Beer and Pavement

Top 5 for October 16, 2011

Posted in Beer, Top 5 by SM on October 17, 2011

Another week, another top-5….

1. “Senator” gets the MTV treatment. – Maybe the year’s best single finally has a proper video. Somehow, Malk secured the services of Jack Black to make what must be the song’s narrative incarnate. Office Space‘s Gary Cole even makes a cameo. I really wish the narrative was more fleshed out to represent some of the nuances suggested in the song, but it’s as entertaining a video as one could hope.

2. Black IPA’s vs. Cascadian Black Ale – Really? There’s still a debate over this? Whatever. It’s a great beer style – whatever you call it. Why all the fuss? What I like is how so many can be so different. I had my last Stone 15th Anniversary Ale this weekend as well as a Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet. Both were incredibly different from each other. The Stone beer is so clearly a West Coast DIPA with some dark, roasted malt. The Hoppy Feet has a ton of cola flavor and doesn’t feature the aroma of Simcoe and whatnot as prominently as the Stone. Still, both were good beers.

3. Sports Ball – I planned not to write about Ohio State at all with what was looking like the worst season in 10 years, but they somehow pulled out a win versus an undefeated and raked team on the road…with one completed pass ( a 17-yard touchdown pass in the second half). The Buckeyes’ opponent, Illinois, didn’t score until just over six minutes left in the game.

Even if Ohio State hadn’t won, it’s been fun to watch the St. Louis Cardinals come out of nowhere this season. They were left for dead a month ago before going on a tear that’s seen them catch the Braves for the Wild Card, beat the unbeatable Phillies, and beat the Brewers who happened to beat the Cards for the division race. It’s been a hell of a run and I hope it continues.

4. Homebrew Update – I cracked open a Black Francis and it’s packing hear along with a load of bourbon. On top of that, I can sense the cocoa nibs just under the bitter. I’m hoping the vanilla flavors will emerge as it ages, but I don’t know how long it will be around. There’s also the Simcoe-dependency IPA which I have yet to open. It’s been in the bottle for a week and a day, but I’ve found that waiting at least 10 days insures there will be carbonation. I’ll drink one this week in order to make sure it’s ready for a party we’re attending on Saturday.

5. Gordon-Moore Separation – While some fret over Ashton and Demi’s breakup, I’m more concerned about the separation of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. For completely selfish reasons, I don’t want to see Sonic Youth end over this. Here’s to hoping they figure out a way to still make Sonic Youth work despite their separation. I suspect it’s not that big of a deal as the reality of such relationships rarely matches the ideals many of us hold concerning marriage.

Bonus: I am the 99% and I fully support the #OccupyWallStreet protests. I have chosen not to write about it mostly because I have tried (and sometimes failed) to avoid politics. Still, it’s everything I rail against with regularity on Facebook and Twitter discussion threads. I just hope it doesn’t get co-opted, leaving it powerless.

Wild Flag vs. Escondidian Imperial Black IPA

Posted in Beer, Records, Rock vs. Beer by SM on September 14, 2011


Sometimes it is hard to find everything in a band or beer that you want. Sometimes a little imbalance accentuates positives, but it also reveals a downfall in design. Balance is nice, but it’s even better when it features superiority in all parts. Supergroups and anniversary ales usually come through with elite components that fill our every need and want.

The supergroup is a unique collection of great musicians from other great bands. Each member of a supergroup was a key piece in other bands. The supergroup is often left to fantasy, but once in a while, they come to fruition.

Wild Flag is a super group for the grrrl set. There are two members of Sleater-Kinney (Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss) which provides the band instant credibility. There’s also Mary Timony of Helium and Rebecca Cole of the Minders[1]. Together, these four womyn make a pretty powerful quartet. Fire and brimstone happens when the collective power of this supergroup comes down upon you. Just watch what they’re capable of and you’ll understand…

The beer equivalent of that nastiness above is Stone’s 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA. It’s dainty Sublimely Self-Righteous’ badass older sister who wears black eyeliner, a mohawk, and a “Show Me Your Riffs” t-shirt. She just kicked your ass and you liked it – not in a creepy way; you were just happy to be a pawn in her riot grrrl plan to rule the neighborhood. Anyway, the beer is loaded with all the components you want from a beer: big hop flavor and aroma, super-roasty malt character, booze, and just the right amount of sweetness not to let the rest get out of hand. It’s a near-perfect beer. And despite the high ABV, it should be consumed yesterday. I feel lucky I bought two[2], but the second won’t last much longer.

