Friday, July 03, 2009

The Session #29 - Return to Flathead Lake

Recently, this comment appeared on a post that I published last year:
Just saw your comment on working through the pain from last year...good comments and helpful hints, except the Flathead Lake Brewing comment "not all craft beer is brewed equal"...this is true, but not in the way you presented it: Flathead Lake Brewing has won every award for brewing in the state, beating out all the big guys, and has actually brought home two World Beer Cup awards, which are the most prestigious awards in brewing. As far as "we've run out of beer, again"...well that's just crap, as an employee there, we have never "run out of beer", we have just run low because we sell so much of it to local yes, not all craft beer is brewed equal...if it was, Glacier Brewing, Kettlehouse, and some of the other beers you mentioned would be winning international awards and running low on beer as well...
Anyhow, my two cents...keep up the good work...just keep it accurate. :) Cheers!!! - Info
To which I replied with this:
Info (if that is your real name!), I appreciate getting feedback from employees at breweries I've mentioned, and apologize if it seemed I was ragging unfairly on Flathead. My comment about them running out of beer stems from two separate visits I made back in the summer of 2007, when I was refused growler service because as the person working stated, they were "running out of beer". Without speculating further on what was going on at Flathead back in '07, I will say this: A return visit this past summer showed a *very* different brewery, one that had on tap a number of great beers, some fun experiments in the works, and absolutely no problem filling up a number of growlers for me with some excellent sustenance with which to spend my evening staring at the lake. I apologize for not putting that positive update on this post earlier.
The truth of the matter is, you're put at a serious disadvantage (and I'd be curious to hear what Stan has to say on this) whenever you try to establish an informed opinion about anything, not least of which a brewery, based off brief, singular visits.What's been said about first impressions often haunts the words of blogs (and Info, that's "blog" as in "web log", not to be confused with a travel guide, nor something that anybody reads anyway), capturing quick observations, often read divorced from the greater timeline, one that can frequently be misconstrued as concrete, permanent, final judgments. Unfortunately, though, most blogs, this one included, oftentimes neglect to amend their stance on particular experiences regardless of a change of heart on a subsequent visit. Something tells me if I'd be more proactive in expressing my pleasant return to Flathead last summer, Info wouldn't have felt need to comment in such a way that seems a little disparaging to the other local breweries in his/her community.

This month's Session pertains to tips and strategies on the road of beer travel. Lesson learned? Simply, don't be shy about voicing your impressions, but alternately, be prepared to reevaluate those impressions after repeat visits. And that said, be willing to revisit places that may have disappointed the first time around, because there's really nothing more rewarding than being proven wrong. Ultimately, I'm certainly looking forward to revisiting Flathead Lake Brewing again this summer (if only to fill another growler with that Flanders brown of theirs) to see what fresh surprises they have in store. This time: more pictures, more notes, and a promise to make good on updating our impressions. I'll hunt out for Info, too, if just to apologize in person.

The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. This month's party is being hosted by Gail and Steve of Beer by Bart. For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston's handy guide. You can also follow folks' entries on twitter by searching for posts marked with the #thesession hashtag.


Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Session #27 - Tyranny Undercover

Not the same. But easier than trying to make it from scratch.
There's no denying the truth behind the old saying about best laid plans, which is precisely how someone could find themselves in a situation like this, on a drizzly morning in May, staring at a dust-ridden bottle of Torani Amer and a folder full of unsent email drafts, wondering how these self-imposed writing deadlines can arrive so unexpectedly, and how those once grand statutory visions are often reduced, by necessity and  panic, to hardscrabble dirt and mud golems imbued with the hot breath of its composer's hope that it too might live and walk and keep momentum going for just another day. It's all the more shameful when the gifts all seem to align themselves in a row - gifts of the cocktail persuasion! - offering up easy riches in the form of a puckish topic, affable co-conspirators, and the burblings of some potentially avant mixology. It's all past potential now, though, and truly, it isn't even morning by the time this sentence has been typed, another interruption likely on the horizon (how prescient, now that this bit is being typed nearly 12 hours past its inception, that light drizzle having been replaced by a whipping downpour, and my thoughts squarely with those slogging their way into the deep end abyss of Boonville to pitch their muddy tents) and odds even that the publish button below won't even get clicked, despite, as I said, the best laid plans. Certain folks will have to stow their cabinet of tinctural curiosities for a later date, curtains drawn back over the mysteries of the unrealized, and the wings of rootless fantasy clipped and grounded. What could have been, isn't. Let's make us a drink, shall we?

So even though it's already been done, both here (and even before) and now already in this month's Session, we're going to keep it simple with this very brief reflection on a little drink called the Picon bière. The recipe, if you want to call it that, isn't much to speak of. But as our host this month is a neighbor of sorts, he deserves a little more. It was three or four years ago, in the redwood enshrouded grand Victorian dining room of the Lark Creek Inn, an arguably classic dining establishment crippled and shuttered by economic woes, those weird tendrils of financial panic that've traveled even up into the toniest, most insusceptible neighborhoods, a restaurant doomed to soon be resurrected as "affordable", or heaven forbid, something more ghastly like "family friendly". They had - and I hope this doesn't change - a serious, adult, fantastic bar. And it was here that I had the most unlikely of cocktails offered to me before dinner one night, as our waiter recognized my middling response to their beer list (and as for why I was glancing over their beer list, I probably wouldn't have even ordered a beer in an establishment like this, wrought of good, heathful digestifs and aperitifs and punishingly delicious whiskeys, but it's a habit - I always look at beer menus, because there are often surprises, sweet buried treasures cellared away by one discriminating chef who knows that no matter what the others think, his poached sole goes better with that Moinette than any of the wine they've got gathering dust down there) and offered to make me a cocktail made of their Urquell and a dash of Amer Picon. Little did I know how much I'd love it. Littller did I know how much I'd regret making its acquaintance when I discovered that true Amer bitters were entirely unavailable in this country and that the few bottles they'd had on hand in the bar had made their way back across the Atlantic in somebody's luggage. Granted, there are instructions on how to replicate that magical ingredient in the solace of your own home, but they're frankly not much simpler than building an ultralight aircraft in your garage and using it to fly across the North Pole to pick up a bottle of the authentic item. So we have this: From the people who brought you the the flavor du jour in your trendsetting latte, Torani's very own Amer mixer. It tastes only vaguely correct. But it will do.
Mia's working on taking over the photg job here.

