Beer and Pavement

Top 5: Xmas Beers

Posted in Beer, Top 5 by SM on December 12, 2011

OK. So, I don’t actually like seasonal beers. The only exception are those beers that happen to always come out at certain times of the year, but aren’t necessarily tied to the season. There are other exceptions, but I find fall and winter seasonals to be particularly dreadful as it becomes the time of year to overload mediocre brews with spices. This is something homebrewers do, not quality craft brewers.

Still, there are a few holiday ales which I like to try every year. I typically only drink holiday ales that are available here in Missouri. So, the list is a bit limited that way as well. Here are five of the better holiday ales I enjoy…

5. Avery Old Jubilation – Sweet, malty old ales should be on every brewery’s holiday lineup. This one is a favorite and almost criminally available everywhere, sitting beside their spiced brethren. The Christmas-y and seemingly pedestrian presentation make me think 1995 micro-brewed concoction of frankincense and myrrh.

4. Boulevard Nutcracker Ale / Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale – I couldn’t decide between these two as they are the same beers in my mind (not really even close). Sure, Celebration is…well… more celebrated, but they are very similar beers. Instead of coming with spice, they hit you with hops, lots of them… Actually, the point is that that both beers contain a surprising amount of hoppiness in two rather different beers. Are you confused yet? I am. The hoppiness contained in the winter warmer and IPA are of the crisp variety, how I’ve been liking my hops as of late.

3. Mikkeller Red White / Santa’s Little Helper / To From / Hoppy Lovin’ Christmas – Some of these are better than others, but it’s the fact that Mikkeller puts out a full lineup of holiday ales that strikes me. All are uniquely Mikkeller and all are worth the holiday bonus you may fork over for some. I’m particularly interested in the Hoppy Lovin’ Christmas, an IPA brewed with ginger and pine needles, as it’s new to me this year.

2. Samichlaus – This beer has an enormous reputation in these parts, almost as large as its 14% ABV. The rep is much deserved and the beer is a Christmastime necessity. I don’t know that it actually has anything to do with Christmas other than the fact that it sounds like “Santa Claus,” but it’s a giant lager with which you should not trifle.

1. Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza – JP is one of those breweries at the top of my favorites list that just does it for me every time. Sure, they’re all variations of the same beer, but they’re all delicious.Tartness galore as always but this time in the form or a Belgian strong dark ale. I would have even accepted spice, but JP didn’t stoop to those levels and kept it on the real. In other words, it’s your typical Jolly Pumpkin but in super-awesome Christmas form.

Special Mention: Stone/Nøgne Ø/Jolly Pumpkin Special Holiday Ale – From what I understand, this beer has long been retired. All three breweries can be found in this beer. It’s a bit of a mangled mess, but it was my mangled mess at one time. I’ve had versions bottled by the first two breweries and each brought with them something different. I feel like the JP version has been around, possibly passing my lips at a tasting, but I have no proof and could be totally mistaken.


Session #58 – A Christmas Carol

Posted in Beer, The Session by SM on December 2, 2011

This month’s session idea comes to us from Ed Hardy at Beersay and here’s what he had to…er…say:

The idea for me was based loosely around the visits of three ghosts to Ebenezer Scrooge, but relayed in a post about the beers of Christmas past, present and future.

What did you drink during Christmas holidays of old, have you plans for anything exciting this year and is there something you’d really like to do one day, perhaps when the kids have flown the nest?

So, we’re going all holiday up in this joint. I do love a good holiday ale loaded with frankincense and myrrh. Or something like that.

Xmas Past
For a beery memory to share, I’m going to go all the way back to last year. It’s not as much about what beer I drank, but rather about the silliness that resulted in my consumption. After a beer or two and a glass of homemade egg nog, we sat down for Xmas Eve dinner with friends and family. My wife makes the greatest Polish feast imaginable every Xmas Eve. It is easily my favorite meal of the year. I prefer to celebrate said meal with a nice beer. For last year’s feast, I chose Mikkeller’s Santa’s Little Helper.

Then, things got a bit weird…

For whatever reason, our guests that evening were not into drinking beer with this particular dinner. So, I had the entire 750 mL bottle to myself. You can probably imagine what happened after that. And if you imagined that I would go outside intent on knocking the snow off our satellite dish with snow balls only to eventually turn to climbing onto the roof in order to clear the snow by hand, then you would be correct.