And there’s music…

Wild Flag is raucous from the first bombast of “Romance,” a track that makes even romance sound a bit punk. “Something Came Over Me” features the cool tones of Timony, recalling the best guitar rock-era Helium material she used to shell out circa the Beavis and Butt-head 90’s indie[3]. Carrie returns to the mic to bring home the steady “Boom” that features some nice guitar play and the added benefit of Cole on organ.

“Glass Tambourine” again features Timony fronting the band’s version of something Weiss might have played as a Jick with its flourishes of prog rock excellence. “Endless Talk” continues the Brownstein-Timony-Brownstein pattern to the album’s vocal leaders. Brownstein’s turns are a definite nods to her and Weiss’ Sleater-Kinney days, but these songs are more new wave than punk (in a totally cool way).

“Short Version” showcases some of the band’s guitar chops. “Electric Band” is loaded with late-Helium imagery of dragons and rock bands or whatever Timony used to go on about[4]. Still, this band’s superiority to her final Helium efforts is rather apparent on this track. “Future Crimes” drives and actually features a nice bit of urgency for a group of rockers hanging around their 40’s.

The next track, “Racehorse,” is maybe the band’s most conventional rock sound. I imagine the video for this song would feature the band playing their instruments seductively[5] while dressed in horse costumes for a salivating Bob Nastanovich[6]. At the song’s climax, Bob foams at the mouth and has to be carted away by paramedics. The album comes to a close with the Timony-voiced “Black Tiles” with her most mid-90’s Helium-esque delivery yet. This final track ends abruptly, but it does what the last song of an album or show should do: make you want more.

This record and beer demonstrate how overwhelming strength in all areas can make for a pretty fantastic experience when done right. The Escondidian doesn’t back down in flavor components. Each part overwhelms the senses with smile-inducing quality. Wild Flag’s debut does much the same thing with some pretty solid parts of its own. Brownstein and Timony play back and forth perfectly, much like the hops and roasted malt of the Escondidian. They are backed well by Cole on organ and backing vocals. Also bringing it on the backing vocals is maybe the best drummer alive: Janet Weiss. For me, she’s the booze that comes full-force without overtaking the delicious malt and hop characters. Or something like that[7].

I’m for supergroups and superbeers that bring a ton of character but still find a way to balance its best attributes. Both Stone’s 15th Anniversary brew and Wild Flag’s self-titled debut bring this concept home. Now, all I have to do is find a moment when I can sip on one and drop the needle on the other without interruption.

1The Minders are associated with the Animal Elephant Six Collective. So, there’s that.
2How could I not buy two at just under $6 a pop? There is no better deal in craft beer.
3I really have no idea what this sentence means. Maybe I was just trying to string some words together in an incoherent rant – a feeble attempt to read like a 90’s ‘zine.
4I wonder if Timony ever had a thing with Jack Black when he was writing all that silly Tenacious D material.
5This is redundant and not because they’re ladies playing guitars. No. It’s redundant because they’re rock stars, rocking balls/ovaries to the wall and all that. That’s sexy no matter what you are. Don’t believe me? Go watch Jon Spencer or Annie Clark or Daniel Johnston…well, maybe not that last one.
6I just read for the second or third time today that one of the leading reasons for the Pavement tour last year was Bob’s horse betting debts. So, this seemed apropos.
7That was maybe stretching it too far.

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Top 5 List for September 12, 2011

Posted in Top 5 by SM on September 12, 2011

Acer japonicum Vitifolium JPG1fu

I feel like this feature has to make it two more weeks for it not to be forced. This is number 3, I believe. Digest what I have to tell you and know that there will be a beer and record review on Wednesday.