Blended with a continental lager, this cocktail makes sense, as the flabby taste impression that old, ship-worn and light-struck bottles leaves little to be excited about, the strange, orangy, botanical, somewhat vegetal elixir of the Picon carrying the drink into a nearly Campari-esque realm, with a gut-stirring astringency and a snap of old fashioned, resuscitative, rejuvenated medicinal edginess. The florals of the hops are accentuated. Front end bitterness is restored. Weird hints of woodsy, rooty, dirty darkness lurk on the edges. But there's as little traditional lager in this house as there is true Amer Picon. And that's how we arrived here, with a bottle of the already lively and wicked Lagunitas Undercover Shutdown ale, a beer that hardly calls for adulterating, being spiked with a splash of Torani's finest 78 proof bitter buddy. In a satanically crimson body it comes off like chugging on a jar of homemade marmalade, a pungent whack of orange sweetness, all fringed in a pithy bitterness that somewhat masks the dangerous level of alcohol. Would I mix one up again? Maybe. But does it compare to that sun-sprayed June afternoon in Graton years ago when a bottle of the stuff disappeared into cup after cup of shabby homebrewed "kõlsch" as our friends wedding spun on around us? No, but that's a whole other story.
And as much as I'm usually not afraid of embarking on increasingly embedded diversionary topics, now it's not even Friday anymore. But it's still raining. Does this really count as a Session post now, being as late as it is? No matter, Mia would be sad if I didn't take the opportunity to show off her new shoes.

The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. This month's party is being hosted by Joe of Beer at Joe's. For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston's handy guide. You can also follow folks' entries on twitter by searching for posts marked with the #thesession hashtag.


Friday, March 06, 2009

The Session #25 - At lagerheads

A few months ago, the little kerfuffle over the increasingly curious nature of The Session topics came to a bit of a head when Jay posted his "open letter" (like there's any other kind on teh internets), wondering aloud whether some fuzzy barriers needed to be put into place in reining in the subject matter that's taken up each month in this carnival. As someone who gleefully participated in subverting what might be considered an arguably staid (and while we're being honest here, not terribly exciting for folks like myself to read) topic set, I didn't feel it was necessary to chime in regarding what ought to be a "proper" Session question. (I sort of figured that the thirty-one people who opted to respond to my hosting was proof enough that there's room for questions that were a little on the silly side. And I'd be lying if I didn't recognize how obnoxious I was being at the time.)

So the people of the brewblogosphere all lined up like good little ducks and started back on the track of ticking off styles like we're at some BJCP rally. Tripels marked the ostensible return to normalcy, a topic that I played along with mostly nicely. Fine. Always game for a good challenge. But now this. The description might have made more sense if it read like this:

Hey, people. In direct opposition to logic and in the presence of a global economic collapse that's sent most of us into a Stone Age level of hoarding panic, I'd like to ask you all to take some of that very hard earned money of yours and dish it out on swill. That's right. I'd like you to forgo one of the basic foundational reasons why you bother to write about beer (that being the desire to excite and encourage people to explore the world of beer that exists beyond said swill), take some money that could have gone to feeding your child, or fending off medical debts, or keeping the bank from ripping away the roof from over your head, or - oh, who am I kidding? - money that could have to gone buying some really good beer, and give it right back to the same industry against which you waste valuable Boing Boing Gadgets-reading time mustering opposition, and then allow me to sit back and chuckle while you throw yourself through a literary blender trying to come up with something readably interesting to say about how - let's admit it, shall we? - you felt you were on the sick-n-wrong end of a urine specimen test gone horribly awry.

Of course, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration. But the truth is, the division between what many of us would lump into the fancypants beer pile versus mass-produced garbage is almost as linear as the division of the yeasts used to ferment the finished products. Around here (and please note that this whole rant is epicentered on a small stub of land poking precariously into the Pacific Ocean on the western coast of the United States), the roots of the problem are fairly clear - Industrial Revolution brewing practices allowed for mass market, roundly acceptable tasting lager beers that stormed easily back into the waiting and weak palates of the post-Prohibition age. It was only through cultish geekiness that ales made their way back onto the market, and with them, the badge of "craft" honor, the promise of "handmade" beers, made by people who "care", not like some insulting, artificial, machined nonsense wrought by assembly line machines. And it's a badge that ale has somewhat unfairly worn throughout this whole beer renaissance we're currently enjoying, one that has the unfortunate side effect of handicapping high quality lager beers' entries into the fray, and leaving us thirsty folks with a deeply divided selection. There are obvious exceptions: A handful of European imports manage to maintain a "premium" status, and some braver-than-I small breweries like Moonlight embrace the intricacies of cold-fermentation as part of their core mission. But in its current incarnation, the difference between which finger you stick out while hoisting a beer can still be split between the family lines. So while our host this month is looking for "lager love", even specifying "pilsners, light lagers, helleses" - beers that I would trade all the Anchor Steam (kind of a lager!) in the world for, were I on the proper continent - it's the kind of love that a beer geek like me, stuck out here on the edge of the Pacific Plate as I am, finds rather difficult to muster.

To the task at hand: Not to come off like a complete spoilsport, I looked around to see if there were any available subjects, but as it turns out, there aren't lagers of any sort to be found in our fridge, or our cellar, or floating in the melted ice of the old keg bucket in the garden, the most recent treasures to be enjoyed from abroad long gone. The nearest relative in the vicinity is a carboy of homebrewed imperial pilsner chortling dutifully away in the fridge in the garage, but that seems like exactly what our host is asking us to ignore for the time being: a lager in most obtuse sense, brashly American and odd and begging for attention and flirting with all the hallmarks of the extremitude that often go hand-in-hand with the nu-craft scene. I wonder, then, if this can even be counted as a true Session post (see, there's that subversive streak again), as there's no tasting notes to comment on here. No cheap cans of beer around to stage for perverse portrait photos, no desire to crack open my wallet to bring some into the house, just some silly little metal frame built for shoving it up some poor poultry's ass.

In other news, my two-year-old has recently taken up the hobby of digital photography (hence the leading image in this post). I only mention this as in case someone's thinking of making the April topic "Lite and lo-carb beers: How freaking awesome are they or what?!" or some such crap, I'll be posting a gallery of her recent work in silent protest.

The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. This month's party is being hosted by The Beer Nut. For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston's handy guide. You can also follow folks' entries on twitter by searching for posts marked with the #thesession hashtag.


Friday, February 06, 2009

Session #24 - The trouble with tripels

"I try to be a good beatnik, but it's hard." - Del Close

I wished I loved, without prejudice, all Belgian ale styles equally and unabashedly. The seemingly bottomless well of variety in the Belgian brewing tradition is, after all, one of its great attractants. Here, in a country smaller than Maryland, one can literally lose oneself in the crisscrossing mazes of traditional styles and groundbreaking innovations, is where countless folks find their first true appreciation of the diversity and depth that the seemingly simple act of brewing beer can provide, myself included.

Occasionally, though, on foisting upon a guest a squat, thick-stemmed snifter of vaporous, glowing ale, bronzenly tinted by a mysterious alchemy of malts and gifted with an aromatic cloud rich with yeasty spices, along with the inviting introduction, "c'mon, then, try it, it's Belgian", the retreating recipient's reply comes back like a reflex: "Sorry, but I rather don't like sweet beers". So goes the uphill battle of beer ambassadorship. There is, in some circles, a stigma or unknown origins, about the relative sweetness of the Belgian beers, one that in light of their jaw-droppingly wide variance, continues to astound me.

And while I'd prefer to believe that their exposure to Belgian brewing is limited to being suckered into sampling some fruity, saccharine-laced bastardization of a lambic or some monastically-themed "abbey ale" of questionable quality, I have to admit that the truth is often harder to face: I honestly find a large proportion of the highly vaunted golden ales brewed with an eye towards the great Trappist tradition unappetizingly sweet. There, I've said it.