Xmas Present
I’m not exactly sure how to handle this one as it is only December 2nd, meaning that this Xmas actually qualifies as Xmas Future, but whatever. I’ll at least tell you my plan. The start of our season usually happens on St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6). Friends throw a big party with a giant, flaming bowl of mulled wine. It’s good stuff, but I always show up with some seasonal beers. Other than the Mikkeller (again), I currently have a Jolly Pumpkin Noel Calabaza, but I think I’ll take a sixer of Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale, assuming there’s more in the stores.

After that, my beer club has a Holiday Party/Yankee Swap/Ugly Sweater Contest planned. I’ll bring something nice to drink (possibly the Allagash Odyssey I scored at last year’s party), possibly a Boulevard gift set for the swap, and I don’t know about the sweater.

As far as our own Xmas festivities, I’ll take it easy this year on Xmas Eve. There will be no drunken roof climbing this year. I always enjoy a bomber all to myself on Xmas Day. Other than that, it will be typical beer consumption for me.

Xmas Future
I have lots of ideas for future Xmas. Let’s list them, since that’s kinda my thing this month:

  • Xmas Homebrew – I want to brew a special Xmas brew on Xmas Day one of these years. Of course, it will probably have to be something that isn’t necessarily Xmas-y as it will take time for fermentation and such to occur. Ideally, I’d like to brew something big that can be enjoyed during the following Xmas as a way to start a tradition.
  • Travel – One of the best Xmas celebrations I ever had was the year we visited family in California. I’d love to do a beer-themed Xmas trip one of these years. Maybe Colorado, San Diego, Asheville, Portland, Chicago, or even Belgium would all be great trips. Someday, someday…
  • Neighborhood Tasting – I’ve always wanted to do a tasting with my neighbors. They all like to imbibe and have a good time. I’m the resident beer nerd. They’re always asking me about craft and homebrewed beer. I always thought it would be cool to have them all chip in and I’ll buy a load of beer for a tasting. There’s a neighborhood party and progressive dinner, a beer at each stop would be ideal.
  • Beer Gifts – My wife always gets me cool and unique gifts for Xmas, but one of these years I’m going to get her to give the gift of beer. I’m thinking glassware, all-grain equipment, a beer trip, or some membership to a special mail-order club or something. Even a stockpile of beer books would be cool.
  • Sharing Craft Beer with My Daughter –My three-year-old is obviously not ready for beer, but I’ve given her tiny tastes here and there. I look forward to the day I can sit down and share a beer with her on special occasions. The day we crack open a special beer I’ve been cellaring could be a lot of fun. Here in Missouri, it’s legal to serve your kid alcohol within your home. I’m not talking about getting plastered. I’m talking about sipping on a great beer and enjoying the aromas and flavors within. It will be a valuable experience where  I can teach her about good craft beer. By the time her peers are all doing keg stands, she won’t want to take part unless it’s good beer.

Well, those are my Xmas beer thoughts for the past, present, and future. Be sure to check out the other posts in the Session over at Beersay. Also, have yourself a happy holidays and all that. Cheers!


Posted in Beer, Intersections, Live, Records by SM on November 24, 2011

I’m thankful for a lot. However, I won’t go into all that here. This blog is about craft beer and indie rock. So, I won’t go into my thankfulness for my health, family, home, etc. Those all go without saying. No, this post pays homage to the little extras that provide a little spice to life, the things for which I obsess over and blog about incessantly.

10. Improved Missouri Distribution – Since I’ve moved here and eventually became a beer enthusiast, the distribution in this state has increased dramatically. I don’t even think I can name all the breweries we’ve added in that time. Off the top of my head, I can think of Firestone Walker, Lagunitas, Stone, Founders, Ska, Jolly Pumpkin, Stillwater, and a bunch more I probably didn’t realize weren’t already available here. We currently get nearly all the important Michigan and Colorado breweries. Our west coast selections improve monthly. It’s a great time to be a beer geek in Missouri.

9. Two Clubs, Two Cities – It’s tough trying to see bands in a town such as Columbia. We’re not really gib enough for a lot of acts, but we do have options. Two clubs here are just the right size for most indie bands. There’s Mojo’s with it’s barn-like qualities and the Blue Note with its old-school dancehall/porno theater feel. And when bands don’t want to stop here, it’s not a huge deal to drive two hours in either direction to see them in St. Louis or Kansas City. This year alone, among others, I’ve seen Sebadoh (Mojo’s), Yo La Tengo (Blue Note), Beirut (St. Louis), and Wild Flag (Kansas City) in four different places. That’s not bad for an old man.

