Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Whiskey in the Jar Can

There are a few names widely associated with innovation and special practices in beer. Fritz Maytag of San Francisco's Anchor Brewery, is generally accepted as the father of modern microbrewing. Pierre Celis almost single-handedly revitalized the Belgian style of Wit beer with Hoegaarden. Hell, I'll even throw Jim Koch on the pile for good measure, due to his doggedness in getting craftbeer distributed as widely as it is today. But now we're on the cusp of seeing another name join those beery ranks, but not necessarily because of beer, or rather only beer. In the U.S, we've seen beer and soda canned for 75 years, but Dale Katechis, canned beer revivalist and owner of Oskar Blues Brewery, has now set his sites on new liquid to be wrapped up in aluminum—whiskey.

That's right, Katechis is going to not only open a distillery in his original Longmont, Colorado brewery, but also, can rather than bottle the potent spirit in, get this, a "resealable" can. The plan is to distill the whiskey from spent brewing brewing grain and age it in oak barrels, before encapsulating the amber liquid. Along with the whiskey, Katschis also plans to make and can a tequila-like drink, made from agave, as well as rootbeer. Katschis told Tony Kindelspire, of the Longmont Times-Call, he has ordered a few stills and is going to experiment with them and "Play around with it — kind of like the way we do with special-batch beers."

Small-batch, craft whiskey, from a can. I gotta say, I didn't think I'd ever have the opportunity to type those seven words.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Absolute Absurdity

I've gotten myself into some hot water over at Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog. I must forewarn you that the argument that I've gotten into is one of the dumbest I've been in in a while, here's the gist: Let's debate the merits of a bar that doesn't exist.  Last week the duo-bloggers proposed an imagined pub that sells 99% beloved/maligned brown Bitter. This place has all the trappings of what one would expect from that sort of place. Hand pumps primed with, UK-borne, cask-conditioned real ale Bitter. Coolers, behind the bar are chock-full of more of the same, while tomes and volumes by the best British beer writers help educate the uninitiated.

Heineken? Fuck that shit!
Pabst Blue Ribbon!
A bar that only sells one kind of beer—the whole concept seems off to me. It appears to stem from British beer absoluteness. That word—"absolute"—is what caused all the hoopla, by the way. The absoluteness isn't wrong or bad, it's just, well, absolute. Actually, it's a matter of presentation—British beer should be served a certain way, look a certain way and taste a certain way. We don't have that rigidity in the U.S., a single-style pub just wouldn't fly here.

Or, would it?

Apparently, the Playidum Hotel, in where else but Brooklyn NY, is a canned beer only establishment. Not just any canned beer either—the old school stuff. The Playdium offers everything from the hipster's choice: Pabst Blue Ribbon, to Schaefer, Schlitz Gusto, Yeungling, and Piels, just to name a few. The big boys are available too, in Original Bud, Coors Banquet and Miller Highlife, but not in their "lighter" alter-ego form—or on tap. Everything is priced right as well—at $3.00 a can. There are a few exceptions to the can-only mantra of The Playdium, along with the numerous aluminum offerings, they also carry bottles of Mickeys' "Big Mouths" and 7 oz Rolling Rock "splits." Aside from the classic beer, The Playidum also boasts a pool table and a vintage shuffle board table.

So, I ask in the same words as Ms. Boak and Mr. Bailey—Does that sound like a nightmare, a dream or something in between? One caveat on that, though. It's one thing to stop by and have a PBR as a goof, but is this the kind of place you would frequent?

Now is your chance to prove me wrong... or hopefully right. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Series of Unexpected Beery Events

As much as I love beer, I'm not much of a beer "pursuer." Michael Jackson travelled to the end of the earth to find great beer, and that dedication earned him the nickname the Beer Hunter. I fall on the opposite end of the spectrum. While I might be as enthusiastic about beer as the good Mr. Jackson, I most often take the path of least resistance. In fact, I'm downright lazy. That's not to say I don't, occasionally, look for specific beer, I just don't look very hard. Saratoga Beer Week starts this upcoming weekend in Saratoga Springs. Honestly, I can't be bothered to go. Sure, I like beer fests, but they always seem like a hassle. I prefer to have beer just, well, just happen. But every once in a while the beery gods smile down on me, and this past Monday was one of those whiles.