I don't particularly care for tripels.

And it's not just the level of sweetness - one that tends to cut through the mouthfeel thanks to the lack of other sensory obstacles, a generally low bitterness level, and an extremely minimalist malt profile - it's the kind of sweetness that keeps me from reaching back for multiple tastes, a type of sweetness that folks often liken to tropical fruits like pineapple and mango, a result of a ton of white sugar (up to 25% of the fermentables, if my memory serves) being chewed up by a distinctive family of yeasts. It's a sweetness, along with a commonly overpowering level of carbonation, that sets my lizard brain into alert mode, warning me of the easy potential for a nasty headache and my stomach in search for something bitter to get it settled.
"with laagje slagroom or ice-cold yet never only because... all gnomes are enraged."

Thankfully, as it's likewise impossible to categorize and classify the whole of Belgian brewing, it's impossible to categorize and classify the entries in the world's field of tripels. This one's different (and one I've already noticed as the subject of a few other Session posts).

Once upon a great rare while, a particularly crazy bunch of artisanal brewers from the gnome-infested forests of the Ardennes comes west to sample what some other Europeans may have dismissed as one-dimensional and harsh, the hop-driven ales of the new craft brewing movement in America, and, returning to their candlelit tree-trunk hovels to lazily rock in a chair by the pot-bellied stove with a tumbler of Chouffe Coffee on ice, look back at those foreignly bitter concoctions with a bleary sort of fondness. That's exactly when something like this happens: the Houblon Chouffe IPA Dobbelen Tripel, an idea wrought of (apparently) enraged gnomes, aggressive hops, and a palate willing for the none-too-sweet.

Emboldened by a liberal use of Amarillo, Saaz, and Tomahawk hops (a gnome with a tomahawk, an image sure to haunt my dreams now), this is more of a loopy mash-up of a beer than anything else, a curious dance between American and Belgian styles that, interestingly, predates a lot of the US takes on the Belgo-American hybrid. There's an apparent bready yeastiness to this one, and a slight minerally sharpness that reminds me of one of the other tripels I do enjoy, Chimay's Cenq Cents. And the hops, while not nearly as muscular as you'd likely find in a stateside iteration, provide an enjoyable interplay that livens up a style that I (in weaker times, long ago, before I knew any better) have dismissed as vaguely dull and one-dimensional. There's almost a farmhouse level of grassy earthiness, too, far removed from the pristine cleanliness of some other examples I've experienced, and a finish that's brighter and sharper than the creamy, dull, hyper-effervescent lingering that also seems to follow the ones I have a harder time appreciating. But is it then really a tripel? Says so on the bottle, so I'll take it.

And share it with my wife I did, per David's instructions, but lamely and distractedly didn't gather her impressions. Such is the way it is, finding oneself discussing things other than beer once in an odd while.

With that, I think it's only appropriate to once again pull this old chestnut off the shelf for some deep listening. Be sure to play this next time you're in the presence of a Chouffe, just to get the full effect. Enjoy.

The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. This month's party is being hosted by David at Musings Over a Pint. For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston's handy guide. You can also follow this month's entries on twitter by searching for posts marked with the #thesession hashtag.


Friday, January 02, 2009

The Session #23 - In with the new

90-Minute IPA became my cooking buddy in 2008
It was recently announced that Dogfish Head and BeerAdvocate had teamed up to collaborate on a special "extreme" beer, to be brewed in preparation for February's Extreme Beer Fest in Boston, MA. In my mind, there's nothing more telling about the state of affairs in the beer world (and as a reflection on all of our situations in general) that this literal icon of extreme-ness-osity, coming from a brewery most famous for it's 20% alcohol (that's 40 proof, and nearly twice as strong as the wine we've got in the fridge) 120-Minute IPA, and a ratings publication with a top 100 list dominated by strong beers, imperial stouts and the like, typically exceeding 10% alcohol, this juggernaut of in-your-face Amerigasm full-throttle brewing ferocity, one spiked with ingredients such as chestnuts, green peppercorns, and Korean corn tea (aka "Oksusu-cha"), is going to rock your extreme socks at the tune of 8% alcohol by volume. Now I'm not saying that abv is the measure of beer extremitude, nor am I saying that this is a harbinger of the "year of the session", but it does hint to the fact that 2009 for everyone, everywhere, with almost everything, will be the year of scaling back.

Here, 2008 was a year of virgin tastings - many, many tastings - of some of the most hyped, expensive, storied, and exciting beers we've had the chance to experience. There was, in no short order, gluttony and excess. No expense was spared in getting sips of some legendary stuff, and for the most part, no expense was spared in keeping the home stocked with so much top shelf ale that each week presented a foray into as yet unexplored tastes. Of course, it didn't hurt that we got some new beers distributed to the area, along with some new places to buy it, and some new friends to share them with. But 2009 promises to be very, very different. Gluttony, for sure, if that's possible to achieve amidst modesty and restraint.

Like I said before, "scaling back" looks to be the big theme for 2009. But that's not really a fair answer to this month's Session, one that asks "what do you expect will excite you most?" Hard to truly muster excitement in the face of the Awesome Depression with a mortgage statement in one hand and a toddler in the other. That said, it's exciting to foresee a return to the simple, earthy, daresay mundane aspects of the beer experience. Reminding oneself that the act of making beer is only one step away from making bread. Homebrewing. Drinking locally, seasonally. Simple pints, well poured. This looks to be a year stepping outside the din of the auditorium of hardcore beer geekdom, buzzing with its one-off specialties from Calvados barrels, heraldry of its curious obscurities from far-off lands, under a blanket of noise from excessive hops, coffee, barrels, spices, and mystery. Once the tinnitus has finally cleared, we'll most certainly be wandering back in.

2009 will be a great year, but a great year tempered by uncomplicated lucidity. Here's hoping I can compose intelligent commentary in the absence of snifters of 22% alcohol, tobacco-infused Italian handcrafted ale. (Just in case, I have, behind a plate of glass marked "in case of emergency", a bottle of Isabelle Proximus. Just in case, like I said.) To what's next, cheers.

The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. This month's party is being hosted by Beerme at Beer and Firkins. For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston's handy guide.


Friday, December 05, 2008

The Session #22 - Repeal, lather, rinse, repeal

First off, happy Repeal Day. I'm sick (and tired!) and the likelihood that my writing wouldn't dismally reflect that fact at the moment is nil. In that spirit, three cheers for brevity and incongruous Nyquil-inspired blathering. Thoughts on what Prohibition means us, the beer blogging public, asks Shaun of the aptly named 21st Amendment Brewery wants to know. Simply:

- It's a great reminder of the power your own government has to take away something you may have always considered a right, especially when emboldened by the force of "the better good." Don't ever think that something (ahem!) could never happen in the cultural clime you reside in. Don't get lazy thinking that there's enough common sense in the world that you can rest on your laurels.

- It's likewise a reminder that no matter what, the word "repeal" still holds some cachet. We can still use it.