8. The Ohio Pipeline – Even though Missouri’s distribution is improving, there are still many breweries we do not get. I could do some online trading or simply buy online, but that gets expensive. Luckily, for every brewery we don’t get here, there’s a better than average chance they do get it in Ohio. Between my siblings (one who works at a Whole Foods) and my mom (who drives here once a month to see me her only grandchild), I have a steady flow of out-of-market beers to keep myself satisfied.

7. Insound – I’ve complained before that there’s no decent record store here. Thankfully, Insound is always a click away. At one point, they shipping so many records to me that the UPS lady asked my wife if I was a DJ. Hardly. No, I’m just a man with a problem, an addiction, an addiction to vinyl.

6. Glassware – A beer out of the wrong glass or even out of a bottle is just not the same as one served in the proper glass. Over the years, I have collected several different glasses in which I can enjoy some of the finest beers in the world as well as some tasty homebrew. I have various stemmed glasses for various styles of beer. I have enough conical pint glasses to serve a decent-sized party. There’s even the set of taster glasses for those who just want a small taste of a big beer. Over time and many bottles of beer, I’ve found the tulip to be the best, most versatile glass. The stem gives me something to hold onto if I don’t want to warm my beer. The bowl presents an option to make my beer warmer. The lip allows aromas to flow. Quite simply, it is the perfect beer glass.

5. The Nineties Are Still Alive – In case you haven’t figured it out, I am a child of the nineties and my musical tastes reflect as much. My favorites continue to be nineties mainstays and most of the new music sound so 20 years ago. The two best albums might be by Wild Flag and Stephen Malkmus, ambassadors for the decade. New, younger bands such as Yuck and BOAT have ’90’s written all over them despite their youth. It’s the decade that will never die. Spin and I will make sure of that.

4. My Bottle Opener – For whatever reason, I like to hold onto the bottle caps from the beers I drink. In the past, I’ve turned some into refrigerator magnets, but most just go into a drawer. Still, it’s a luxury to have an opener that opens caps without bending them. My opener does that. It’s fashioned from an old railroad spike. It’s heavy and rustic looking. My bottle opener is a conversation piece before we ever crack open a bottle.

3. 180 Gram Vinyl – I love to listen to vinyl, but I worry that it may warp or that the record won’t stand the test of time. However, with hefty 180 gram vinyl records, I don’t worry about that. One can feel the weight of a 180 gram vinyl record the way one should feel the resulting music from the grooves within. The record is so tactile anyway, it’s nice to feel some heft as you lift a disc to rest on your turntable.

2. Mikkeller, Stillwater, Jolly Pumpkin – I love breweries that push limits and don’t taste like any other brewery. These three do what they do at the highest level and often alone. Mikkeller, Stillwater, and Jolly Pumpkin are the kinds of breweries that keep my attention firmly set on craft beer. They’re always good and even when they’re not, they’re at least interesting.

1. This Blog and Its Readership – Seriously. This blog has really taken off since the Freshly Pressed moment last winter, but the continual participation and contributions from my readership have really moved me to post as often as I can. In fact, I’ve looked forward to finishing a post a day throughout November because I know that you all will respond in kind and often add to the discussion in a way that makes me think and motivates me to write again.

Thank you faithful readers and have a happy Thanksgiving.

Top 5 Go-To Breweries

Posted in Beer, Top 5 by SM on November 21, 2011

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.


Posted in Intersections by SM on July 22, 2011

The gypsy is alive and well my friends. No, I’m not talking about those who wander southern and eastern Europe in search of an easy mark. The kind of gypsy to which I’m referring is that of the craft beer and indie rock worlds. Throughout those scenes, there are examples of loner craftsman wandering between breweries and bands and creating product that defies typical industry definitions.

As is usual with these sorts of things, the indie rock gypsy is way ahead of the the craft beer variety. Musicians have been using monikers normally reserved for bands of two or more people for projects with revolving members. The freedom to make all the major creative decisions for a band without worry of the band breaking down has to be a plus. And when they want to pick up and move, there are no band members holding them back. Then, when there is a creative problem to solve, they can call on hired guns to figure them out.

Take Bright Eyes for one. BE is basically Conor Oberst (later to include Mike Mogis) and whichever friends he could round up to fill spots on his roster. His sound and dynamic have generally stayed constant, but Oberst is able to create something new each time out by simply adding a few pieces while replacing others. Oberst could have gone it alone as a solo artist (which has done and probably will continue to do), but he must have liked the comforts and support a band provides. Fewer bands are as tight as an Oberst-led group and there always appears to be a great chemistry. As a gypsy, Oberst was able to move his operation to Brooklyn from Omaha without skipping a beat. Bright Eyes was not the first ever or only gypsy act in indie rock, but it has been an extremely successful one.

