I may not care much for watching sports but I do enjoy a good beer. Here’s what I’ll be drinking tonight: Dogfish Head Piercing Pils, Green Flash Double Stout Black Ale, North Coast Brewing Old Stock Ale, Victory Hop Devil, Dogfish Head Chicory Stout, Smuttynose Durty Muddy Season Hoppy Brown Ale. What’re you drinking tonight? Share in the comments
Sunday, December 01, 2013. I awoke at the bitter crack of 11 am, aware that a day of toil and hardship lay ahead of me. The early morning had left a thin layer of slick snow that increased the possible perils of the day. Today was tree felling day. While deep within me I enjoy laboring at the chainsaw and ax, the spiteful New Hampshire weather, along with a tendency toward weekend sluggishness, made my morning groans ever louder with grim dread. In spite of the thick moisture hanging heavy in the overcast sky, the day proved warm enough to tolerate, and pleasant enough with sweaty work. The afternoon’s work found me on the chainsaw orchestrating the destruction of five superfluous trees and, at least for now, the muscles of my lower back. All in all, it was satisfying working ‘til my hands trembled with the ghost vibrations of the saw and the day’s targets lay heaped at my feet. My work done I soaked my stiff back, and drank some hot dark coffee. Later, I prepared dinner—two heaping burgers of moose meat seared in the cast iron on the stove to avoid the cold rain soaking the grill. This little vignette may seem unnecessary and perhaps a tad self-indulgent. It probably is, but this is the course of events which, when led to the fridge for my evening’s imbibing, steered me towards Great Divide’s Espresso Oak Aged Yeti.
The Yetis, legendary beasts of the Colorado Brewery, are imperial stouts of the highest order. The Espresso Oak Aged Yeti is the alpha beast, as far as I’m concerned. This monster is a hairy 9.5% ABV, which, as its name has implied, has feasted on a diet of oak chips and “Pablo’s” espresso. The result is dark as an Arctic Winter, with a thin and heavy head with hues of rich mahogany. The nose is expectedly dominated by dark and earthy coffee with overtones of soft vanilla, foreboding of the cacophony of flavors to come. The Yeti’s flavors are dark as his exterior, with the bitterness of the espresso tangling with a strong stab of hops and the suggestion of cocoa nibs from the dark roasted malts. Each sip leaves a lingering, though not embittering espresso, and brings a bit more warmth to your stomach—more ease to my sore back. On a day such as mine, nothing could be more fitting than to sip this beer by the warmth of the woodstove. Chainsaws, moose burgers and Espresso Oak Aged Yeti, I can only see this as “La Vie en Flannel.”
Today’s been a beer day for me for some reason. That may be because last night I discovered that Netflix had the cancelled Discover Channel show “Brew Masters” available for streaming. The show, released in 2010 only had a 6 episode run before being cancelled. Some say that the show was cancelled because in following around Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head, the network had brought down the sound and the fury of the big brewers. Regardless of what happened it was a decent show, and I binge watched the whole series today. That made me thirsty. Fortunately, stashed away for such a thirst is a bottle of Maine Beer Companies “Peeper Ale” APA, which brings me to today’s post.
This beer came to be in my fridge because my dad had purchased it based on some scuttle-butt about how great it was, and being the generous man he is, he bought it for me. What first struck me about the bout is the very simple aesthetic. From Riverhorse’s awesome hippos to the Ralph Steadman work on Flying Dog’s label and beyond it seems that craft beer marketing has brought label art to great new places, and I think that Maine Beer’s understated label for Peeper Ale, clean typography and a little stick frog, is just as striking. It reminds me of Picasso’s drawing of Don Quixote. Perhaps I’m going too far into this, but I think the label is a metaphor for what lies behind it: a clean and simple beauty. Peeper pours a hazy lemon yellow with a beautiful head that leaves an equally elegant lacing. The flavors are crisp and light, a bit of biscuit from the malts and a very balanced hop profile that starts out with a tiny bit of lemon and finishes with a slightly bitter floral taste reminiscent of lavender. This is a perfect beer for a summer day, or a summer night when the peeper’s it draws its name from chirps out its brief bliss. This is a simple, elegant APA that will wipe the sweat from your brow. Weighing in at 5.5% this would make a fine session beer to get you through a hot day, if you afford to do that. Unfortunately, this review probably comes at the wrong time as the brisk winds just blew into New England warning us that winter is coming with a vengeance, and with it the season of porters and stouts, but with the woodstove cranked up I still need refreshment. So tonight Peeper Ale is my last nod to the mild beginnings of fall, and I couldn’t have picked a finer beer to do it with.