1. Anniversaries
Yesterday was the three-year anniversary of our daughter’s birth. That’s right. She was born on September 11th. While not thee September 11th, it’s a pretty important day in our house. Eventually (or now), I will grow tired of every September 11th focusing on patriotism, terrorists, and fireman. For once, I’d like it to be a day my daughter can look at as her own. She’s too young to realize what a big deal everyone makes over this day. I have chosen to move on and remember this day for the life it has wrought instead of the death. Also, the Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA was pretty great and will be featured in Wednesday’s post.

2. The Womyn of Merge
Also featured in Wednesday’s post will be Wild Flag, but I’ve said too much already…I recently acquired albums by Eleanor Friedberger and Wye Oak. These were nice gets as both albums are really powerful and of the highest quality. However, since I was so late to their bandwagon, I’ll just mention them here. The Wild Flag will get a proper review with a beer (see above) on Wednesday.

3. Black Francis
Black Francis is the imperial stout I brewed that’s currently sitting on oak chips, cocoa nibs, and vanilla beans all soaked in bourbon. It tastes pretty awesome at the moment, but I’ll probably leave it in the secondary for a little while longer just to let it acquire as much flavor as possible. The plan is to bottle by October so that I have it ready for the holidays.

4. Seasonal Beers
The stores are loaded with beers meant for fall: pumpkin ales, Oktoberfests, etc. However, I’m more excited for the beers featuring freshly harvested hops that will be slowly released all fall. These beers feature a sharp bitterness that is lost in your average IPA. I’ve grown a little weary of those who go on and on about pumpkin beers and just wait patiently for my fresh-hopped beers to show.

5.  OK. I couldn’t resist. Here’s some Wild Flag…

The Weekend that Was

Posted in Life by SM on May 23, 2011

Since starting this blog, I’ve tried to limit the number of posts that just tell you what I did. Well, I’ve been a single parent for most of the last week and will continue for all of this week. So, I have time for nothing more than share a few images from my weekend.

The weekend started with this…

Stone’s Cali-Belgique IPA started off the weekend (and would be enjoyed on Sunday as well). The Hopry’s review got me to thinking that I needed to give this beer another try. The first and last time I tried it was the big Stone night here in town and I was not that impressed. Of course, I was following up several beers that are all a load on their own. So, making this my first of the weekend allowed me to enjoy this beer unscathed. Upon further review, the Cali-Belgique is what its name suggests: a California-style hopbomb with the delicate presence of a Belgian yeast strain. What a great summer beer this is going to be with it’s tartness only balanced by the fruity bitterness of west coast hop bills.

Later on Friday, I obtained the services of a sitter and caught what I hoped to be the lineup of the summer. Believers put on their typical jive-inducing set. Richard the Lionhearted (sorry, no pics turned out),played a tight set of new and old songs. Jerusalem and the Starbaskets brought home their dirty, drunken version of rock music before I had to sneak out to relieve and pay said sitter. It was a nice night to catch up with some friends and release a bit from my week as a single parent.

My kid’s first rock show happened. It was Sunday evening at an ice cream parlor. We sat down with our ice cream and watched Dubb Nubb and Cory Taylor Cox play folk music as it stormed outside. As you can see from the picture, my kid and her friend from her Montessori school rocked out, mostly pogoing the night away.

My busy weekend finally ended the way most weekends should end: with a beer. Boulevard’s Tank 7 is easily one of my five favorite/go-to beers.

Hopefully, there will be more full-fledged posts this week as next week will be a bit thin with a long-awaited vacation on the horizon. Bare with me. I have ideas for some good posts in the coming months.

Stone Week

Posted in Beer by SM on April 27, 2011

This past week, Missouri welcomed Stone Brewing to the Show-Me State…Rather, Stone Brewing welcomed us to their distribution[1]. For most of the week, stories leaked and were told about Stone’s arrival. Of course, Stone’s Greg Koch[2] was on-hand to spread his arrogant gospel about rejecting “yellow fizzy beer” and instead choosing real flavor in the form of real beer, specifically Stone’s beer.