Interestingly, Brian Strumke, gypsy brewer of Stillwater Artisanal Ales, revealed to me that he is a big Bright Eyes fan, but their connection as gypsies in their fields don’t end there. Both have stayed true to their hometowns. Strumke brews in Baltimore and Oberst has done most of his work in Omaha. Both have traveled to “meccas” in order to continue their crafts with some Stillwater beers being brewed in Belgium and a Bright Eyes album or two written and recorded in Brooklyn. Both men have honed their crafts into something unique that often defies categorization while still giving a nod to their influences.

The gypsy is able to break free from the constraints and tradition of his craft. The typical indie rocker is stuck with the band structure that determines how many parts to consider in every song and even how many seats to provide in the tour van. Your average brewer must consider the additional costs of running and often upgrading brewing facilities. The gypsy is not bothered by either. His band can take any shape. He can brew in this brewery or travel overseas to brew at another. The gypsy is without the typical worries that dog their more sedentary counterparts.

And why is this gypsy-fication of indie rock and craft beer on the rise? Besides the freedoms mentioned above, we live in a world that is simply more conducive to the gypsy approach. For one, we are a more global society. Due to decades of migration and multicultural educational initiative, we no longer live in a …. society. There’s a reason American brewers make Belgian styles and popular music demonstrates influences from all over the globe. Secondly, technological advancements have made it possible to coordinate projects in multiple locations. Conor Oberst can work in Brooklyn while his Omaha label Team Love GM lives here in Columbia. Brewers can easily participate in beer scenes all over thanks to social media. The world is too small for these creative types to stay in one place. Bands and breweries will just keep them down.

It’s an interesting development that has produced some pretty great results. Below are a few other gypsies I admire.

  • Crooked Fingers is the “band” name Eric Bachman (Archers of Loaf) uses. He lives out of vans and people’s couches, but he finds time to round up some players, record records, and hit the road. What started out as a side project of woe has turned into a great bar band, no matter who’s backing Bachman.
  • Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project is one of the most sought after breweries in the scene right now. I don’t know all their particulars, but they make some artful brews and incorporate a nose for design.
  • Bon Iver started out as Justin Vernon, fresh from band and girl breakups, heading out to a Wisconsin cabin one winter to record one of the most textured and heartfelt records of this century. He seems to have a regular touring band these days, but no one questions who or what Bon Iver actually is.
  • Mikkeller is the gypsy from Copenhagen we American beer geeks adore. Not surprisingly, he has a connection to Stillwater as they have collaborated on several brews, some yet to be released.
Yes, the gypsy is here to inject a little life into your tired beer cellar and record collection.

Stillwater Existent

Posted in Beer by SM on May 18, 2011

There are trends in craft beer like any other industry. Typically, anything that’s labeled “imperial” or “oak-aged” garners a lot of attention. Some have been pushing for “sessionable” beers to be a trend. Lately, turning something pale into something dark is a hip trend in beer styles. That and gypsy brewing are two trends I’m enjoying immensely for pushing the definition of a beer and its brewer.

The dark Saison or farmhouse ale is the ugly step-child of the Cascadian dark ale/black IPA in much the same way the Saison has been treated in comparison to the IPA/DIPA. However, as tastes grow to become more sophisticated, the Saison is gaining attention. It doesn’t hurt when brewers like Boulevard sour their Saisons with Brettanomyces or infected tanks to add character that bitter India pale ales just can’t obtain. Now, the black Saison is gaining ground on the black IPA in much the same way.

One brewery that does the Saison better than almost any is Stillwater Artisanal Ales. The Baltimore-based brewery recreates the farmhouse like few clans of Amish ever wished or hoped to raise on a Saturday afternoon. Wet horse blankets and all fill 750mL bottles topped with home-winery PVC caps and stickered labels that draw the envy of many an artist.

Besides the great beer and label artwork, the other aspect that sets Stillwater apart from most breweries is their status as a “gypsy brewery.” Much like the Coalition’s favorite Mikkeller, Stillwater pays breweries to use their facilities in creating their artisanal ales. The gypsy brewery is the nomad of the nano set, the free spirit of craft beer. And the results are pretty amazing.