Thank you Brattleboro Co-op.
Due to the President's Day holiday, I had the day-off, as did Amy, and we thought we'd take a day trip to Vermont. Just the two of us. We weren't looking for a romantic getaway, but more of a quiet car trip that didn't involve toy monster trucks and Barbie. We packed up the kids the night before and dropped them off at Grandma and Grandpa's house—slowing down just enough, so the kids could roll out without having to stop—and we were on our way.

Brattleboro was our ultimate destination, neither of us had been there, and the drive along Vermont's Route 9, through The Green Mountain National Park, is a pretty one. The trip out was pleasant, with the sun shining brightly through bear trees. The CR-V rolled along the winding road, following rocky streams that showed more river stone than water. We arrived in Brattleboro around 10:30 and proceeded to meander through the little city's downtown area. We trolled the antique shops, bookstores and outdoor outfitters, sipping coffee while the wind bit at our cheeks between stores. We were directed to Kipling's* on Elliot Street for lunch. Kipling's is a little pub that serves not only fantastic food, but great craft beer. Unexpected beery event one took place here. The chili cheese burger called to me, as did a malty Red Ale. Lyndonville, in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom (aka the Northern northeast part of Vermont) is home to Trout River Brewery, makers of Rainbow Red. Not only had I never had any of Trout River's beer, I've never even heard of them, and there's nothing like coming across a new beer to put a smile on my face. The sweet and fruity Red Ale was the perfect match to the beefy burger topped with gooey cheese and spicy chili. There was one, odd bit about Kipling's—It was right next door to McNeil's Brewery (which doesn't open until 4pm), but they didn't sell any McNeil's stuff. The bartender was more than happy to send us in the right direction as to where to acquire a bottle or two of McNeil's brew—and we walked, unknowingly, into unexpected beery event number twos' waiting arms.

Brattleboro has an edge to it, a hipster-enviro-stick it to the man, kind of vibe. What kind of happening place, like that, doesn't have a food co-op? I expected the Brattleboro Food Cooperative to have beer, but not the beer they had. They had the big, 22 oz bombers of McNeil's—in all their flavors, and I grabbed a bottle of Champ Ale and one of their Oatmeal Stout. But, of course they're going to have McNeil's, they're the home town brew. They also had an amazing selection of, not only Vermont craft beer, but craft beer from all over the country—everything from North Coast's Old Rasputin to, just about everything, Berkshire Brewing Company makes. I grabbed a six of Founders Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale and Green Flash West Coast IPA (both unavailable in New York) to go along with the McNeil's, and out the door we went.

The beautiful chaos that is the Man of Kent.
I have to disclaim that the last of the unexpected beery events was actually expected. On the way home, we stopped for dinner at the legendary pub, the Man of Kent Tavern, in Hoosick Falls, just inside the New York border. This place rates, in my mind, as one of the beeriest places in all of human civilization. The Tavern is eclectic to say the least. There's a fare amount of English pub fox-hounds-near-short-tailed-horses-ness, but there's also a crazy array of soccer jerseys, militaria, golf flags, beer paraphernalia—and anything else that could be held from a nail—dangling from the ceiling, like clothes drying in the breeze. It's almost amazing at the amount of things to look at. The Man of Kent exudes beer, it is nearly the perfect personification of what drinking beer is about. It's fun, it works at its own pace, its a little off center and it has amazing beer. The Man of Kent let me top off my day—a day spent with my wonderful wife—and nothing could have capped the day better that a crock of French onion soup, a grilled turkey and cheese sandwich and a pint of Fuller's London Pride—with a pint of Greene King's Abbot Ale for dessert.

That's how beer happens for me, and that's what I love about beer—its unexpectedness.

*Rudyard Kipling, Imperial Britain's go-to penman, built a house outside Brattleboro and lived their for a number of years, hence this pub's name

Thanks to for the pic of Man of Kent.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Good Night

All the dads out there raise your hands. Now, all the dads with kids under the age of five raise their hands.  How's he nightlife? If it's anything like mine, it involves brushing of teeth, changing of diapers and bedtime stories. Sure, I get the quick pint after work, but I almost never get out to the pubs and bars, of my pre-children days, at least not for any real length of time. I'm on year five of my pubby abstinence, but my friend Gravey has just stepped into his, with the birth of his beautiful daughter this past October. I'm guessing it's been three months since I've seen him, and far longer since we've grabbed a beer. Babies and beer can be a complicated juggling act, and so, self-restraint is the way of the responsible dad. This weekend, however gave us an opportunity. Monday was President's Day, which leads to a week off from school for both the kids and my teacher wife. Vacation weeks are always laid-back in my house—bedtime gets later, lots of pizza for dinner, and a general decompression happens. Vacation weeks are like one long Saturday afternoon. This destressing makes it easier, for me at least, to pop out in the evening for a pint. Capitalizing on this, Gravey and I hatched a plan.