- It's a litmus for how misguided and misbegotten our legislature can become, and how that reflects some of the deeper issues in our society's ideological fabric. Through cultural movements such as, on one hand, the Amethyst Initiative, and on the other hand, Prohibition, it's clear that the American view on alcohol is dangerously contradictory, a virtual psychic minefield of ethical paradoxes that, from a European view, for example, sometimes seems like something out of a fantastical Douglas Adams situation.

- Had Prohibition succeeded, Pfiff! would never have been born. And with it, likely the entirety of the Internet. And, quite possibly, you.

There will likely be deeper, more well-formed thoughts on the topic in the round-up, certainly. So with that, I'll just leave you with this, a line from an essay about a pub in Britain from 1946 that has a strange lot to do with the noble experiment with which we're occupied today:
"And though, strictly speaking, they are only allowed in the garden, the children tend to seep into the pub and even to fetch drinks for their parents. This, I believe, is against the law, but it is a law that deserves to be broken, for it is the puritanical nonsense of excluding children —and therefore, to some extent, women—from pubs that has turned these places into mere boozing-shops instead of the family gathering-places that they ought to be." - George Orwell
The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. This month's party is being hosted by the great city and county of San Francisco's very own 21st Amendment Brewery. For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston's handy guide.


Friday, November 07, 2008

The Session #21 - Savor it, the favorite

So what's your favorite beer? Your favorite band? Really? And your favorite color? Favorite animal? Favorite imported washed rind cow's milk cheese? Anyone who gets as rankled as I do by questions like these, ones which are supposed to reveal something deeper within the psyche of the answerer will appreciate this complete, pathetic, groan-inducing cop out: My favorite beer is the one that's in front of me. (Have fun with that one, therapists.) Cliché as it is, there are doubtless going to be about a dozen other smartasses taking part in this month's Session that have prepared the same answer (if they don't say "the next new beer I try"). But how many of them have such a pungent distaste for judging that they've never written a formal beer review in the manner so lovingly embraced by the BJCP and those much maligned beer review websites? Unfortunately, our host this month has asked us all to play along nicely, so that's what we'll be doing.

Now then, what's in front of me? Aha! It appears to be a N'Ice Chouffe from the good folks in the Ardennes, they with the kind garden gnome brewing assistants and bitchin' theme songs. Feel free to listen along as you read the review (you'll have to provide your own crackling fire and snoring dog sound effects).

For those of you new to the BJCP school of beer reviews, here's a quick summary of how this works. You're asked to break down the components of appearance, aroma, taste and mouthfeel, and then add an overall impression weighting to balance your score. The rub, of course, is that your impressions need to be reflected off the official guidelines that are outlined in the BJCP book. How accurate those guidelines are is a pretty hotly contested topic. And on top of that, as beers seem to be getting stranger every day (more on that later), the less useful the whole system appears. While I don't disparage the honing of one's critical faculties, there's just so much more to tasting than this white labcoat approach. Furthermore, while it misses out on the enormous influences of a more holistic, experiential tasting experience, it also manages to suck a bit of the soul and (for me at least) all the fun out of it. But I digress...

That said, let's do this thing:

What's it called? Exam Beer: N'Ice Chouffe Limited Edition 2007

What kinda beer's that? Subcategory: Belgian Christmas ale as brewed by small, subterranean earth elementals.

Anything weird in it? Special Ingredients: Thyme, curaçao peel, dark "candy-sugar". That's right, folks, I said thyme.

Check it out... Bottle Inspection: Looks fine to me. A little too closed and full of beer for my tastes, but that's easily remedied.

No, really. Appropriate size, cap, fill level, label removal, etc.: 750mL, filled to the brim and topped with a crown. Silk-screened label. Next.

Sniff it! Aroma (as appropriate for style) (out of 12) Comment on malt, hops, esters, and other aromatics: Wait, "as appropriate for style"? I didn't know there was a "thyme-infused artisanal Belgian Christmas ale as brewed by elves and/or fairies" style. There certainly ought to be. Smells heavily of punky dried fruits, sweet date and raisin and grape and a hint of pineapple and another hint of earthiness. Must be the gnome factor. No apparent hops. 10.

Look at it! Appearance (as appropriate for style) (out of 3) Comment on color, clarity, and head (retention, color, and texture): It's a dark, slightly murky brown. Looks like dirt. Gnomey! 3.

Give 'er a sip! Flavor (as appropriate for style) (out of 20) Comment on malt, hops, fermentation characteristics, balance, finish/aftertaste, and other flavor characteristics: Tastes pretty darn great. Oh, you want more? REALLY darn great. With a cherry on top. 20.

Mouthfeel (as appropriate for style) (out of 5) Comment on body, carbonation, warmth, creaminess, astringency, and other palate sensations: Highly carbonated, warming and sticky. Leaves the palate clean but only after after some subtle coaxing, like by yawning, suggesting we had to get up early for work in the morning, noting the time... 4.

And now feel free to skew the results to your personal prejudice. Overall Impression (out of 10)

Comment on overall drinking pleasure associated with entry, give suggestions for improvement: Suggestions for improvement? Sounds dangerous. What happens to people in fairy tales when they try to tell gnomes what to do? I'm not terribly sure, but it's apt to be something particularly nasty, probably involving tiny arrows made out of pine needles and acorn catapults and poisonous mushroom-tipped porcupine quill spears. No thank you. 10.

Tally ho. Total (out of 50) 47!

Clinical, no? That was exhausting. And it involved math. I can't wait to enjoy a beer again. Hope you enjoyed this introduction to the judging techniques of a certified beer judge, as it's more than likely the last time you'll see it referenced here...

The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. This month's party is being hosted by Matt at A World of Brews. For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston's handy guide.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

The Session #20 - Peculier, isn't it?

There's an amazing array of microclimates in the Bay Area, thanks mostly to curious geography, a dramatic maritime influence, and an alternating of coolness and hot air from the legions of fixed-gear bike riders. Within minutes upon crossing the Golden Gate bridge, for example, it's not uncommon for the temperature to swing by twenty degrees, especially in the summer, when the supreme fog-producing power of the Marin Headlands and Golden Gate Park gets into high gear, beating back the waves of heat rolling in from the Central Valley with a tenacious soup of dampness so incarnate that folks mistaking it for rain is easily forgiven.

Outside of the grasp of the fog, which makes itself at home nearly year-round, erasing any semblance of passing seasons, the world carries on as usual. Having spent the majority of my life under that cozy blanket of gray gravy, though, the past four years living out on its periphery have been somewhat enlightening (summer hot! winter cold!) if not also tinged with nostalgic longings for such simple things, like wearing black year-round, never really needing sunglasses, and subsisting on a diet solely based on comfort food.

Having a perilously iffy memory, I hadn't actually intended on participating in this round of the Session, but thanks to an unlikely convergence (and I guess that's how memory works, anyway) of this image, along with the strangely unseasonable (if not entirely uncommon in these parts) appearance of my old friend Boss Fog crawling westward through the trees, having clamored over Nicasio Ridge, wading through the forest of Geronimo Valley, and finally pushing past White Hill down into the Ross Valley, up into the cuffs of my shirt and the legs of my pants, that old familiar chill down in the bones that led Mark Twain to not make make mention of it, I was struck by the realization that I can't imagine enjoying a Theakston's Old Peculier without the lingering visage of Mario's Bohemian Cigar Shop in North Beach, nor the accompaniment of a fine, fat, Italian sausage sandwich on grilled focaccia.