Last night, I cracked open Stillwater’s Existent, a dark, almost black farmhouse ale that defines/defies the style like few others could. The only other black Saison I’ve had capitalized on the sweetness of the dark malt, but this beer brings the roastiness like Starbuck’s tenfold. Coffee and chocolate dominate the tongue, but that familiar pungency of the Belgian Saison fills your nasal passages with floridness that is pure farmhouse. Some of the reviews I read didn’t sense the Saison characters, but you have to breath in deep on this one and when you catch it, it takes over. The combination is all raisins and roasted chicken, possibly even coq au vin.

As with my last straight-up beer review, I have focused on a beer that defies convention brewed by a brewer who also defies convention. It’s hard to figure out a beer who’s style is supposed to be fruity, earthy, but is corrupted with roasted malt. Additionally, it’s hard to figure out brewers who don’t have a street address. The challenge lies in getting past this unconventional approach to the conventional and just judging the beer on its own merits. It’s roasty like the finest porter, but the floral aroma says nothing but French/Belgian countryside. This makes Existent a triumph at best and a good beer to have with your roasted chicken at worst.

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In Defense of Mikkeller

Posted in Beer by SM on April 22, 2011

Yes. That is a coffee IPA you see before you. Typically, we expect coffee in our stouts and porters, not our IPA’s, but not this one. Nope. Mikkeller has stretched what we think we know about beer (and coffee) with their Koppi Coffee IPA.

Believe it or not, somehow, someway, this beer works. What comes across right away is the sharp bitterness in the back of your mouth. The coffee brings a bitter flavor that supplements the hops. As the beer warms, a fruity flavor reveals itself. It’s more berry than it is citrus, suggesting it comes from the coffee and not the hops. The beer finishes off super dry. A nice drink from beginning to end.

A lot of beer drinkers won’t get any of that from this beer. They’ll read “coffee” and wonder where their Starbucks is. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the beer community, it’s that we expect to drink whatever you’re selling on your label or website. This probably explains why we hate macrobrews, but that’s another topic for another post. Beer enthusiasts will expect an IPA full of citrus fruits and pine trees. This beer won’t meet that expectation either.

Mikkeller Koppi IPA uses subtlety and balance in combining two very different flavor profiles to create one of the more interesting beers I’ve had in a while. However, when asked about the beer, I suggested that I wouldn’t buy it again. I get how this doesn’t jive with my assessment, but my reasoning will provide more evidence as to why people don’t get Mikkeller. You see, I bought this beer in St. Louis. Despite the fact that we receive a good number of their beers here in Columbia, many of their special releases are only available two hours away. And when we arrive from our journey down I-70, a Mikkeller beer is more expensive than most.

A difficult, hard-to-find, and expensive beer just won’t be readily accepted by the average beer drinker. This is the challenge Mikkeller has to face on a regular basis in winning over fans. These factors play into the average beer enthusiast’s dislike of Mikkeller. However, if one were to take the time, it becomes quite apparent that Mikkeller brews some of the best beers on the market.

Even at its worst, a Mikkeller brew is interesting. I once described their Black Tie Stout as “honeyed ash tray.” This wasn’t to say that the beer was bad. It was meant as a way to describe something I’ve never tasted before. The beers are difficult and challenging to consume or pinpoint. A Mikkeller beer is not an easy drink, but does everything we experience have to be easy in order to be enjoyable?

An easy parallel lies within music. Some of the most difficult albums and bands often become the most rewarding. A band like Joan of Arc or musician like Dan Bejar can stretch the boundaries of rock music enough to make you work to appreciate their art. You might not enjoy every song they record, but the journey you’ll take to get there is well worth it.

The same can be said for Mikkeller. We have to try a variety of their beers at different temperatures and different contexts in order to judge each beer on its own merits. The conversations and adventures that ensue are why many people get into craft beer. They want to challenge their palates and their perceptions of beer styles. Mikkeller is the brewer for the beer nerd who wants to be challenged again.

Koppi Coffee IPA does that. I’m glad I drank it. Writing this makes me want another.

Note: This was my second attempt at this post. The first was maybe the best piece of beer writing I’ve ever done. However, I had to unexpectedly close my browser without saving. I assumed that the auto-save preserved my  masterpiece, but I was not so lucky. What you get in stead is this hastily scrawled post with no footnotes. Monday, I hope to tackle Stone week.

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Tis the Season for Beers

Posted in Beer by SM on January 3, 2011

I’m not gonna lie. I drank some beer this holiday season. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right?

The following are not all the beers consumed this holiday season. They are either beers I liked, felt were interesting enough to mention, had pictures of, or some combination of the three[1]. Also, it’s worth mentioning that I’m using the term “holiday season” loosely to describe several weeks of beer-geek debauchery. Mostly, I just wanted to write about some beers I had over the last month.