Gravey and I both share a love of beer and we both, at one time, frequented Albany's Mahar's Public Bar. Like a lot of things in my life, Mahar's has been one of those things that, unfortunately, has had to fall by the wayside. Mahar's is one of the greatest beer bars in the country—I am not exaggerating this. Take a look at any number of "Best of Beer Bars..." lists, in fact Beer advocate rates it a 96 or in their eyes, world-class. Mahar's regularly has three to four cask beers on (from both the U.S. and the U.K.), nearly 30 taps and well over 100 different bottled beers—available at any given time. Although, in recent years, it has lost a little of its sparkle. It's become very popular, and is often crowded, and the service can be a bit on the abrasive side. With our run-around world and the less than ideal conditions, we both simply stopped going to the little blue pub on Madison Avenue. I think Mahar's proprietor, Jim Mahar, has also gotten tired of the Albany pubs' rat-race. Recently, he opened a second location in Castleton-on-Hudson, NY, a short 15-minute drive from downtown Albany. On a whim, that's where Gravey and I found ourselves on Saturday night. Two dads with a rare few hours to kill, in a place of freely-flowing cask Greene King IPA. 

Mahar's Castleton is a shabby little venue, and I say that with a smile on my face. It's wood paneled, with mismatched chairs and tables. There's a random selection of music that streams quietly through the place. A few beer engines are perched at the front of the bar, and behind it, black lacquered, glass-paned cabinets, hide bottles of almost every kind and flavor of beer from around the world. Groups of armchairs and benches are piled together, creating little reading nooks or conversation areas. There are no stools at the stubby bar; a bar that is festooned with brightly colored, flag-like bar towels, and an effigy of the La Chouffe gnome that peeks out at you from a mirror-backed shelf. While the decor is charming, albeit hodge podgey, and the atmosphere is the closest to a proper English Pub, I would imagine you could find in the States; what makes Mahar's Castleton really unique is Jim. He is the most curmudgeonly, cantankerous gentleman you'll ever meet. He'll tell you how it is, and if it's not that way, how it should be. Behind that gruff and callous exterior, lies the heart of a good man and a dyed-in-the-wool beer lover—the pub owner's pub owner. A night spent in Mahar's Castleton is like taking a trip back in time—to Mahar's Albany of 1999—to a time before the Albany pub had caught on, before the beer geeks and crowds, when it was just a quiet pub with amazing beer. Mahar's Albany may be the legend, but Mahar's Castleton is the man.

Gravey and I spent a few hours back in 1999, catching-up, talking about motorcycles, soccer, F1 and drinking pints of cream-topped IPA, pulled fresh from the cask. Saturday night was a good night.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Beer Here

Working at the New York State Museum I get the chance to do, and see, some really amazing things. I've held a fossil of the world's oldest tree, and have ridden on a WWII-era, M8 "Greyhound" armored car. I've seen ancient Clovis points, pottery shards, Mastodon tusks and some of the finest bronze sculptures produced throughout history. However, a few months ago, something extra-special happened. Craig Williams, a historian and curator at the museum, and Paul Mercer, a librarian in the Manuscripts and Special Collections unit of the New York State Library, asked if I would speak with a few folks about, Albany Ale and brewing in New York State. Never one to turn down the opportunity to talk about beer, I accepted.

Cheers to you, New York Historical Society.
It turns out, the two people I'd be speaking with were Nina Nazionale and Debra Bach of the New York Historical Society Museum & Library. Not only were they interested in New York's brewing history, they we're traveling to Albany to see what brewery ephemera and artifacts, both the State Museum and Library had, and were willing to loan, for their upcoming exhibition on the history of beer making, in primarily New York City, but the rest of the state as well.

I am very happy to announce that Beer Here: Brewing New York's History, opens to the public, on May 25, 2012. If you are anywhere near Manhattan between the end of May and and the beginning of September, please go check out this fun and exciting exhibit—I know I will!

