if not in his own material it happens in his influence on music. TA is maybe the most Springsteen-like band making music right now. They don’t always sound like the Boss or write like him, but the feel and urgency of a Springsteen album is here. They’re like Arcade Fire with balls or Cono Oberst with a PBR11. It’s guttural. It’s meaningful. It’s Jersey12.

Bonus: Pavement – Quarantine the Past
I hate including compilations. They typically suck and leave out so much great material while including the worst in a band’s discography. That said, this is maybe the best best-of I’ve ever heard. Of course I’m biased, but I couldn’t have put together a better comp that fills my need for nostalgia13 while properly educating the masses to the greatness that was Pavement. Seriously, it’s worth a listen and your dollars.

Before the year’s out, I need to check out albums by The Besnard Lakes, Midlake, and The Black Keys. I am also awaiting deliveries/releases from the likes of Arcade Fire, Superchunk14, Fleet Foxes, The Shins, Here We Go Magic, and Kurt Vile15. Are there others I’ve missed?

As a super double bonus, here are my top five beers of the year so far. Again, this list is in no particular order and your comments are welcome.

Russian River Supplication
It was too bad I only had one of these beauties. The guy who organized the order said that it was one of his favorites was right. It was just the right amount of sour. The balance and complexity of flavors made the $20 I laid down for 12 ounces16 worth it. It’s made me somewhat obsessive about spending more time with this brewery…even considering their inappropriate use of Comic Sans.

Great Lakes Brewing Lake Erie Monster DIPA
This beer was found by accident. In a drive-through17 in Bellefontaine, Ohio, there were four-packs of this beauty. I tried desperately that night to drink all four, but my morning the flight the next day told me to leave it and dream fondly of the citrus and pine with which this divine concoction graced my tongue. Hopefully, Mom finds some more for me when she drives out here next week.

Odell’s Saboteur
Brett and coffee in the same beer? Yes. And it’s good? Yes. What a great surprise this beer was. There was so much going on in this brown-with-brett brew. Perfect for pairing with almost anything. I wish I had another right now.

Mikkeller 1000 IBU
1000 IBU’s shouldn’t even be drinkable18. Sure, it will be hoppy as hell, but some balance is nice once in a while. Well, Mikkeller somehow figured 1000 IBU’s out a way to make it work. This beer is so smooth and drinkable. It’s quite surprising. They figured out a way to capture the actual taste of hops.

Ken Schmidt/Maui/Stone Kona Coffee Macadamia Coconut Porter
I don’t normally go for porters but this one is hard to resist. The coffee, macadamia, and coconut meld perfectly to brew a beer that is just sweet enough to delight. This beer and the black pilsner Stone also collaborated to make are two of my favorite beers of the last couple of years.

Bonus: My go-to beer of the year is Lagunitas Hop Stoopid
Everyone has to have that inexpensive beer they can pick up whenever from the store at a moment’s notice without spending a wad of cash. At $4 a pop, 22 0z. of this hop bomb is all I need. It seems every time I go to the store to buy some beer, I leave with a Hop Stoopid as well.

Look to see if any of the albums or beers on this list hold up in December. I figure most if not all of the beers and about half of the albums will make the year-end top-10’s. What have I missed?

1Plus, I have this Tumblr thing going and a kid, etc.
2Partly this is due to saving some money and partly due to chillwave.
3One of the two best Interpol tracks I’ve ever heard was recorded by Britt.
4Except that if you read this blog, that’s all I write about.
5For the record, I never really like the Smithereens that much. The comparison just fits, me thinks.
6My sister used to just buy records based on the fact they were reviewed in Pitchfork and the band was from Canada. The Pitchfork thing doesn’t work as well anymore, but the Canadian thing does…except for Nickleback and Barenaked Ladies.
7Possibly a Canadian indie band criteria?
8Cranky, old record store clerk line.
9I’m sure that I’m the first to say this.
10My father-in-law couldn’t get over how much this dude reminded him of Dylan.
11In this sentence, “balls” and “PBR” are interchangeable.
12I think I just wrote New Jersey’s new state motto/tagline.
13I wish someone had gone back in time with this album on cassette tape, handed me a copy, and told me that this would be my favorite band. It sort of feels like they did.
15The last two will join Pavement, TTMONE, Titus, Wolf Parade, and Broken Social Scene for P4k. I’m really looking forward to that weekend in July.
16I know. I know.
17These are big in Ohio. You drive through a building with beverages and snack items lining the walls. You order without getting out of the car, pay, and drive off with a load of beer. I used to think every state had drive-throughs. I found out I was wrong.
18It is thought that most people can only taste up to 100-120. Your hoppy beers start in the 50’s and usually top out in the 80’s. Crazy hop bombs usually claim 100 IBU’s. 1000 IBU’s is insane.
19I nearly forgot the footnotes. You’re welcome.