If you read my article on James E. Pepper Rye you’ll know that I recently visited Cooperstown, NY to visit my girlfriend at grad school. We like to go to breweries, because my girlfriend is awesome and likes to drink good beer and eat delicious food with me. Maybe she’s just humoring me. Anyways, just outside Cooperstown happens to be Brewery Ommegang—perhaps you’ve seen their beer, it’s omnipresent in bottle shops and even grocery stores in something like 43 states. If you’ve ever experimented with craft beer it probably began with a bomber of Hennepin or Three Philosophers and led to borderline alcoholism, a beer gut, and the inability to enjoy anything that comes in a red, white and blue can (expect Dale’s Pale Ale). I’d had several Ommegang offerings in the past and found them very enjoyable, so I was looking forward to this trip. I’m not going to go too deep into what I drank, what it tasted like and all that jazz—go buy some and try for yourself you budding beer genius. What this article is all about is the lowdown on what a visit to Ommegang is like.
After a drive through the winding roads of the New York countryside you arrive at Ommegang, driving through an archway declaring the dates of the first Ommegang festival in Belgium, and the opening of Brewery Ommegang. The parking lot was filled with the interstate license plates of beer pilgrims, and on approaching the pub and shop you see Ommegang’s experimental hop vines growing on the rolling hillsides of their beautiful grounds(apparently the area used to be the American hop hub in the 1800’s before a blight settled in that remains to this day.) The shop was a buzz of activity as we signed up for the $3 tasting and the free tour, and settled into shopping while we awaited our tasting time. There was a lot of cool stuff in the shop, from the standard: shirts, limited release beers, and a fantastic glassware selection, to the more creative: beer based cheeses, spreads, and mustards. I bought a glass, because I love glassware. The tasting session was great, something like 6 beers were served to us in our little complimentary glasses and there was a spread of pretzels and the aforementioned spreadables for us to snack on as the knowledgeable staff gave us all the stats on the beers we were drinking. It was a good time, with just the right amount of information to satisfy the geeks and a solid background for the less initiated. I do have one gripe though: the beer. The Ommegang that you buy in your bottle shop has been sitting around in a bottle with yeast, what we call bottle conditioning, and that means it’s sitting there getting smoother, more complex, and more delicious. In the tasting, or at a bar, Ommegang is often in a keg, force carbonated. I’m not just being a snob here; it was a very noticeable difference, so I recommend seeking Ommegang out in bottles. Anyways, the tour of the brewery was pretty standard, with some interesting facts about how their relationship with Belgian brewery Duvel blossomed from an initial 40% investment to a friendly full ownership. By the end of the tour I was quite hungry and of course thirsty, so we proceeded to the eatery.
The café is a rather unique experience for an American restaurant, with large communal tables that encourage meeting your fellow beer pilgrims as you slowly (or quickly based on Ommegang ABVs) lose any reservations you may have about having dinner with strangers. The beer menu, as expected, is full of Ommegang’s best: on tap, in the bottle, standards and ultra-special editions all included. M’lady boldly ordered their excellent “Wild at Heart” ale that happens to be one of those rare offerings. I had a beer on tap, probably wisely because her bottle cost $25 due to its special status. The food was also great, as you’d expect from a brewery that has a beer and food pairing section on their website. They even have Belgian waffles, which I barely resisted ordering for dinner. Anyways, the café was a great end to a great time at Brewery Ommegang. The place was basically designed to serve the beer pilgrim, and from what I understand they host tons of great events and concerts to keep the people happy, if the beer isn’t enough for you. So if you’re one of those people going to Cooperstown for the baseball stuff or the scenery, go to Ommegang, get a good meal and a nice beer. Then stock up on glassware and beer cheeses.