Now, all I have to do is convince my bosses to do an exhibit on Albany Ale. I may have to ply them with beer.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

But, Where Are the Flying Cars?

This morning came across two articles about—THE FUTURE OF BEER (In my head that was said with a booming echo.) 

The first story comes, thanks to Max the Beer Philosopher, via Facebook. We all know that beer only needs four ingredients—water, malted barley, hops and yeast. All are relatively easy to grow, harvest or cultivate, and with those ingredients, beer making is a fairly simple process. But, it's the "malted" bit of "malted barley" that causes an issue—the malting process is expensive, and to make matters worse, there's a finite number of maltsters world-wide. Alex Goldmark of—an online and in-print magazine which comments on all things hip—found a Minnesotan brewer who figured out how to cut out the malty middleman. Get the whole story here—and thanks again to Max for finding the story in the first place. 

Yes! I knew it!
The second story came across my Google News feed. It focuses on beer's spicy friend the hop—specifically Oregon grown hops. Martin Cizmar, of Portland, Oregon's Willamette Week, reports on two Willamette Valley citizens who are trying to reinvigorate that area's hop industry. Gayle Goshie, a third generation hop grower, and Jim Sodberg, a Mark Cuban-esque, ex-Nike exec, have stared Indie Hops. The bulk of the hops grown in the U.S. are sold to the big boys of American brewers, but In 2008, after the AB-Inbev merger, Bud began looking to the, arguably, lesser quality, but definitely less expensive hops of Washington State's Yakima Valley. Who else uses hops? Craft brewers, and that's who Indie Hops has decided to cater to. This upstart hop conglomerate, in conjunction with Oregon Sate University, is focusing on funkified, hybrid hops that push the envelope on what brewers expect from Humulus lupulus—think flavor notes like coconut and blueberry—as well as an updated hop processing infrastructure for the Willamette Valley. You can check out the whole story behind these two entrepreneurs and their hoppy friends, here.

Okay, these articles aren't exactly Jetsonian, but who can argue with possibly cheaper, funky beer? Besides, I like a future filled with hops and barley (malted or otherwise), rather than the one the Mayans have in store.   

Monday, February 13, 2012

Love Will Keep Us Together

Tomorrow is the most romantic day of the year.

At some point in history the greeting card folks and the candy companies called a cabal and agreed that mid-winter was far to lovey-dovey, not to cash in on. I'm fairly sure that Saint (or Saints, as it may be) Valentine wasn't a particularly romantic guy, but who knows? Maybe he loved candy hearts with Be Mine, written on them. In any case, we are left with February 14th as the official day or red hearts, chocolate and roses for one's sweetie. I can tell you one thing for sure, a mid-week Valentine's Day, for me will most likely involve, getting the kids home from school, heart-shaped pancakes for dinner, and split duty for Amy and I getting Zoe and Will to bed—after they've had enough sugar during the day to violate Olympic doping regulations.

Any other time of the year and this guy
would be arrested for indecent exposure.
Nevertheless, I figured I'd give a some suggestions for a few Valentine's Day brews. Beer is like it's own valentine—you can enjoy it with your sweetheart, or alone in your living room, watching Dancing with the Stars. Truthfully, beer is pretty un-romantic, but if Hallmark can manipulate emotions, for their own purposes, so can I.

Since love isn't a typical flavor profile in beer, I'm going to have to go with characteristics that are a little less ethereal. When I think of Valentine's Day, two things come to mind—chocolate and strawberries. I found two beers that, not only emulate those flavors, they emulate them very well.

Chocolate is up first. Logically, when one thinks chocolate and beer, thoughts go first to Young's Double Chocolate Stout, but I thought that to be to
easy. Instead, I chose Rogue's Chocolate Stout—a beer I've never had—and isn't it a chocolate lovers beery dream come true. This obsidian brew smells like a mug of hot chocolate, and drinks like a mocha latte. It's smooth and creamy and, in my experience, is one of the chocolaty beers I've ever had. It has a great amount of bitterness, just enough to make this stout sweet, but not cloying. Lucy Van Pelt of the comic strip Peanuts once said: "All you really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt ." That holds true for Rogue's Chocolate Stout. Admittedly, I'm not a super chocolate fan. It's okay and I like it, but I lean more toward apple pie and ice cream, rather than being a brownie and hot fudge kind of guy. This Stout however, like cupid's arrow, really hit the mark.