The same place where I first experienced Ommegang, early in my awakening love for yummy beers, Mario's is an unassuming joint in a neighborhood thick with unassuming joints, not a "beer" place by any means, nor a destination diner truly worthy of the commute it would take me to get there now by virtue of its offerings alone. There is the endless procession of the fantasy fishbowl provided by the foot traffic of Washington Square, there is the seemingly always available window seat from which to view it, and there are the tiny tables at which voices can get close and quiet and conspiratorial, all at the expense of those unknowing tourists and troublemakers out there on Columbus Ave.

A dark, different, yet easily quaffable beer that stands up kindly to the thickest Sunday gravy, Old Peculier was a great introduction to the concept of dark, robust old-slash-strong ales in the British tradition, a far cry from the stouts and porters of the Pacific Northwest. Not surprisingly, it's also quite at home when set in front of a monochrome backdrop of vaporous, gooey fog. The tinges of nostalgia kicked in when I saw that image on my screen, while out the window to my right, the bay trees were disappearing into a gradual, erasing mist.

And now the real rain is closing in, which brings Eugene, Oregon back to mind, and along with it, many, many other beers. First one: Mississippi Mud. Busting open fake jugs with Alex while breaking my knuckles trying to crack John Hurt's fingerstyle code. Don't ask me why that one, and not one of the amazing, iconic brews of the region that impressed upon my palate so, helping to turn me into the snob I am today.

I think that about does it. There's really no narrative closing here. It's just a memory, after all. I'm just happy to know that my horrible inability to reminisce with clarity doesn't mean that with the right stimulus, a a place and a mood and a time in my life can be brought so quickly, whip-crackingly back into focus like that.

The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. This month's party is being hosted by Bathtub Brewery. For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston's handy guide.


Friday, September 05, 2008

Session #19 - Not just schwartz and weiss*

Because in the end, the transatlantic image of beer in Germany can be reduced to the image of a grinning Fraulein with a Halbe Maß of helles Lagerbier surrounded by Lederhosen-clad, tuba-wielding, fantastically-mustachioed Mensche. And to that end, lootcorp 3.0 isn't going to let us propagate that myth. More so, they'd like us, for this month's Session, to approach the topic of beer vis-à-vis Germany with the delicacy, thoughtfulness, insight, and wisdom that is the hallmark collection of attributes we ascribe to our lot, the beer blogger. Thus, no oompah jokes. No rolling out of barrels or any such sort. No Schuhplattler. Our duty is to strip away the weathered, simplistic facade of the Munich biergarten and provide a plain and simple informative reflection on the country's other, less marketed contributions to the world of brewing. Just the beer.
Awful, awful, awful beer. Make no mistake: Just because it's a country renowned for its storied association with the history of beer, a country famed for its reputed purity law, it's gargantuan drinking vessels, and a certain yearly celebration that begins with the letter O, that doesn't mean they're free from brown-bag level rotgut swill. Granted, it's swill that's been brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot, but swill all the same. And before you think this is an excuse to launch into some unflattering tirade, snarkily thumbing my nose at the country that brought us Salvator (even though it was made by Italians), allow me to explain that as a German myself (at least according to my passport), I have tremendous pride in knowing that behind all those glistening copper kettles and brewing institutes there's still a base-level, wretched pilsner for those who don't really want to taste what they're drinking, but can get a quantifiable (5.0%!) buzz all the same. And thanks to parents who found themselves waiting in the Frankfurt airport last month with little to do, we've gotten our hands on some beer that reflects the untold, seedy underground of German brewing.
And for those who dare to taste the untasteable? Well... Rather than clean up a translation of the text on the label, let's share this rough Googlization of 5,0's marketing spiel:
Only one black red yellow box! No elaborate embossed with gold! Only a simple design! No expensive TV advertising! This goes to savings you have! We have almost everything saved! Except in the quality after the German purity law! Ingredients: water, barley malt and hops! Put your money better! Pay less now for a good Pils without frills!
Charming, no? Especially the unintended rhyme at the end - definitely the way to go when they almost certainly bring this special brew stateside. As far as what's on the inside of this beguiling package, we did at least agree that it smelled German. Beneath a Budweiser acetaldehyde apple funk and within a few layers of cardboard, there it was - that classic noble hop sparkle of a Continental pilsner. But that was it. It was unsurprisingly watery, not particularly bitter or malty, with a finish that disappeared off the palate like a phantom. After combining it with a little bit of spicy food, it immediately took on the character of Corona. I needed to steady myself with a 90-Minute just to get through writing about it. Silver lining? Even the grubbiest of grubsteak German pils is actually not that bad. It would seem that there's something to be said about that much-maligned purity law in instances like this...

So there you have it. Enjoy reading others' stories of quaint kellerbiers and obscure eisbocks and the odd Ur-Bock. It's good to know that (besides a tidal wave of revolting alcopops) there's still a market for cheap, tasteless lager in the land that made lager great. Stereotype dismissed. But if there's one stereotype of Germany's beer culture that exists solely as a result of it's undeniable, awesome truth, it's this: There's an entire country of young, beautiful German girls who are totally into beer, and can't wait to hang out with you. They probably even want to talk to you about decoction mashing and hot side aeration while you loosen their dirndls! And thanks to strong genetic traits, they all look the same. It's a fact!

The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. This month's party is being hosted by lootcorp 3.0. For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston's handy guide.

* And please pardon the horrible pun.


Friday, August 01, 2008

The Session #18 - ...but once a year

Almost the definition of advertising cliché, "Christmas in July" is a post-Independence Day marketing assault that's inevitably leaked into the brewing communityin recent years. Chances are, alongside the car sales and outdoor furniture expos and everything! must! go! riding-mower clearances, there's invariably a booze dispensary near you pulling some leftover holiday wares out of their hopefully temperature-controlled back rooms and offering up a chance to indulge in some Bizarro World intoxication while they crank the AC and Bing to seasonally appropriate levels.
But for those of us who like to indulge in the creation of special, strong, spiced ales with that oh so holiday flair, there's no shame involved, since July is the perfect time to get the kettle out and start reminding ourselves what flavors go best with Contessas, as any good strong beer worth its gypsum salt is gonna need the next six months to shape up. For this month's Session, since we're talking about anniversary releases - once a year specialties that you'd otherwise only pop open for occasions of merit - we decided that it coincided quite fortuitously with the annual formulation of our holiday ale recipe, which we brew each year in early August . Along with formulating a recipe, of course, one must also do some tasting. And so we did. With glassware befitting the occasion, naturally.

(It's important to note that we're cheating a little bit here, pretending to ignore one of the subtler instructions for this month's Session: "a limited release anniversary beer from your favorite brewer homebrew stash.")