Lagunitas makes no shortage of good great beer, and when I saw a local pizzeria carrying this enigmatically titled brew, I couldn’t pass it up. Lagunitas, out of Petaluma, California, has a history of christening their beers with…unusual names. There are normal names of course, like “Hop Stoopid” and “IPA” (clever, that one), but then there are less telling names, like “Lil’ Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale,” “The Hairy Eyeball,” “Lagunitas Sucks,”my personal favorite, and “Wilco Hotel Foxtrot,” a collaboration with the band Wilco that describes it’s style as a jobless recovery ale, which from what I remember was very tasty and full of booze. I guess that’s what you need when you’re jobless. It’s good to note that a lot of these don’t even have a style listed on the label, as with our star tonight. Looking at the label I know it’s 9.6% alcohol by volume, abv for those in the know, and 66.6 Ibu’s, International Bitterness Units for those not in the know. That’s a lot of booze, and a good amount of bitter, though not too high. Also on the label is the myth behind our puzzling name. In tiny print around the edge of the label reads: “We brewed this especially bitter ale in dedication to all of the world’s would be astronauts, in remembrance of the 2005 St. Patrick’s Day Massacre on the Brewery Party Grounds and also in joyous celebration of our 20-day suspension that following January. Do the crime. Do the Time. Get the Bragging Rights. Cheers!” Let me clear that up the best I can. I have no idea what the astronauts are all about, but basically the “massacre” was an undercover investigation at the brewery that led to them receiving a fine and a 20-day suspension. Something about the place being a “disorderly house.” Wow, I’ve dedicated too much space to a label and a name—good job marketing department.
Beer tasting, that’s what this is about. I’m going to skip the usual tasting notes formatting people tend to use when they’re being formal and pretending they’re experts. They’re not, nor am I. I poured the beer into a glass, as shown in the picture, from North Hampton, New Hampshire’s own Throwback brewery. Gotta represent. It’s got a gorgeous reddish color, and not too much head—not surprising given the amount of hooch in there. Smell is very malty, with a little floral hops, which is matched by the sip. Well this is smooth stuff, thick and fluffy almost. The hops are an earthy presence, but in no ways overwhelming as they’re beat senseless by the explosive bready maltiness which dominates this beer. Apparently this is an American Strong Ale according to Beer Advocate. I’m not about to refute that, as it’s certainly strong, though the alcohol hides well under that loaf of molasses bread. Overall this is very enjoyable beer, I’d call it well balanced, but that would be a lie because, basically, this is boozy malt bomb with a generous donation of hops. I love it. The good and disorderly people of Lagunitas have another winner here and perhaps we have an undercover investigation to thank for that.
Triumph Brewing is a brewpub of the traditional style, in house brewing for in house consumption—beer to enjoy with classic grub. I’ve been to two of the three locations of this establishment, in Princeton, NJ and New Hope, PA. Today we’ll focus on Princeton, because that visit occurred more recently. The visit came as the conclusion to a busy day in Princeton with my wonderful lady companion. This included a brief sojourn to Washington’s Crossing to contemplate a winter night in 1776, an exploration of the gothic grounds of Princeton University, a fruitful record store raid, and a visit to a bookshop. All these explorations therefore worked up a thirst in us, so off to our cause, Triumph. We are not alone in seeking Triumph; my girlfriend has also arranged to meet several coworkers for a brief goodbye of sorts before she finishes her working season. Of course you’re reading this because you want to hear about beer, not puns of the places name, so let me slake that thirst. We started out with a sampler, always a nice way to meet a new brewery, and found a rather standard selection of styles—a nut brown, a pale ale, an Irish dry stout, a pils and an IPA come to mind. All pretty standard fare. No outlandish ingredients, no sour beers or beers aged in massive barrels made out of used furniture and heated with rocks*. Now the beer geek in me wants these crazy things, and while all these beers are balanced and okay examples of their style, nothing is whacking my palate with hops or some unusual flavor or mouth feel that excites me. Then, our waiter kindly delivers our cheese fries (an off menu order that perfectly hit the spot). Here’s where it dawns on me—this is eating beer. All these are very reasonable beers that are made, not to stock a beer bar, but to stock a restaurant. They’re there to compliment the food—they want you to say, “this burger is incredible,” not “this Frappuccino Schwarz bier is insane!” Also, please don’t make a Frappuccino Schwarz bier, please. Now, my memory and a friend who shall not be named as a manager at the aforementioned establishment have told me that the New Hope location has better beers. I seem to remember some bigger beers, dessert-like Belgians and barrel-agers, and perhaps that’s more intriguing, more in tune with your idea of a “brewpub.” But the Triumph in Princeton is a good restaurant, with good service, that happens to make and serve a bunch of solid beers at a good price. And I like that. All in all, I had a great time at Triumph. The employees went out of their way to help us when the place was packed, I had great company, I got a pleasant buzz (their IPA was my favorite, by the way,) the bill was reasonable, and I didn’t have to pay it. There’s a good ending for a great day.
