Let’s Talk About Beer For a Second, Man

I’m about to have a conversation with myself about beer. You’re welcome to eavesdrop or interject, whatever rubs your Buddha.

Here’s the thing about talking about beer: I’m fucking sick of everyone talking about beer. Jesus Christ. If people less drunk than me devoted this much time to actually discussing affordable healthcare or the minimum wage in this country we might actually make some damn progress instead of spinning our two wheels in reverse directions and calling it a democracy.

Wait, I thought we were talking about beer? Let’s try this again: why does everyone need to have a fucking opinion about everything? I was sitting at a bar, as I am wont to do, and this is on St. Patrick’s Day. So the big news in Boston is Sam Adams pulled their sponsorship from the parade because the cementheads in Southie won’t let the gays march in the parade. Which honestly makes no sense to me because 1. it’s 2014 and 2. is there anything more gay than parade? And I don’t mean “gay” like I’m a 13 year old that’s never seen a tit, but I mean “gay” as in a celebration of flamboyance. Hell, you’ve got men in skirts and high-knee socks blowing pipes until they make noise. But I digress. So this older guy, starts talking to me about how the gays are “pushing their agenda” or some other old, white man bullshit. And I’m a young white man, so I got my own bullshit, but fuck if I’m going to waste my precious little Monday energy engaging a closeted bigot.

But that’s what I’m talking about: why the fuck do you care, old man? Drink your beer and make nice. That’s what I’m doing. You know who has an agenda of rubbing their beliefs in your face? You do. You’re rubbing them in mine. And I don’t like it any better than you do, so shut the fuck and drink your beer.

Shut the fuck up and drink your beer.

Look, I’m not saying not to appreciate it. Do. Appreciate the fuck out of your beer, because some poor bastard dumped every ounce of energy he/she had into making it so that 1. he/she could live their dream 2. he/she could give you the best possible beverage to drink and 3. he/she could feed their family. Appreciate your beer, but… do it quietly. I’m a huge beer nerd. Clearly. I have a blog about beer. That is some lame shit. I talk about aromas, and tastes and mouthfeel and other happy horseshit like that, because I enjoy it and (presumably) people want to hear about it.

You know who doesn’t want to hear about it? That guy next to you at the bar, who doesn’t mean to eavesdrop but fuck if he can’t help it because you’re packed in like sardines and you might as well be sitting in his lap. No one within earshot gives a fuck if you detect a hint of blueberries, because all they detect is a hint of pretentious asshole (which smells like a regular asshole, stuffed with blueberries). Seriously. Save your beer critiques for your friends, at home, or at a quiet booth at the bar if you’re lucky enough to acquire one. You’re not there to play the Roger Ebert of beer. You’re there to relax, drink, and tip your bartender at least $2 per drink, you stingy fuck.

I went to a small tasting tonight. That’s the perfect venue to sniff, swirl, and discuss “hints of horse blanket” and “I don’t know, cherry, I think?” And shit, if the bartender asks you “what do you think?” Fuck it. Tell him what you think. He/she asked, so feel free. Just remember to take a 2oz tasting of humility before you do. It’s not “the worst beer you’ve ever had,” that’s Heineken, and no one fucking asks you what you think of Heineken. And check shit into Untappd or whatever you use, that’s fine… but don’t treat it like someone gives a shit what you rated a beer. “I gave this one 2 and a half stars.” Good. Now go give yourself 2 and a half bullets to the cerebral cortex. Beer rating systems are a socially acceptable form of masturbation, but regardless they’re best kept to yourself.

The “problem” with craft beer isn’t the trademark lawsuits, or the fad-chasing, or any of that other bullshit. The problem with craft beer is that it has empowered a bunch of people who are generally outsiders to exclude people from their little club. And that’s fucked up. Stop being an asshole. YOU are the problem. Not the hopping techniques or the percentage of adjuncts, but the percentage of assholes. Don’t turn beer into politics or religion. It should be discussed. It should be celebrated. But it should never be the battle of pretentious douchebaggery it so often degenerates into. If you can’t help yourself, then fuck off. This isn’t a hipster arms race to the next fad. This isn’t music on vinyl. This isn’t handcrafted keffiyehs that you don’t understand the cultural relevance of. It’s beer. It’s the same shit (different zip code) that the college kids are getting piss drunk on.