I say “week” when things actually kicked off Tuesday, the official release day of everything. It started with a slow rumble over social media of displays at stores all over town. During my lunch break, I stopped in at three different stores and all of them had gigantic stacks of Stone beer. I’ve never seen anything like it[3]. I remember when Founders arrived a couple years back and thought that was big. This was on another level[4]. There’s now more Stone here than the shelves allow. And it’s fresh. We didn’t get the leftovers…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The beer nerds in town picked up their customary allotment and the stories from Kansas City and St. Louis started rolling in, including the videos below…

And basically the same talk[5] at another KC establishment near the 2:29 mark…

And while it’s humorous to watch a guy who makes and promotes craft beer for a living talk about “throwing off the chains of oppression[6],” the beer is serious stuff. I won’t be the first person to complain that Stone’s beer hasn’t lived up to their own hype machine[7], but it’s a pretty important player in the craft beer scene and it greatly upgrades the beer available in Missouri. Besides, I’m not entirely sure the beer has really suffered that much since they’ve expanded. It could be that my palate has expanded or I haven’t had fresh Stone in a long while. Whatever. Stone Brewing coming to Missouri was a big deal for us. It’s a big deal for me.

The week moved on and the day approached when the Stone reps would make their appearance in our little college town. I used the Columbia Beer Enthusiast Twitter account to promote the arrival, even going so far as to mention one of craft beer’s top-20 bachelors, Mr. Koch, as being present for the festivities. He quickly corrected me via Twitter…

This took some of the luster off the big Stone release events of the weekend, but I attended anyway[8].

After a CBE officers meeting at Broadway Brewery, people poured into Sycamore five minutes before they were open to hit the bar up for the first Stone many of us had on tap in Missouri[9]. I started with asking the bartender to fill my free take-away Stone  glassware with a 2010 Russian Imperial Stout. Since we hadn’t received this year’s batch of RIS, I figured I’d just sip on this one beer before the next stop as bar crawls are always bad new for me. Trouble is, someone let me try their Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale and I wanted that. I had had this beer before, but this one was fresh with the sweet aroma of Simcoe.

After Sycamore, we stumbled down to Uprise for more Stone. The Double Bastard was the brew of choice. And when they call it “double” they’re not kidding. For the uninitiated, Arrogant Bastard is a load of a beer. The malt bill and hop presence is pretty huge, almost too much for the virgin palate, but the Double Bastard slams even the most seasoned beer geek in the face with loads of sweetness and alcohol[10]. It’s not an easy drink for anyone, but that didn’t stop us.

Originally, this was supposed to be the last stop, but we somehow rounded up some DD’s to take us out to 1839 Tap House. After a Cal-Belgique IPA and possibly something else, I had to head home. The Cal-Belgique was not the beer with which to end and I don’t feel like I can give it a true assessment after the RIS and Double Bastard. Luckily, there’s still a bottle in my cellar for an untainted tasting.

It’s been six years since I moved here, wonting of Stone. Now that it’s here, I feel our beer selection in Missouri upgraded ten-fold. Now, when faced with an uninspiring tap list at a bar, I know that I can simply order a Stone Arrogant Bastard or Ruination IPA and know that my beery needs are met.

Some have complained that the Stone brand is more hype and hyperbole than substance. I’d disagree. They’re like the indie band who signs a major label deal and blows up all over the world[11]. Maybe some of the product isn’t as good as it once was, but that might have more to do with context than it does whether or not the product is any good. Someone made the point that although Arrogant Bastard isn’t as impressive as its name would suggest, ten years ago, that beer would have blown your mind. Stone’s arrival in Missouri might not be the most earth-shattering development in craft beer, but it certainly is a welcome one.