For a few years now, we've given out corked 750mL bottles of spiced Belgian ale to our worthy friends and family, and each year, thanks to some electronic goof or another, I artfully manage to misplace the recipe for the previous year's batch. So, I pour back over my notes, my shopping history, my dog-eared pages in Brew Like a Monk, and try to locate a old bottle of the stuff to sample in hopes it'll jog my memory. This time, we decided to go back two years, pulling the last of our 2006 bottles (of which I know there are some still floating out there, so if you're reading this, heed the warning below) and our second-to-last 2007 bottle. After dimming the lights, cleansing our palates, and getting Rock Band warmed up in lieu of the fireplace, we got down to work like it was the night before Christmas.

The '06 and '07 batches, while sharing identical ingredients in subtly altered proportions, turned out to be wildly different from each other when placed side-by-side. The '06 literally exploded as soon as the wire had been untied from the cork, yet stayed put in the bottle until it was ready to be poured. The '07, on the other hand, opened with a neatly clean pop, but devilishly tried to climb from the bottle in a steady cascade of foam once I'd set it aside to get the glasses ready. They were both similarly hued, with equally fluffy heads and generously effervescent, creamy mouthfeels, but that's where the similarities ended. I picked up on piles of black liquorice in the '06, whereas Des latched on to its grapey, coffee-ish qualities, ones we hadn't noticed when it was a younger bottle, while likening it to a less alcoholic Samichlaus. The '07, on the other hand, was more dubbel in character, reminding me initially of Ommegang, with strong, yeasty esters, and a brown sugar flavor that wrapped around the figgy maltiness that typically accompanies the style. Interestingly, any hints of the original spice additions would be nearly impossible to single out by name, which, as far as I'm concerned, is exactly the way it should be: The nearly imperceptible hops are replaced by a certain "spiciness" that offsets the malt, but it's an ambiguous enough effect that it lends to some fun guessing.
Just kidding about those boots.

They are, in the end, beers that so strongly reflect the sentiments of the holidays they're like liquid fruitcakes, which makes tasting them while your legs are still sore from waterskiing a bit of a contradictory experience. But, alas, these are the dilemmas we homebrewing beer blogger types must confront. So, without futher ado, here's the plucky little phoenix that arose from the tasting notes we gathered last night: a hastily drawn and perilously unchecked recipe for our 2008 holiday ale. Enjoy.

The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. This month's party is being hosted by The Barley Blog. For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston's handy guide.

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Session #17: Rounding it up

Time to repay you all for your patience. For your enjoyment, here's an annotated guide to the entries for this month's Session. Despite the fact that our American beer-writing brethren were busy shooting bottle rockets at each other in Belgian beer-fueled revelry, folks still made time to pull off their bbq mitts and bang out some Session posts in response to the topic broached last month, around the time of the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.

The responses - 2831, at last count - fell into three distinct categories which could be summed up thusly: those who thought the question was bollocks, those who thought the question was bollocks but figured cracking open a stout would appease the Session gods, and those who humored me by admitting a certain fondness for the unorthodox beer out of season, for one reason or another (or none, like me).

The "eff off" crew, which ironically followed what the topic was about by doing their own thing regardless of expectations:

Lew Bryson of Seen Through a Glass comes right out calling me a geek, says "Screw that," and proceeds to play the topsy-turvy game by "going to a brewpub owned by Englishmen and drinking English-type real ales brewed on an English-made system with English yeast" on the Fourth of July. Brilliant.

Al at Hop Talk was about to call me on my bluff, but then it started raining.

Amy, author of Brewing Battles, says "Forget you, I'm having a panache." To which I say, "A what?"

The "I'm sorry, honey, but this dude from San Francisco totally told me I had to pull some strong aged stuff out of the cellar and write it up instead of doing the dishes," taking one for the team crowd:

Stephen Beaumont on his That the Spirit blog calls me on my bluff, throws all caution to the wind and literally tests out the paradox of drinking anti-seasonally, to a zydeco soundtrack, nonetheless.

Matthew from Southern Suds hits a Baltic porter that starts with a letter that's really hard to find on your keyboard - but does it! - in a day-end review, capping a beach outing of toeing the line with pilsners and weissbiers to avoid drawing any unwanted attention.

Keith at Brainard Brewing takes his chance on the soapbox to try to inform the world of the existence of Bigfoot. With decent success, mind you.

Bill at Beerjanglin' then doubles up on his round, not only extolling the graces of Bigfoot, but gives some thought to the somewhat debate-prone Triple Bock.

Jon at The Brew Site heeds the call of what appears to be an owl possessed by Satan and digs deep, real deep, into the pumpkin patch of autumnal ale.

The Beer Nut swings the bat at a weird Belgian bock in hopes for anti-seasonally-ing the rest of the crew, but winds up finding himself a little let down.

Ray at The Barley Blog heard the call, and heeded it, in one simple syllable: stout.

Steph at reminds us that stout's not just a syllable, it's dessert, too.

Melissa at Bathtub Brewery cuts straight to the business and goes on a total stout rampage, going so far as to suck Steph into her vortex of blackness.

Ted at Barley Vine then ups the ante on the stout game, turning the volume up to XS! (That doesn't mean "extra small.")

Tim at Sioux Brew also played "stout drinking lab rat" for an evening and subjected himself to a phenomenal brew, for the sake of science.

Bill Brand, via his What's on Tap blog, uses the opportunity to write a (scoop?) review of Stone’s 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, paired nicely with - I hope this isn't a typo - "grilled roast beer."

Rick at Lyke to Drink reminds us that behind ye olde stouts lie the malty underworld of scotch and doppelbock...

On top of that, there was an unquestionable "Christmas in July" mood that swept the group, with both Shawn "The Beer Philosopher" over at the Aleuminati and Boak of Boak and Bailey's cracking open some special something somethings that were by all means certainly meant to be enjoyed in a yuletide way (something I plan on doing tomorrow as well, my kindred brethren).

The "no sudden movements, keep smiling, and Rob will eventually go away" folks:

A kindred spirit, Mario from Brewed for Thought fired up similar barbecue-driven images, evoking "burning meat on an open fire...roasted meats, dusted in charcoal and a thick smoky BBQ sauce," finding a perfect companion in his favorite stouts and browns.

Loot over at thinks brewing and drinking seasonally is too fun to quit, but too cedes in the presence of the almighty 'cue.

Joe from Beer at Joe's shows the world exactly what July in San Francisco looks like, for those of you who don't believe us about the grayness, and does it in true style with what appears to be the gourmet's version of an Egg McMuffin and one of the greatest Belgian-style stouts in the world.

Jay at the Brookston Beer Bulletin traces the history of seasonality in brewing, and thus beer drinking, ending at the cul de sac known as HVAC circle, allowing for barleywine, anytime.

Rob at Sophisticated Brews comes right out and name-checks two of my all-time favorite beers in an undisguised bid for my eternal admiration. And I haven't tried the third one he'd mentioned, yet...

David from Musings Over a Pint admits what I fear may be my own weakness, the continual appreciation of a "big a quiet friend who will sit and 'just be there' while you relax and wind down from the day's activities," even while I'll equally admit that a "day's activities" for me might just be, um, "tasting beer."