Mikkeller Black Tie
Honeyed ash tray. That’s all I can say about this one. It’s not terrible, but good luck finishing an entire 500 mL on your own. I shared this with some dudes in a little pre-holiday fatherly drinkfest[2].

Stone Double Bastard
Well, it’s double the Bastard. So, how can it not be good? This one was purchased for me by family mistakenly thinking they had found the Lucky Bastard I so wanted this holiday season. Alas, Lucky never made its way to Missouri[3], but this held me over for a bit. That is, until my siblings proceeded to send me this picture on Xmas Eve:

Not cool. Not cool at all. Of course, for those of you who know the Bastard, you’ll adeptly point out that the beer in their glasses is not Lucky Bastard. I think it was Southern Tier’s Krumpus. So, there’s still hope, I guess.

He’Brew Jewbilations 13 and 14
How are these beers 1) only $5 and 2) still available? I’m talking about two beers that measure in at 13 and 14% ABV respectively. I had both several times this winter and still hold onto one bottle of each. Hopefully, I can hold on for 15.

He’Brew Rejewvinator Year of the Date
I am not a big fan of this particular lineup of He’Brew beers, but the annual Hanukkah party gives me an excuse to show up with a few bombers of the ‘Brew. This one surprised as it festered with festiveness and raisins…or might those be the dates?

He’Brew Origin Pomegranate Ale
This beer accompanied me to said Hanukkah party last year and I was pleasantly taken aback as the pomegranate pairs well with and feeds the dry, fruity, hoppy bitterness. I like a dry fruity finish with my beers and somehow pomegranate does the trick. This one will become a Hanukkah tradition around this gentile’s house[4].

Mikkeller Rauch Geek Breakfast
I had this several times this fall and winter. Normally, I am not a smoked beer fan, but this one is different as it is smoky Beer Geek Breakfast Stout. This beer does for smoke what Beer Geek Brunch Weasel does for poop. Perfect smoky beer for a Polish feast.

Mikkeller Ris a la Male
I’m not sure this one fits with the holiday theme, but I found one and had to try it. I’m still not sure what I thought of it. Almonds, cherries, but not too much of either. The packaging and appearance are beautiful, but the beer lacks anything to make it memorable or even interesting[5].

O’Dell Deconstruction Golden Ale
Held onto this beer for a while until breaking it out for movie night and Indian takeout. Phenomenal. Slight tartness and pungent but golden sweetness to make it one of the more balanced and diverse beers I’ve had this year.  This beer defies style and that may hurt it hype-wise, but I enjoyed it both times I was able to sample it, especially that night I killed the entire 750 on my own. See below for the other time I sampled Deconstruction.

Yankee Swap – Allagash Odyssey
This is the only beer I have yet to try. I “won” it in a Yankee Swap after some persistence. It was that or a Russian River beer I’ve since forgotten. I’ll let you know when I do cork it. This was one of the few acquisitions over the holidays that will still hold a spot in my cellar[6].

Alesmith Horny Devil
My brother (seen pictured taunting me with Lucky Bastard) brought this one on a whim. I asked for several breweries available in Ohio and he shows up with this one. I took it to a officer meeting for my beer club and so glad I did. Freaking awesome! As you can see in the picture below, we enjoyed some nice beers at our meeting. The three Hopslams were from last year and not one tasted like the others. It sorta made the case for never cellaring Hopslam again. Still, the Horny Devil was a nice discovery.

Anchor Steam Christmas Ale
This was my first foray into season craft brews so many years ago. Anchor Steam changes their recipe from year to year. I always hope one year will blow me away, but they rarely do. I enjoyed the one three years ago, but my taste buds have undergone a lobotomy since then. Still, it’s a nice, flavorful beer. The spices actually accent the slight hop presence as opposed to overwhelming. It’s not bad and plenty sessionable. Of course, it’s taken the entire season to get through the sixer[7].

Afternoon at Hellbender
I have these friends who are trying to get a nano brewery off the ground. It’s called “Hellbender” and it mostly runs out of their garage at the moment. I hope they make this thing happen as their beers are consistently solid and unique. I got a chance at Thanksgiving to try their  Rosemary, Baby, a beer they plan to enter in The Bruery’s Batch 300 Contest, and I have to say it’s the best beer The Bruery hasn’t brewed. I’m predicting it wins, but I’m also prepared for the West Coast bias. The homebrew in the pic is that very beer. We also had a beer geek’s delight in the rest of the lineup: Deschutes’ The Dissident, another Deconstruction, Odell Mountain Standard Double Black IPA[8], Cantillon Kriek, and The Lost Abbey’s Devotion. All beers were good. Drink them if you get your hands on them, but you could probably live without the Lost Abbey.