*Though I’m not sure anyone makes barrels out of used furniture, there are beers made using super-hot rocks, such as the traditional German steinbier or that beer I had that one time at Equinox brewing last summer.
As an American citizen I find that it seems only appropriate that I post today in observance of the anniversary of this nation’s independence from Great Britain—the Fourth of July as we like to call it. All across this country people will be shooting off fireworks, eating excessively and drinking, for the most part, shitty beer. On this day in 1776 a bunch of men in powdered wigs were sweating their nuts off in Philadelphia, writing up that official declaration. They weren’t doing it because their independence seemed imminent—they were basically losing the war at that point. They were doing it as a plea; a plea to the people to stay the course, and a plea to the French to bail our asses out of this mess. Those men we call our founding fathers were basically signing a death warrant. If they lost the war, which seemed pretty much a given, the ringleaders had all written their names on a convenient document—like a list of the treasonous for Cornwallis to execute. Somehow, these “patriots” ended up outlasting the British. The French jumped in the game and the British eventually realized that the cost of fighting a war of occupation overseas is too great. (Clearly Americans have learned nothing from their own history.)
This is the one day of the year I will call myself patriotic. The rest of the year I see patriotism as a part of the blind nationalism that makes people trust a deceitful and duplicitous government and allows men to feel justified in killing men, women, and children for being on the wrong side of the government vendetta against communism or Islam. Today, I celebrate those men of the Second Continental Congress, for their willingness to become martyrs to an idea and for their courage to stand up against imperialism (again, the lessons we forget.) So today I raise my glass to all the beautiful things America has wrought, blues, jazz, rock n’ roll, Bourbon, Ernest Hemingway, my Ford truck, bluegrass, (some) country music, cowboys, cheeseburgers (though hot dogs are lame as far as sausages go), the Second Amendment , Jack Kerouac, and even cheap macro beer (because I can’t always afford to drink well). So, my readers, many of whom it seems live in Europe, I’m going to get drunk and have a jolly good time of it, and I’ll go back to screaming out Baby, I’m an Anarchist tomorrow. Live free or die, death is not the worst of evils.
In the time since I’ve been legally permitted to imbibe I have paid many a visit to nearby White Birch Brewing of Hooksett, NH. I’ve been able to see them develop quite a bit in that time, but I’d like, here, to briefly highlight the two tasting sessions I enjoyed their last week.
Round1: 6/7/13. Scene: myself and two of my closest comrades in arms. We’re supposed to be headed to Newburyport, Mass to see the final show of a band I used to play with. It’s going to be a solemn occasion, so we sweep the complete opposite direction for some fuel. Enter White Birch. It’s a pretty simple scene, classic, a few people lingering at the tasting counter and chatting amiably and we walk in thirsty and slightly boisterous. There are a lot of samples to be had, the flagships, the usual suspects, are there and maintain their delicious glory. Belgian yeast and hops: pale and India pale American goodness. The unusual suspects are always a curve ball at White Birch. Their beautiful barley wine Cattywhompus often shows up, as well as whatever they’ve decided to do, including usually an apprentice beer. They have a great apprenticeship program that puts out some cool beers, basically the apprentice gets to make what they want and it gets sold. This time around it seems the theme is sour. They had quite a few, tart little barrel aged tweakers that make your face twinge but give you a new perspective on shit, man. They’re pretty tasty too, once you realize what you’ve gotten yourself into. The names and all that escape me, as the night only began at WB, and much blurring would come, but I can tell you there was a great assortment with seasonals and special one offs. Anyways, the steal of the day was a case of White Birch Hooksett Ale bombers. 12 x 22oz of 8.5% ABV IPA goodness. We split the cost 3 ways–$14 each for 4 of these beauties. That is a steal—robbery at gunpoint. That’s a lot of joy at $3.50 a pop. Of course we leave White Birch buzzy on beer and drunk on the good conversation and good times. The rest of the evening involves weird scenes in the rain, bars that tried to gouge us, didn’t serve us our food (until I went into the kitchen and got it) and other strange happenings. It was a roller-coaster that started at a great place.