Matt at Flossmoor Station Brewing Co. describes what could only be thought of as the Bizarro world of beer-drinking environments... those where you do not drink beer!

Meanwhile, the completely unrelated Matt at A World of Brews admits that even the rotation of the Earth, the gravitational pull of the Sun, and a good day of lawnwork cannot sway him from a love for IPA.

Wilson at Brewvana is apparently drinking the same Kool-Aid that's flowing around here, indulging himself in an appropriately-titled Dark Beer Summer.

Jon at Beer Obsessed admits that if it weren't for the fact that there's no such thing as summer in North Berkeley, he'd be cracking open sixers of Czech pils in no time. But since it's freezing...

Christina at Beer for Chicks goes for the gusto by admitting, against all odds, compromising her professional integrity, a disgusting, filthy truth.

Alan at A Good Beer Blog then goes and makes mention of skinny dipping with Christina in a way that makes me feel kinda funny.

And lastly, Troy at Great Canadian Pubs and Beer writes up a self-effacing yet perfectly solid post that features none other than the great, mysterious smoke monster objectified in my own post on the subject.

Phew! Be sure to check The Barley Blog for the next Session announcement, as Ray will be hosting our next meeting on Friday, August 1st. Thanks all, for the excellent entries!

The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. If you contributed a post but don't see it above, that means it was likely devoured by my email client's spam filter, so feel free to comment to this post so that I can amend the roundup. For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston's handy guide.


Friday, July 04, 2008

The Session #17 - Embracing oppression

In the realm of wine and food pairing, one of the elements that's taken into consideration when marrying the two is whether or not your aim is to complement characteristics of both - matching a Sauvignon blanc with prosciutto-wrapped melon, for example - or, instead, to provide an exciting contrast between them - like pairing a citrusy Chardonnay with shrimp that had been tossed in olive oil and garlic. Either way, the aim is to produce a third, almost ghostlike taste impression that hovers between the two like one of those Magic Eye pictures, or that finger sausage thing you may have done in grade school: In one case, you've conjured up an übermelon via playing up a highlight quality of both the wine and the food; in the other case, the two work together to create, in a sense, a third, new dish, with the acid from the wine cutting into the oil in the same way that adding a lemon would contribute a bright new dimension.

In beer terms, one could argue that we've all been trained to pair our choices in regards to the contrast they provide, with our environment as the other variable. Think, for example, if instead of being inundated (but oh, there are worse ways to be inundated!) with "winter warmers" during the cold months, you were presented with beers that actually reinforced the chill - say, light, pale lagers served at near-freezing temperatures. Madness, you say. Those of you who stuck around to talk some sense into me would probably then note that the bevy of robust, complex, and yes, warming ales that make themselves at home amidst sunless hours of winter do more than ward off the effects of Jack Frost: they also pair much better with the rich comfort foods of the season. Take, for example, porters with endlessly-cooked stews, Belgian dubbels with slow-roasted root vegetables, and doppelbocks with the seasonal depression-lifting power of chocolate. It could be said, then, that while the beer styles that we traditionally associate with wintertime are in contrast with the weather, they do, however, complement the cuisine (which doesn't get much more literal than the sharing of spices between traditional European Christmas cookies and Christmas beers).

Which brings us to the present, at which we northern hemisphere-dwellers have just passed the opposite solstice, and along with it, summer and its litany of pale, light-bodied, lawnmower-friendly, 6-pack just ain't enough you gotta buy 'em by the halfrack, "you done with that? I'm gonna stick it up this chicken's butt", enough with the wheat already, "I like mine with lime", but undeniably refreshing seasonal offerings. Which I can understand on many levels, even while pretending to ignore the fact that summer in San Francisco is, well, you know... (It makes even more sense now that I live just far enough outside of the grip of the maritime weather phenomenon that we can watch the fringes of the eagermost tendrils of fog creep threateningly into view over the coastal ridge, only to be vanquished by the righteous dry heat of the proper emperor of the season, a complete stranger to those of us who grew up in the City, the sun.) And certainly, the suggestion that one would enjoy a nice, warmed goblet of Quelque Chose after rounding the bases after a few midday innings would invite some to examine my sanity. Don't worry: I get it.

So there's your weather-based contrast, right? Cold out: warming beer. Hot out: cooling beer. If the above equation were to work, then you would assume that the cooling beer would be in line with summertime cuisine by complementing it. But for me, summer means barbecue, and that's where the math breaks down: A kickass barbecued meal almost always deserves a more thoughtfully chosen beer pairing than your run-of-the-mill (by which I mean "premium" or "select", naturally) fizzy yellow stuff. In order to truly complement the sweet, spicy, smoky, greasy and oh-so-carcinogenically-good experience of the grill, I find I have to dig a little deeper into my fridge to make the pairing really sing.

The idea for this Session came to me as the days began getting longer and warmer, the produce at the farmer's market began to shift into high summer mode, and the thought of doing any cooking inside of a house that was breaking 90° was unimaginable. With the primordial call of the beast sounding a low rumble from my outdoor altar, I quickly noticed that even the summer seasonals I most look forward to, alongside all the usual suspects of wits, saisons, and geuezes, weren't really clicking. When I found myself, delirious from the heat, sweating, panting, and paralyzed from trying to not exert any effort while lying prone in front of an enormous shop fan, desperately craving a Gulden Draak, I knew it might be something to investigate here.

And so, a quick set of pairings with some otherwise unethical choices for summertime beer enjoyment which play into the hands of the season, embrace the inevitable, celebrate the circumstance, and fight fire with fire:

Strong, pale, and bitter: Anyone who's desperately searched for a remedy to the scorching spice and piquancy of a skewer of classic grilled Creole shrimp would be wise to reach for a West Coast style IPA like those from Lagunitas, Bear Republic or Stone that can both temper the heat through its citric acidity, crisp effervescence , and capiscum-soluble alcohol, while asserting its own aromatic spice character to elevate the subtler flavors in the shrimp seasoning that might've gotten lost amidst the burn. Of course, it's even more effective if you reach for a double IPA, instead...

Strong, dark, and bitter: Roasted malts? Astringent blackness? Add to that the hints of smoke and coffee you get from an imperial stout like North Coast's Old Rasputin and you've got a nice foil for that hunk of evil, charred beef (or tempeh!) that you're planning on piling up with a blue cheese and chili dressing. And when you turn to your cabernet-sucking tablemates, "How much more black could this be?", they'll be forced to answer: "None. None more black."

Strong, pale, and sweet: Belgian strong golden ales and tripels aren't your only choices here, as some German winter specialties also kinda fit the description (southern hemisphere friends, you're in luck!) such as Weltenburger's Winter-Traum, but few of them match the devilishly innocent-looking Belgians, like Delirium Tremens, in complexity and richness, or their ability to stand up to a fat and pungent bacon burger with Gorgonzola cheese, where the bready yeast aroma complements the bun, the slight sweetness works with the caramel flavors in the meat, and the extreme carbonation and dry finish help clean the fats from the palate.