I have to interject here. This is maybe the best part of being in a beer geek community. I had to drop something off at my buddy Jarrett’s place. With beer in-hand, I entered his garage. By the end of the 2-2.5 hour visit, these were the beers shared. Beer geeks are a giving bunch and my liver belly tongue thanks them.

Mikkeller Santa’s Little Helper 2010
I had the 2009 version of this beer among many other seasonals last Xmas. This one I broke out and consumed on my own for our traditional Polish feast Xmas Eve. I enjoyed this beer so much as I was able to spend time with it, getting to know it’s subtle intricacies, rubbing its thigh, whispering sweet nothings into its ear…Let’s just say 750 mL of a good Belgian-style ale with your favorite meal of the year is a nice way to ring in the holidays.

New Holland Spirits
I know this isn’t beer. I also know that New Holland brews maybe one beer I like. That said, my wife mixed things up this Xmas and purchased me some holiday spirit(s). The Brewer’s Whiskey is good, not great, but it’s a nice sipper and warmed the cockles of my heart Xmas day. The gin is pretty excellent. Me thinks my retired, gin-loving daddy will like some of his own come Father’s Day. More craft brewers should get in on this small batch spirits game. It’s the next big thing since, well, craft beer.

Rogue Yellow Snow IPA
I bought a growler of this last year just so I had something interesting to bring to a party. It was not our favorite IPA. Still, something made me buy it again this year, only in a smaller container. It was really quite nice. None of the super-sweet maltiness so many IPA’s are going with these days. The Simcoe and whatever give you that piney, catty sensation…It’s not for everyone, but this was the perfect hair on the dog Xmas afternoon[9].

Southern Tier Iniquity
I’ve had this beer many times, but the trend of the black IPA has to be addressed. Maybe the biggest trend of 2010, the black IPA is all anyone wants to brew these days. The name is terrible. How can something be black or dark and pale? Even worse is the Oregon-centric push for the style to be called “Cascadian Dark Ale.” I call it a “black bitter,” but I think “black ale” is appropriate for those brews on the sweeter/less bitter side. Regardless, this is easily my favorite of the style, closely followed by the Odell double black IPA.

Sam Adams Infinium
I haven’t had the best of luck with hyped beers, but this one pulled through. Sure, it’s getting blasted in reviews. However, Infinium is a fine beer. I don’t know that it’s a fine $15 beer, but I liked it. The only problem was that I didn’t spend New Year’s Eve with any beer geeks. No one was interested in trying this beer. I had to polish off the entire 750 mL myself[10]. That was a little much. Still, Infinium is a good brew, sharp, clean, fruity. It washed down the take-out Indian brilliantly. It did, however, make me feel a little dirty for drinking it alone.

This was my first attempt at writing some more beer-centric posts here at Building Coalitions. I want to do the same for music and for posts that intersect the two and stay away from things like college athletics, politics, and beards. It’s sort of a blogging New Year’s Resolution, which, as someone pointed out, usually run out by mid-February. Still, the hope is to get three of these bad boys out every week. I’m hoping to do one beer post, one music post, and one that intersects the two each week. I want more readers and regular content is the only way that will happen. Now, I just have to think of some topics.

As usual, read the footnotes and comment at will.

1Or it could be just the beers I remember. You know how that goes.
2It was father craft (beer) night, I believe as several mothers attended a craft (craft) night.
3Although, word on the street is that Stone will be in the Show-Me State next year. Yay.
4Although, I believe some people from my high school still think I’m Jewish.
5Which is strange, because if a Mikkeller beer is not good, it’s at the very least interesting. See the previously mentioned poop stout and Black Tie.
6And by “cellar” I’m just talking about a particularly cold closet in my basement.
7Actually, I had three or four of them. The last two were left at a New Year’s Day party. I’m good on holiday beers for another year.
8More on the black IPA later. Odell has always made dependable beers, but anything they do in a 750 mL bottle with a cork is liquid gold. This black IPA being black gold, Texas tea.
9There is no better hair on the dog than beer hair on the dog. Sugar and vitamin B. That’s all you need.
10Me alone with 750 mL of beer is an alarming trend, something that will need to be addressed in resolutions of moderation for the year to come.