1Stone is practically everywhere, but part of their arrogance lies in the fact that we’re told that we’re not worthy for their beer. Only now is Missouri worthy. And with the growth of the craft beer scene as well as all the groveling in this state for some Stone, maybe we really are worthy.
2Koch is the Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head) of the west. He personifies both the good and the bad associated with Stone’s arrogance.
3Aside from the stacks of macros in our stores, I’ve never seen so much beer from one craft brewery in Columbia stores. The setups would make ABI and MillerCoors blush. I was lucky enough to see three stacks virtually untouched. I was amazed so much work had been done that morning.
4Founders was a sought after as Stone is, but their beer was absent from Missouri shelves within their first week or two. Even if people buy twice as much Stone, there’s no way we’ll run out for a month. I like that one of my favorite breweries is not only in Missouri, but it should be readily available.
5My suspicion is that Koch really has just one speech in his back pocket with a few catch phrases. Unfortunately for him, with the increasing exposure due to social media, his speeches will become cliched. Luckily for him, Stone only has a few more states left to invade.
6I do grow weary of this sort of rhetoric. Come on. You have never known oppression, white guy who sells beer to the masses. It’s a little insulting, but it’s probably benign enough by now that I shouldn’t be offended, which is maybe a problem in itself.
7Koch is part of that hype machine, but the brewery has done an impressive job of branding itself over the past decade. The ever-present gargoyles, the long-winded narratives on the back of the bottles, the use of terms like “arrogant,” “ruination,” “sublimely self-righteous”…You get the point. Stone hypes itself better than any other brewery outside of BrewDog and BD is just emulating Stone. I have to admit that I have been sucked in by the hype machine, but it doesn’t hurt that I enjoy most of their beers.
8Honestly, I came for the beer. It would have been nice to get some Greg face, but I’ll live. I’ve got my beer.
9Actually, I had some Ruination and Arrogant Bastard the night before at Uprise. We had a happy hour to celebrate my wife sending her final revisions of her book to the press and I couldn’t turn down an Arrogant Bastard.
10The regular AB is just under 8% ABV. Luckily, the Double is not fully double that, but at 11%, it packs a mighty wallop for which none of us were prepared.
11I remember no one who liked Nirvana before they hit it big liked them after. Although they haven’t technically signed with a major label, Arcade Fire gets all kinds of crap for their success. It’s hard for people to separate success from quality. Sometimes the criticism is just, but often we dislike a band just because their too big. Of course, the opposite can also be said when we love a band or musician just because they are so popular. I suspect that in beer, both happens simultaneously. Stone, for example, will win over a ton of new fans because they are filling up stores and tap handles just as they will lose beer fans because they’re everywhere.

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More On Beer

Posted in Beer, Life by SM on April 13, 2011

A little over three years ago, I took my first real steps from beer consumer to beer geek[1].

The holidays were upon us and I was looking for some nice beers to take back east. What I found were boxes encasing 750 mL bottles of barrel-aged beers from St Louis’ Schlafly[2]. There was the Bourbon Barrel Stout and Schlafly Reserve Barley Wine. These beers made the long journeys to Ohio and Michigan that winter and I’m glad they did. Each beer was probably the most intense experience I had had with beer to that date[3]. I was hooked on the biggest beers one could buy. Suddenly, a $10 bomber was not so scary[4].

While on that trip, a beer nerd who was trying to convert me put in an order for some beer. While gathering his loot, I found some nice things for myself. Two six-packs of Stone Ruination at about $15 apiece returned home with me that winter. I had never spent that much on such a relatively small amount of beer. I was in, but I didn’t know what to do once I left Michigan and returned to Missouri.

Columbia, Missouri is no hotbed for beer, especially three years ago. The beer nerd often suggested I go to St Louis for beer and buy from a gas station in town with a huge Belgian selection[5]. This idea of going out of my way just for beer seemed a bit much, but I was certainly intrigued. If Detroit could have such a nice selection why couldn’t we? What did a big beer community look like?

One place that showed me what beer culture could be like at its best was Seattle[6].