Strong, dark and sweet: Not that I ever need an excuse to venture into the deep end, it would be easy for me to dedicate a book of sestinas to the food pairings one could achieve with high-alcohol, dark ales such as the aforementioned Gulden Draak and its Belgian kin, barleywines, and old ales. Instead, let's keep this one simple and perfect: pulled pork sandwiches with a wee heavy scotch ale like Orkney's SkullSplitter. The sweet smokiness of the pork gets a leg up by this island concoction's tireless malt backbone for a truly coma-inducing umami richness.

Hopefully, none of the above pairings would appear disastrously ill-conceived. Alongside the rich, sweet, and spicy flavors one typically associates with memorable bbq, there belongs a comparable set of rich, sweet, and spicy beers. Divorced from the food they're meant to adjoin, though, the selections of a double IPA, imperial stout, Belgian strong golden, and scotch ale seem like ludicrous choices for the perfect summertime quaff. Granted, it doesn't entirely explain why while being punished by these inhuman conditions, I'd be craving a perilously wicked black Belgian strong ale that's nearly as alcoholic as Riesling and demands a loaf of bread and a chaser of water just to avoid feeling overwhelmed, but maybe, deep inside, I enjoy embracing the oppression of this relatively new experience of a summertime distinguished by heat, sun, and fire, rather than this.

* The image at top is for decoration only. I do not endorse or condone the drinking of Bamberg's rauchbier without the supervision of an adult who can, after you've had a sip, remind you that you asked for it.

The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer, which just so happens to be hosted this month by yours truly. If you've got a post of your own that you'd like to add, either email me at or comment on this site so I can include it in the roundup tomorrow. For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston's handy guide.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Reminder! The Session this Friday, born on the...

Fourth of July, y'all. Pocket those cherry bombs for a precious few moments, thus forever preserving those delightful digits of yours, and tippity-type your entry for this Friday's carnival. Either email me at or comment on this post to get your writings in Saturday's roundup!

The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston's handy guide.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Announcing Session #17 - Going Against the Grain Bill: Solstice Edition

Up here in the Northern hemisphere, we're fast approaching the summer solstice, when the sun opts to beat down on us for as long as possible, and the marketing eye of brewing's Sauron becomes firmly targeted on light, easily quaffable, lawnmower beers, which we're all supposedly to dumbly chug down after demonstrably wiping our brows with the brim of the sweat-beaded can (cuz it's hot!) while wearing our mothball-scented aloha shirts and comically over-sized, personalized suede bbq mitts. (I'm likewise certain the same spell is being cast on you all down in the Southern hemisphere, but I can't even begin to imagine what they're trying to sell you at the moment.)

Granted, this sounds fun for about a minute. But before too long, we all like to duck out of view and follow our true (beer-related, please) desires, despite how unconventional it may seem to the general populace. Now's your chance to enlighten the rest of the world on what they might be missing.

The subject for July's Session could be summed up thusly: Drinking anti-seasonally. Think of this as the unorthodox cousin of such topics as "beer and food" and "beer and music". Beer and weather, perhaps? More like beer despite the weather, I guess. Cracking open a Guinness on the beach, finishing a day of yardwork with a Speedway Stout, or whatever else you do that raises an eyebrow (again, beer-related, please), do us all a favor and take a few moments to share your non-conformist tale (again, you kangaroos and lemurs down there, your take on this could be even more peculiar, so do chime in, please).

To join this upcoming hullabaloo, you'll want to post your entry to your blog on Friday, July 4, and let me know either by email () or by commenting either to this post or to the inevitable follow-up reminder.

The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston's handy guide.


Friday, June 06, 2008

The Session #16 - Ach! to beer fests

Before we get started here, a big thanks first and foremost to Geistbear for hosting this month's Session in light of the wildly blossoming writer base that's created a round-up task that's anything but quick (and for a time-lapse history of that bloom, Brookston's been keeping tab). The topic at hand, what with summer's outdoor venues calling from the edge of weather's horizon, is the beer festival, a topic that reflects the evolution of this blogging carnival from its origins as a outlet for collectivized tasting notes, into some more embiggened notions regarding beer's cultural influence, its place in the world. Or at least, this time, its place in the world of jockey-boxes, teensy tasting glasses, overpriced sausages, and blues bands with groan-inducing punny names. So maybe it's only as cerebral as you want it to be.

Considering I haven't got a worldly experience in festing to share, you'd think there wouldn't be much material for me to work from. A few previous drafts of this post, ranging in the ballpark of 1,200 words or so, have been quietly filed away, proving that a true rambleholic like yours truly can spin garbage out of the most meager thread. These were overlong, achingly painful drafts that reminded me what kind of abhorrent writing can spawn from the queasy marriage of a little guilt and a little more bitterness. Perhaps I'll air that dirty laundry on some other slow news day, but today, while the sun is out and I'm wearing my cleanly optimistic underpants, we'll just turn the subject to a quick reflection of the closest event at hand, our quaint, charming, and undeniably local Fairfax Brewfest.

Why so blue?*

Despite what might outwardly appear as an unrestrained obsession with all things beer-related, I'm not hugely hot on the festing thing, and this is actually the sole event in honor of malty comestibles I've managed to attend more than once. And why not? Something tells me that if every small town had an annual festival held in the environs of a historic building with ample patio space, under some of the first sunshine of the early spring, where you could relaxedly catch up with the locals while gawking at the out-of-towners, grilled brat in hand, you might not even need the beer to make it worthwhile. Add a bottomless glass (which regrettably needs to be manually replenished every four ounces or so) to the equation, and it's nearly a sure bet.

Thing is, for all the boy-howdy charm you can rustle up at a festival of this microtude, the stuff that gets poured from all those soda kegs is more often than not identical to a really good local bottle & draught list, but that's not the point (and matters little considering those beers are, for the most part, pretty gosh darned good). Depending on the economic climate, anywhere between 15 and 20 breweries make their appearances with a handful of varieties each, generally within comfortable West Coast standards, mostly local-ish and absent of anything wickedly highbrow. The concept of gourmet grazing was born of foodie thinking, and while there are some snob points to be earned - doing side-by-sides of local IPAs, seeking out that secret hidden gem amidst the field of cloned pale ales - this is not the place to whip out the monocle and moleskin. Events such as the Fairfax Brewfest seem to be from a time before every party needed a theme, some self-validating motif that grants the attendees fair excuse to have a little fun for a change.

Fun, along with good, honest enjoyment of the act of drinking craft beer, seems to be a lesser sibling in the family of beer writing, alongside its more popular, extreme-sports brother, the brainy, Ivy League-bound, tweedy brother, and the exotic international exchange student. Another reason why each small town ought to host a similar event, where by the fourth or so taste of whoozit's pale ale, you notice yourself smiling stupidly despite of yourself, even when your kid's trying to grab your full glass out of your hand?

* Stupid manual exposure settings.

[Help me out here, though. When I dial down the snark-o-matic, is this even worth reading? Would you rather hear some poor schmuck on the soapbox about the pitiful luck a genuine beer enthusiast has at chancing upon anything awe-inspiring in terms of actual, honest to goodness, pure liquid beer at one of these things? No, no. I'm sorry, I digress. Back out into the sun.]

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