Chocolate beers are relatively easy to come by, strawberry ones are a bit more difficult. There are a number of American, berry-spiked brews, like Sly Fox's Black Raspberry Reserve or Wachusetts' Blueberry Ale, but strawberry (my personal favorite berry) seems to have been over-looked or underutilized. The Belgians, however, came through in the clutch. The kings of "fruiting the beer" have long been adding fruit to their beloved lambics for decades. While the raspberry-laced Lindeman's Framboise, is arguably the most famous of these beer, their Belgian brethren over at Brouwerij Timmermans, in Dilbeek, have embraced the little, heart shaped fruit of Valentines Day. As the Rogue smelled of cocoa, this little lambic reeked of strawberries upon opening, like a bowl full of fresh berries, being sliced up for pie—although it's murky, pink-ish red hue might put some off. Regardless of it's appearance, it's tart, sweet, just a touch spicy, and it has a funky hit of lambic yeast. Raspberry and cherry may be the go-to berries for lambic, but trust me, give the little strawberry a chance too.

Whatever your doing for V-Day, remember, if you can't be with the one you love, love the one your with. As long as I can't see you doing it, do whatever you want while your alone, in the dark, in front of your computer.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Haves and Have Nots

I'm always a bit hesitant to comment on folks from another country and their beery doings, but a piece about the lack of Courage Imperial Russian Stout in London, on Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog, and a response to that post by Pete Brown, has piqued my interest. The gist of B&B's post is that not only is Courage Imperial Russian Stout unavailable, as of yet, in the UK, but to make matters worse there are numerous reminders of it's past glory, all around the city of London. Fair enough. I agree there's no sense for those breweries who make, or made, some of that cities best loved beer, to rub salt into the wounds of their biggest fans by not distributing some of their product locally. I feel my Anglo brother's and sister's pain, New Belgium, Russian River and Bell's don't distribute to New York, at least not in New York's Capital Region—and that's just shitty. From a beer-loving, solidaritist's point of view: Quit stalling Well & Young's, and make with the black stuff.

That's all well and good, but it's Pete's response in Boak & Bailey's comments area, that has me furrowing my brow. Here's what he said:
I have to say Wells & Youngs seem to have a completely different take on the British beer market than any other brewer I know – they seem stubbornly determined to keep believing that there’s no market for stronger and/or more eclectic brews, when even their peers such as Greene King and Marston’s are looking closely at what smaller brewers are doing and starting to do more interesting stuff. 
A statement to that end, is like saying Yo Yo Ma is stubborn because he hasn't put out a rap record. I get that beer geeks think all breweries should be everything to everyone, but that's not reality. I think what is really at work here is, Wells & Young's has noticed a void in the U.S. beer market. Good British beer is simply less available stateside. The other two breweries that Pete sites, Marston's and Greene King, are perfect examples of this. I've only ever seen dusty cans of Abbott Ale on U.S. shelves and only a few bottles of Pedigree (To be honest,  Mahar's does occasionally have casks of Greene King stuff). In the last year, I've seen Double Chocolate Stout, Bombardier, Banana Bread, Ram Rod and now Courage Imperial Russian Stout, on both the shelves of beer stores, and on tap at a number of local pubs and bars in the area. The smart move is to exploit the situation and fill the void, which is what Wells & Young's seem to be doing. There's also a better guarantee of higher ABV craft beers sales in the U.S.—not that those beers wouldn't sell in the U.K— but, the fact of the matter is, higher ABV craft beers sell well in U.S. markets. Why not take advantage of that?

As I started this piece, I am in no position to judge the British beer market—these observations are strictly third party. Additionally, I respect and admire Pete Brown, who is in my opinion, one of the best beer writers working today. I'll even say that there's a chance that Wells & Young's is being overly cautious. However, it seems a bit harsh to vilify a brewery because they don't make what you think they should. I'd like Honda to look toward Ferrari, and make a $20,000, 12-cylinder, 650 brake horsepower hatchback with room for two car seats—but, I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen. Fair or unfair, I think Wells & Young's is doing what they believe to be the best for their business, unfortunately that means the UK is going to have to wait a little longer for its Imperial Russian Stout.              