That was about the time my wife and I traveled to Seattle for a little R and R. Over the course of a week, I tried probably every west coast IPA and DIPA I could get my hands on[7]. In fact, our hosts had a sixer of Ruination[7] waiting for me in their fridge. At some point, a visit to Elysian Brewery was fit into the itinerary[8]. There was one particular day when, after a chocolate factory tour, we headed across the street for a drink at Brouwer’s Cafe. The list there was gigantic and I felt overwhelmed[9]. We eventually left, bellies full of craft beer goodness. As my wife did some shopping, our guide took me to a bar around the corner, whatever IPA I had there was just as ridiculously good as beers quaffed earlier in the trip. Eventually, we made our way to another part of town where Bottleworks held shop. I purchased beer for the rest of our stay as well as some to take home. That night, after beers and some Thai food, I hit yet another destination where the IPA’s were as hoppy as you’d hope. That Seattle trip solidified my commitment to traveling and transporting beer in order to try the best.

Upon returning, a new group was forming in Columbia. Eventually, we would become the Columbia Beer Enthusiasts. We would meet at least once a month to share beers from all over as well as those brewed on our own. This is where the beer geekery really took off as my palate was regularly exposed to beers by the likes of Russian River, Ninkasi, Dogfish Head, Three Floyds, etc., etc. This one-time interest quickly grew into an obsession.

Almost three years of hanging with these beer nerds has taught me a lot about beer and given me a newfound passion. I now have a closet full of beer which serves as my “beer cellar.” In that cellar are beers I’ve had for several years as well as beers not currently sold in Missouri. There are brews of my own making. The homebrews have done quite well among my beer geek friends and I enjoy them as well. I am currently an officer with said beer club. My weekends are now filled with one new beery experience after another. There really is nothing quite like craft beer and the community surrounding it[10].

To this point, craft beer has been the only thing for which I can obsess over as much as indie rock[11]. The new styles and breweries popping up every day make the hobby rather exciting. What will be interesting is to see where this all takes me next. That said, maybe I should get back to some reviews and show you my love for craft beer instead of telling you about it.

1I use terms like “geek” and “nerd” interchangeably here. I mean no disrespect and claim the terms for myself on many occasions. It should also be noted that I don’t hesitate to use these terms when discussing indie rock fans. It’s a connection between the two worlds that may have to make it into my manifesto or list of beliefs at some point.
2Before Pizza puts it in the comments, Schlafly has nothing to do with crazy wingnut Phyllis Schlafly. They make beer; she makes problems for poor people and women.
3Yes, even moreso than the Ruination experience a few years earlier. Ruination was expected. I had no idea that stouts could be so full of molasses, vanilla, and bourbon. And the barley wine…I didn’t have any idea what a barley wine was. Again with the vanilla, but this had a thick, syrupy body and the sweetness to match. These are two of better beers in their style produced anywhere. While I have a certain fondness for Ruination and its ilk, the west coast IPA/DIPA has been a bit overdone and sometimes we need something else.
4Getting over the cost of craft beer is the biggest step for most consumers. We’ve been conditioned to think that beer should be cheap. However, the old adage “you get what you pay for” is especially true for beer. A $10 bottle is basically $5 per beer, but that beer is higher in alcohol and significantly more intense flavor-wise. The cost is worth it.
5Yes, the best Belgian beer selection is in a gas station. I don’t go there as often as I used to as I have either tasted most of the beers they stock or new options have since opened.
6It’s interesting to me that Seattle used to be my mecca for indie rock. Then, it was Portland. The same thing could be said for beer as Portland has earned the right to be called “Beervana.”
7If you’ve noticed, Ruination comes up over and over again. It has become a significant beer in my beer geekdom. I will be one of the first to welcome their arrival in Missouri in a little over a week. I’m thinking of asking Stone CEO and co-founder Greg Koch to sign a bottle of Ruination. I don’t know that the quality of the beer is as good as it once was since the brewery’s big expansion, but it’s a significant beer for me.
8Elysian was actually the first brewery where I feasted on northwest beers about 14 years ago. It’s a long story, but after a day of traveling with my tail between my legs, hot, sweaty, and dirty, Elysian was the oasis in the desert of my shitty life.
9I tried to order a Dogfish Head 120 IPA. Supposedly, the bartender said they were out. I suspect that he could sense I was a noob and simply pointed me toward something that wouldn’t knock me out for the day.
10Once again, this is a place where craft beer and indie rock meet. Community is incredibly important for both. It’s part of what has drawn me to my two obsessions. Nothing is better than enjoying craft beer or good indie rock than enjoying and/or talking about with friends.
11It should go without saying that I place my family above my hobbies, but I’ll say it anyway. These are just the things outside of the people I love that make each day worth experiencing.