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Posted in Beer by SM on July 6, 2010

I won’t even try to tell their story1. I’ll just goof up the details2.

Two Danish bros travel around Europe and the US, use the facilities at several fine craft breweries to create some of the best, if not most interesting beers around. There’s nifty packaging and even niftier names to boot. And they don’t just do the obscure styles. They do the beers we love: the imperial India pale ale, imperial stouts, Belgian styles, etc.  And there’s also all those experimental beers, the sours, the stouts made with weasel poop3, and variations upon variations of their top sellers.

Again, Mikkeller may or may not be the best brewery in the world, but they are certainly the most interesting.

A friend came over for beers and dinner. For the evening, I broke out two Mikkeller brews. We split a bottle of the I Beat yoU DIPA they brewed at Scotland’s Brew Dog and the infamous and hard-to-fathom 1000 IBU.

One of the more interesting series of beers Mikkeller has released is their run of single-hopped IPA’s. In the arms race of the imperial/double IPA, Mikkeller has found a niche in isolating hops and playing with the style in ways few American brewers would ever try. Using a rather simple recipe, the Mikkeller boys isolated a hop with each batch, making it possible to taste side-by-side the differences in hops. I’ve sat in on a session where someone provided four such beers. It was amazing the variations we found in aroma and taste among the hops4.

Well, they’ve done ten of those beers. Someone thought it might be a good idea to toss all ten of those hops into one beer. Someone else might think this would never work, not I. The resulting beer is all flower5 on the nose and has a really complex taste that goes beyond bitterness. Sure, it’s bitter, but not too bitter. You catch one hop upon first taste and another as it goes down your throat. It even becomes more convoluted as it warms. Really, it’s a beautiful beer wrapped neatly inside a gimmick.

We then moved to a bigger, badder version of a Mikkeller DIPA. The 1000 IBU is becoming a favorite of mine, an expensive favorite6, but a favorite nonetheless. Considering that the average Joe can taste 100, maybe 120 IBU’s7, one would think a beer ten times the IBU’s would be virtually undrinkable. When I first thought of 1000 IBU’s, I thought of this:

That didn’t happen. Thankfully.

No, instead, what this beer revealed is unbelievable balance and subtlety. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a hop bomb. It’s just that it tastes so…so…well, good. An even more amazing feat than 1000 IBU’s was to make a beer at 1000 IBU’s that was delicious. The sweetness found in its malt bill is maybe more impressive than the 1000 international bitterness units.

For me, Mikkeller represents the best of hipsters8. There’s genuine ingenuity. The classics are celebrated and even enhanced without losing touch with tradition. There’s style in their packaging that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also demonstrates depth and careful planning. Once again, I don’t know that Mikkeller makes the best beer, but I know that they make some of the most interesting brews. The two beers above suggest they make interesting and great beers.

And since I’m on a positive hipster beer kick9, you should check out one of my favorite reviews from Hot Knives collection of great beer reviews in zine form. They give Mikkeller’s Black Hole Stout the proper treatment. I don’t think I’ve posted anything about these bros before. Let’s just say they are the equivalent of Mikkeller in beer blog form. They’re a little punk and DIY. They’ve got that hipster10 thing going. Oh, and they know good beer. So, once again, while I’m on a pro-hipster, beer roll, you should shoot over to Hot Knives for some real beer writing.

1Actually, I’ll tell you just enough. You can check out their story here. Be sure to click on the American flag.
2Of course, that’s what footnotes are for.
3Yes. There is a beer made with weasel poop. Well, actually, it’s a coffee stout made with coffee that comes from weasel poop.
4My favorite is the Simcoe variation with its grapefruit aroma and flavor. I’m anxiously awaiting the Citri version.
5My drinking buddy for the evening actually said, “This beer smells like a flower.”
6Thirteen bucks for a bottle that measures just over twelve ounces. Luckily, this town is about out of these beers.
7“IBU” stands for “international bitterness units”. It’s a measurement of bitterness in beer based on the amount and types of hops you use to brew a beer. Beers described as “hoppy” typically range between 60 and 80 IBU’s. Really big, bitter hop bombs begin to approach 100. To give you perspective, Budweiser has around 11.
8Before you jump all over me for bashing hipsters or even just bringing them up, I think I will demonstrate a positive view of hipsterdom which benefits us all. Usually, hipsters make great music, but in this case they make great beer.
9See. There’s nothing wrong with critiquing hipsters if you’re also willing to praise them.
10That was a bonus “hipster” there.

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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.