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Did Chuck Schumer Steal My Idea?

drinkdrank recognizes the
Senator from New York.
Every week I troll Google News for tidbits about the beery state of the world. Usually, what pops up are stories about how Florida muggers are stealing six-packs rather than wallets or how beer pong led to someone getting an arrow through their forehead. This week's foray yielded a slightly different, yet strangely familiar, journalistic tale. The Gothamist's Jen Chung reported a story about how, New York Senator Chuck Schumer (D), made a beery Superbowl bet with New Hampshire Senator, Jeanne Shaheen. Long story short if the Pats won, Schumer would have to buy enough New Hampshire made Smuttynose for the entire U.S. Senate. If the Giants won (which they did), it would be brew from six different New York breweries, that Shaheen would have to cough up the money for. The nuts and bolts of the bet weren't exactly the same as the challenge in my post, but you have to admit, it appears that Chuck Schumer has stolen my thunder. We even picked two of the same breweries—Captain Lawrence and Ithaca. Four other breweries—Brooklyn, Blue Point, Matt's/Saranac, and Brown's— rounded out the Senator's list.

I might not always agree with Senator's Schumers politics or tactics, but I do think his I Love NY Brew campaign is great for both the State and craft beer. I just wished I could have been on the receiving end of that New York-centric six pack.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Courage in the Face of Ruthlessness

I'm not the kind of beer geek who waits on pins and needles for certain beers to come out. Usually, I'm a bit behind on all the release dates and I'm generally playing catch-up when it comes to the latest and greatest. When I go to the beer store, if there's something new, I get it. That's the extent of my beery anticipation. However, this January into February has been a little different. I can't remember that last time I was more excited about a beer release, or should I say beer releases—or, maybe its re-releases.

With a chin like that, he's got to be courageous.
Sierra Nevada has decided to shake things up, by replacing its popular Maibock, Glissade, with a rye-spiked IPA, dubbed Ruthless Rye. I enjoyed the Glissade whenever I've had it, but apparently sales slipped in its second year of production, so Sierra Nevada chose to go with a completely different direction for their spring 2012 offering. That's quite all right with me, I enjoy a Maibock as much as the next guy, but there's just nothing like the combination of peppery, malted rye and bright, American hops—both of those ingredients make for a great beer. I received a Facebook update about Ruthless in early January, and I've been waiting for it to reach this market ever since.

While Ruthless Rye is great, the beer that I've truly anticipated is Courage Imperial Russian Stout. In fact, I've waited two decades for it—I just didn't realize I was waiting. Earlier in the year, I began to hear rumors that Wells & Young's were planing on revamping their Courage line of beer. Well's & Young's purchased the Courage brand from Scottish & Newcastle (a.k.a Heineken), back in 2007, but even with that change, sales of the Courage brand have continued to slump. What better way to reinvigorate a brand than to re-release a beer that hasn't been brewed since the 1990s, and during that hiatus, garnered quite the reputation for itself? Wells & Young's is only releasing it in the U.S., for now, and in limited quantities—a mere 1,000 cases for the entire U.S. Needless to say, when I saw it at Oliver's, I was a little excited.

I do have one gripe with Well's & Young's (In full disclosure, they are my favorite brewery). Yes, Courage Imperial Russian Stout, hasn't been brewed since the early 90s, and yes, it has its roots in the Anglo-Russo Porter trade of the 18th-century; but it's not the same beer that was shipped to Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great. This incarnation is more likely based on the recipe from when Kate Jackson was on Charlie's Angels. I know I'm being a little pedantic here, but I'm sure Ron wouldn't want me to perpetuate any myths. Either way, it's still fun to imagine the Czarina and her infamous horse,* quaffing goblets of the black stuff, long into the frigid, St. Petersburg night.

These two beers couldn't be further apart, stylistically, if they were made on opposite polar ice caps. On one hand you have the sharp, and decidedly biting, rye adjuncted, IPA. Ruthless is copper-red, with an earthy, tropical fruit hoppy-ness—like a cumin seed studded mango—and a great, feel-it-in-your nose bitterness. Its grassy, cracked black pepper notes are tempered by a light, brown sugar and toffee sweetness. On the other hand, you've got a titan-esque, 10% ABV Imperial Stout. The Courage is black as pitch, and tastes like a tobacco-leaf wrapped plum slice, dipped in espresso-infused dark chocolate. It's smokey, leathery-sweet and drinks like a beer half its strength. These beers do share one thing in common—their complexity. They're like a Jackson Pollock painting, at first glance you might think them to be simple and easily shrugged off as fads. Once your into theses brews, however, you begin getting the layers—the depth of flavor. These beers run the gambit from funky to fruity and nearly every other flavor in between.