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The Neglected Beer Blog

Posted in Beer by SM on March 16, 2011

A beer blog this is not, but I do post about beer all the time. That is, when I post. After the True/False onslaught and a weekend of strep and pink eye in the house, I have fallen behind. This blog is supposed to be about beer and music. Here’s the beer post for the week with a music post to follow. There’s no time for footnotes. Just bear with me.

Folks have been all over the black IPA trend. No one is obsessed with it the way folks drive all over the globe for sours or barrel-aged beers, but they’re into the Cascadian dark ale enough to send the message to every craft brewer that they need a black IPA. It’s easy to taste why. The black IPA/Cascadian dark ale has the best of both worlds. There’s the sweet maltiness of stouts and bocks mixed with the floral bitterness of your favorite IPA. It’s a rather versatile beer for pairings and is naturally balanced.

I brewed one of these beers and named it after the seminal indie/math rock band Big Black. IPA’s of all colors are bitter, so I tend to call the style “black bitter.” All this adds up to the name of my beer: Big Black Bitter.

Originally, I had planned to design a label to print at Kinkos, but I wanted to save money while labeling my beers over the long haul and went with a rubber stamp and labels. You can see the results below.

Look at the head on that mother.

How is the beer? Well, it has a pretty incredible head. There’s no need for an aggressive pour. The lacing is wet and almost foamy, not sticky. The sent is a cacophony of citrus and grassy hops with a touch of the roasted malty goodness. However, there’s something not quite right. I’m chalking it up to the Amarillo hops as the same aroma is in another beer I did with loads of Amarillo. I thought I liked this hop, but I’m beginning to discover that it’s not my favorite.

Anyway, I tasted the bugger. Bitter roastiness dominates with a touch of citrus to finish it off. As it ages (which is days and weeks in an IPA’s lifespan), the bitterness grows, making this a beer true to its name. Luckily, the sweetness provided by the malt balances the beer out. There isn’t much in the way of mouthfeel, which is typical for an extract homebrew. It’s something I can live with. There’s a little heat, but not too much.

Overall, the beer is a success. It’s not as mind-blowing as I had hoped, but this style rarely is. What it does do, once again, is live up to its name. It’s black and bitter. It looks good in a glass and feels good going down. In the end, that’s all that matters.


Soon, my favorite brewery will makes its way to Missouri. Stone has hinted before that they’re coming to the Show-Me state, but has backed out on that promise. Apparently, it’s hard to get a foot in the door in this state. It’s as if some conglomerate, industrialized rice-adjunct beer maker owns property here (hint: ANHEUSER BUSCH). Whatever. Stone is finally coming to Missouri.

Of course, I’ve had a pipeline to Stone’s product for some time. My family all live in Ohio where Stone is readily available. My brother recently grabbed me the 2011 Old Guardian Barley Wine as well as the new Belgo version. Plus, he grabbed me the beer Stone collaborated with Green Flash and Pizza Port Carlsbad breweries, Highway 78 Scotch Ale.

Good, not great scotch ale.

Typically, the Stone collabs are pretty amazing. This one was really good, but somewhat ordinary. I don’t know whether the style has limitations or the breweries just tried to make a really good scotch ale. The ABV isn’t high, which suggests they didn’t press the limits with this brew. Plus, there’s nothing extra going on here. It’s just a really solid scotch ale. I have no complaints, but I was hoping for something more. At least I won’t have to wait for my mother to deliver me Stone anymore.

Speaking of new beer arrivals in MO…

Half a flight and plate of fries to go.