Round 2: 6/13/13. After the first experience it is obvious why I return. Companion: My lovely lady. We’ve just spent the day in an art museum and meeting a friend of hers for lunch. Seems like a fine time for another visit. It’s on the way home anyways. Sour beers are not her thing. That may be mentioned in a soon to be written article if I get to writing it, but anyways, she’ll pass on the bretted Schwarzbier. Also should be mentioned that I was easy recognized by the customers. Anyways, this trip carries many of the same beers as the last time—and I little hidden secret. From the golden (white) beer fridge comes a special as of yet unreleased beer. This beer is a patersbier, something that the White Birch boys got from the traditions of the Belgian Trappist monks, who usually brew lots of great complex beer for other people to buy, and a lighter, simpler beer for themselves. One Malt + the proprietary yeast + some hops = patersbier. From what I gather this is usually a simple and low ABV beer. White Birch made theirs 6.5% or something and somehow it’s not boring like it sounds, but actually the oat bread like complexity this single malt gives you makes this a fascinating beer. I like the almost deconstructed idea of it. Also, they’re making it for a charity, I forget the cause, but if it was my charity I’d be honored. Another great visit to a cool local brewery.
Of course this babbling little tale tells you very little about White Birch Brewing. It doesn’t tell you about how Bill Herlicka built this place up very quickly into a brewer’s playground and a drinker’s delight. That’s a shame, I’ve failed. So get off your ass and go visit them or find one of their beers if you’re able. If you aren’t, visit their website and envy me. Cheers.
Review: Stone Vertical Epic 12.12.12
Since 2002 Stone has been making a powerful “epic” beer commemorating the one day of each year where it doesn’t matter what order the day, month, and year in. Naturally, assuming a radical calendar shift doesn’t occur, that means that 12.12.12 was the last time this will happen in a century—so when I received a bottle of this limited run, I was naturally excited and overwhelmed with anticipation for what joys may be lurking within that cool glass exterior. This was Christmas. Flash forward to May 30th, 2013. I’ve somehow managed to protect this rare artifact from myself and any other beer seeking Gollum of the underworld. Stone made their Vertical Epic beers to stand the test of time—there is no drink by label, but a suggestion to age them at 55 Fahrenheit or below. After months in the cellar this little six month old is about to be sacrificed to the gods, for the Day of Judgment hath arrived, and my buddy Charlie has returned from months in the crucible that is a public school in Greenville, Mississippi. So let us drink and be merry! This beer is truly a vertical masterpiece; the head rises to Olympian heights even with a soft pour. Below, lies the treasure: Oily and opaque, and smelling of a caravan of spices and coffee traversing the deserts on their voyage to my mouth. Stone simply calls this an ale brewed with spices, but to those who taste its glory, that seems inaccurate. 12.12.12 has the heavy dark malt profile of an imperial stout, with the toasted and espresso laden flavors to match. Oh, and there’s the booze. This is a 9%er, and there is no attempt to hide that. This is dessert beer, warm and, as Stone does, heavily hopped and bitter. The spices they’ve thrown in there add just another layer of complexity to this canvas; nutmeg and cinnamon give this the feel of a winter beer—if only I’d been more patient this would have done perfectly by the wood stove, but I wasn’t so I drank it when it was 90 degrees. I do what I want. In sum, this is a beast of a beer, truly worthy of the Vertical Epic label. If you still have one, hold it for a cold evening. If you want one, sorry, that’ll require a mythic quest at this point—good luck and Godspeed friends.