The only problem with finally having both these beers is, what do I look forward to next?

*I've decided to perpetuate this myth. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Superbowl Picks

I just love this Superbowly-time of year. For forty-six years the National Football League has culminated their season with, what can only be described as, the biggest, annual sporting event in the United States—a 100 yard war on the floor between the best National Football Conference (NFC) and National Football Conference (AFC) teams of the past season. This year the New York Football Giants take on the New England Patriots, in a re-match, to either settle a score, or repeat a victory from four years ago. Whether you're an Eli Manning fan or a Tom Brady follower, the one thing that's universal about Superbowl Sunday, is beer. In the spirit of the big three U.S. breweries, Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors—who have taken full advantage of Superbowl advertising—I thought I'd offer a few New York and New England, beery Superbowl picks of my own. I figured I'd match style to style and I'm keeping ABV in mind on this one, no high-octane, überbrews—game day is all about pacing. Here goes:

First quarter
NY - Fresh Chester Pale Ale, Captain Lawrence Brewing Co., Ellmsford, NY
NE - Newport Storm Ryan, Coastal Extreme Brewing Co., Newport Rhode island

Second quarter
NY- Flowerpower IPA, Ithaca Beer Company, Ithaca, NY
NE - Harpoon IPA, Harpoon Brewery, Boston, MA

Third quarter
NY - Brown Ale, Davidson Brother's Brewery, Glens Falls, NY
NE - Brown Angel, Clown Shoes, Ipswitch, MA

Fourth quarter
NY - Blackheart Stout, Middle Ages Brewing Company, Syracuse, NY
NE - Portsmouth Black Cat Stout, Portsmouth Brewery, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

You could make a game out of this, too. Whomever is down at the end of the quarter has to drink the other teams beer—Insidious and delicious!

If you're a fan of the other football being played on Sunday, I'd suggest Sambrook's Wandle for Big Blue fans (Sambrook's is across the river from Chelsea, but it's the closet brewery to Stamford Bridge), and Manchester Star, for those who's loyalty leans toward the Red Devils. Mind you, I have no horse in this race—Arsenal plays tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Nordic Combined

I have something to admit. My knowledge of beers and the Scandinavian Peninsula is limited to the poster of the bikini clad, platinum blonde, bombshells I had on my wall when I was a teenager. Imagine my disappointment when I found out they weren't really from Sweden. That's what most teenage boys  are concerned about with bikini models, right—accurately portrayed nationality?  In all seriousness, I'm a Nordic beer noob. My first ever Nordic beer was Hantverksbryggeriet's Julnarren Special Winter Ale, from Sweden—of which I tried, only this past December. I've drank beer from every other nook and cranny of Europe, but for some reason, the Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway and Finland seem to have been overlooked in my beery experiences.

Swedish erotica
At this point, you may have noticed that I've referred to those three counties as "Nordic" rather than "Scandinavian." I've done that because, in researching (I'm using that term very loosely) this post, I found out that Finland is not considered part of Scandinavia. The term Scandinavian, refers to a specific cultural group in Northern Europe—the Danes, the Swedes and the Norwegians. I always assumed it was a geographic association, and as usual, I was wrong. It all boils down to language and common ancestors, and apparently the Fins didn't pay their dues, so they got the boot. Being that we're never looking to offend here at drinkdrank, I'll use the more widely accepted, generic term for that area—Nordic. How all this geopolitical-ness will affect the beer, remains to be seen.

Speaking of beer, let's get to it.