Favorite beer nerd local Sycamore celebrated the arrival of another Southern Cal brewery, Firestoen Walker, with a tasting event. They didn’t get the free glasses promised, but the beer arrived. A flight of 5 oz. samples of FW beers cost $14. That and a plate of fries for my daughter and I made a nice pre-dinner session. The beers in the flight were consumed in the following order.

  1. Double Jack IPA – Grapefruity and balanced, this IPA might have ruined my taste buds for the rest of the evening and I was thankful. Seriously, though, this is as good an IPA as you’ll find. We now get several of the great IPA’s from the west coast. If we could only get all of them…
  2. Reserve Porter – I don’t know whether it was the fact that I drank the IPA first or this is just your typical, run of the mill porter, but I was not impressed. Sure, it was smooth, clean even, but I like my porters to taste like…well…imperial stouts. So, that might be a me problem and not a Firestone Walker problem.
  3. Abacus – Ah, barley wine brewed in bourbon barrels. You really can’t beat that. All kinds of dark fruits and booze runneth wild over my tongue. I wanted to make sweet love to that beer, but my daughter was present and there was only 5 ounces in the glass.
  4. Anniversary 14 – Of course, then I met Anni. Man, what a mouthful this beer was. More bourbon barrel goodness only in the form of a strong dark ale. Tons of molasses, fig, vanilla…It was maybe the only beer that could follow Abacus, yet it was so smooth and tasty.

I’m really looking forward to more from Firestone Walker and Stone in the coming months. For now, I’ll have to settle for the Double Jack I purchased at the Hy-Vee yesterday and my Old Guardians. Oh, and I still have loads of that homebrew.


I Am a Lukcy Basartd

Posted in Beer by SM on February 25, 2011

I am a lucky bastard for many, many reasons. There’s my family, including the two loves of my life. One of those loves is my daughter who always comes before beer and Pavement[1]. There’s the smartest, most interesting woman I have ever known who allows me to sleep in a bed with her[2] and was willing to fill out marriage papers with me five and a half years ago.

As demonstrated in this blog, I have little about which to worry. There have been the jobless scares, that time I hit a deer, and a few other minor brushes with misery, but my problems are typically first-world problems[3]. The kinds of problems I have are the kind that only happen in America to middle-class, white dudes. So, that makes me pretty lucky.

I’m lucky that I can write about craft beer and indie rock as a hobby. Hell, I’m lucky enough to be able to afford craft beer and indie rock. Someone who reads said writing even offered me a free Archers of Loaf poster, circa 1997. That too makes me pretty lucky. Life’s good.

Another way in which I’m lucky is that I have family in another market who will fill my need for hard-to-get beers[4]. Even though we here in Missouri will be getting beer from Stone in the spring, there are some brews for which I can’t wait. Tonight was my lucky night because I popped open a Lukcy Basartd[5] Ale, a blend of all the Arrogant Bastards (regular, oaked, and double).

Oily, grassy, citrusy hops smack you as only a bastard would. The sweet maltiness of all Bastards is there and it’s welcomed. The dry-hopping sets this beer apart from its brethren IMHO. With all that, this beer is not as intense or astringent as the originals. The right touch of oak and hops balances this beer nicely. I truly am lukcy to be able to drink this beer. Now, if only they’d hurry up and ship some to the Show-Me state.

1Especially when she tells me that she will drink and brew beer with me when she’s bigger and when she asks me to sing the “Ooh-Ooh Song” (aka “Cut Your Hair”).
2When I’m not snoring, that is.
3Of course, it’s all relative. Problems are problems. Problems don’t compare outside of their context. For example, the protests in Wisconsin and the Middle East are not the same thing, but there are parallels to be drawn. However, I won’t do that here as this blog is about first world worries: beer and indie rock.
4This too is relative. Beers that are hard for me to find are easy for my family in Ohio and vice versa. Luckily, I’ve done right by all them to afford me the luxury of “importing” beer from the fertile markets in the Buckeye state.
5This is how they’re spelling it. You should see the narrative on the back of the bottle.

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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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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.