To steal a line from the all mighty and powerful, Led Zeppelin—from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow, comes #100 (as in "100th batch"). Brewed by Nøgne Ø, in the southern coastal town of Grimstad, Norway. #100 is an American-style Barleywine, and you know it's the real deal because the brewery has not one, but two Øs in its name. The name means "naked island,"and comes from Norway's favorite son, Henrik Ibsen, waxing poetic about his homeland's craggy and barren southern coastline. Admittedly, I haven't a clue how to pronounce it, but I do know if any beer exemplifies Ibsen's naked island ruggedness—it's #100. Pouring a foggy, red-mahogany with a dense, buff colored head that looks like a root beer float. #100 gives off a muted fruity, toasted malt and butterscotch aroma. Its hop notes are low, on the sniff, coming across just as an underlying earthiness. When you get it into your mouth everything changes—this sonofabitch is intense. Starting out sweet, with bits of fresh bread, chocolate, molasses and figs, it then blends into an earthy mix of black coffee and a leathery, woodiness. The hop flavor comes toward the end, bringing an herbal pineiness, with just a hint of citrus—a little peach and berry. #100 finishes up with an overwhelming bitterness, that's accentuated by a decent amount of alcoholic zing. At 10%ABV, this beer is a sipper, in fact, it took a good 45 minutes for me to get through the bottle—and I don't know if I could have gotten it down any faster than I did. Nøgne Ø #100 is a brute—its bold, complex and strong, just like the Norsemen who plundered and ransacked Northern Europe, nearly, twelve centuries ago. The Vikings never had the chance to drink #100, but I know they would if they could have.

Moving east—and 1,000 years ahead in time—I decided to try something a little paler and a little less formidable. Dugges' High Five! seemed like the perfect choice. Brewed by Dugges Ale & Porterbryggeri, in the town of Mölndal, Sweden—just south of Gothenburg—High Five! is an American-style IPA brewed with, coincidentally enough, five American, high alpha, hop varieties. If the Nøgne Ø was like the surf pounding the Norwegian shoreline, then High Five! is like a cruise around the country roads, outside Gothenburg, in a Volvo S60. It's familiar and comfortable, but it's great in the curves. It pours a copper-red with creamy, downy head. The aroma is sweet with a malty forward tone. There's some piney-ness, with a touch of citric pith, but mostly there's a caramel with a touch of freshly toasted bread. Therse' a pleasant weight to this beer, a roundness that's a nice compliment to the rest of this brews nuts and bolts. I was surprised at the fruitiness of High Five!, it starts of with a mellow brown sugar or light molasses-like caramel quality that is supported by fresh apple and plum. There's a freshness to its hop quality, with hint of tartness, like a ripe tangerine. It's slightly drying with an astringency that works well with its fairly aggressive bitterness. It actually reminds me a bit of BrewDog's Punk IPA, I think it's the Maris Otter malt and American hop combo. This Swede is a straightforward, very drinkable IPA—malty and sweet where it needs to be, but with a nice hoppy bite to get you though the hairpin.

Onto Finland, home to not one, not two, but three winners of the Formula One World Driver's Championship—Keke Rosberg (1982) , Mika Häkkinen (1998–99)  and Kimi Räikkönen (2007). They have nothing to do with beer, but I do imagine they all like Sinebrychoff Porter as much as I do (one does add a bit of association with one's heroes, don't they?) Brewed in Kerava, Finland, by Oy Sinebrychoff, this Porter is a Porter built for me—complex, but to the point. The Nøgne Ø was dark, but the Sinebrychoff is absolute black, topped with a dark-khaki froth. Liquorice abounds in the aroma, with a nice roasted malt tone, as well. A lot of so-called "Robust" or "Baltic" Porters are astringent coffee bombs, not so much with this 7.2%ABV Finn. There's some espresso-like, black coffee roasty-ness, but there's a mildly sweet, dark chocolate and dried fruit quality to it as well. There are flavors of anise, sugared dates and tart plum with a subtle savoriness. It's sweet without being sweet; I know that sounds like a contradiction, but somehow it works—and it works amazingly well. There's a subtle bitterness, which I expected to be stronger, with a slightly spicy hoppiness—almost gingery, without going all ginger snap. I had no expectations with this beer, In fact one of the reasons I bought it was its price point—$4.00 for a 12 ounce bottle—at least $3–$4 cheaper than any other Nordic-made Porter, that I could find. That being said, it was—easily—my favorite of the these three Nordic brews. It was balanced between sweet and roasty, with a great complexity and it's just an all-around great Porter. If you can find it, drink it.

There you go—I'm three beers more acquainted with the brews of our Nordic friends—A Viking warrior from Norway, a laid-back cruiser with some zip from Sweden and a pleasant surprise from Finland—and not a bikini among them. Although, one bikini might have been nice.