Beer is great. One of the reasons beer is great is because it’s a tabula rasa. It’s a blank slate. Beer is only as pretentious as the person drinking it. Heady Topper, arguably the best beer in the world, is served from the same style of can as PBR or Bud Light Mango-rita. You can either crush a case of it floating in an inner tube down the Saco River with a few buddies at the end of Summer, or you can make snide comments about it “not living up to the hype.”

But then again, when’s the last time you lived up to the hype?

Extreme Beer Fest and Boston Beer Week (?) Recap

So last week – the week of St. Patrick’s Day/Evacuation Day – is usually Boston Beer Week in my hometown. Apparently this year there was no set schedule, events or anything. However, Boston being Boston and St. Patrick’s Day being the great Irish drinking (that’s redundant) holiday that it is, last week was – unofficially – Boston Beer Week.

Monday

The week started for me at Stoddard’s Fine Food and Ales. Stoddard’s is my favorite bar in downtown (it’s on Temple St. in Downtown Crossing). The food, the service, and the beers (of course) are always fantastic. The bar manager, my buddy Jamie, has curated probably the best beer list in the Greater Boston Area outside of my personal beer fridge. Stoddard’s was hosting a DigBoston sponsored #NoGreenBeer event. I swung by for lunch – corned beef and cabbage, naturally – and was lucky enough to run into Jeff from Dig, my buddy Jeff from Stone, Chris from Notch, and Kay from Craft Beer Cellar Braintree. The excellent company and conversation kept me there past my allotted lunch break, but I did manage to return after work for a few drinks before dinner.

Tuesday

Serendipitously, my week of working in town coincided with the first anniversary of Trillium Brewing Co. in the Fort Point section of South Boston, a short but very cold walk from my office. Tuesday was the release of Trillium’s second-ever bottled offering, Wild Trillium. Wild is a wild fermented version of their flagship beer, Trillium Farmhouse Ale. The beer spent over 9 months aging in a single oak barrel with Trillium’s house blend of wild microbes. I managed to snag two bottles of Wild after work, and after a cold wait in line.

Wednesday

The fine folks at Backlash Beer Co. have been producing some excellent double IPAs as part of their “Uprising!” series. The series was initially set for 3 releases, but the popularity of the first 3 led them to release Chaos, a DIPA with Citra, Simcoe, Amarillo, Mosaic, and Galaxy. The Chaos release party was at East End Grille in Somerville. Chaos is good, man. My self-imposed limit of two went by the wayside a little too easily. More good times, as I got to hang out with Helder and finally got to meet Twitter-friend Jesse, as well as some other fine folks.

Thursday

Thursday was supposed to be the Pre-Party for Extreme Beer Fest at the Tip Tap Room. And it was… just not for me. Suffering from a case of too much beer, too much work and not enough rest or solid food, I opted to take her easy on Thursday night. Judging from the pictures this was an unfortunate decision. A lot of the folks previously mentioned were all in attendance. I’m bummed I missed out.

Friday

Friday was a night scheduled for taking it easy. With Extreme Beer Fest looming on Saturday, the last thing I wanted to do was roll in with a hangover. I did, however, dispatch my better half to Trillium to pick up their just released first anniversary beer, MettleMettle is a double IPA clocking in at 8% ABV. I knocked back a few glasses before turning in, in anticipation of…

Saturday – EXTREME BEER FEST

EBF is one of my favorite beer fests. Smaller in scale than American Craft Beer Fest, EBF focuses on high-ABV and/or odd-flavored brews. It is essentially a celebration of the kind of beers that craft beer gets made fun of for brewing. I was especially excited because two Florida breweries – Cigar City and Funky Buddha – that don’t distribute to MA were there pouring some of their more interesting creations. Cigar City’s Margarita Gose was a delicious, refreshing and quirky take on a beer style that is only recently in vogue after being on the brink of extinction (gose). Marshal Zhukov’s was Cigar City’s Russian Imperial Stout that was absolutely delicious. But Funky Buddha stole the show with their No Crusts, a peanut butter and jelly sammich beer (!); Maple Bacon Coffee Porter; and their French Toast (!!!) Double Brown Ale. I’ve tried beers like Voodoo Maple Bacon Donut and other funky concoctions, but the tastes of these beers… incredible. They simultaneous tasted exactly like their inspirations while still tasting like beers. I was blown-away by Funky Buddha.

Closer to home, Tree House Brewing out of Brimfield, MA had two phenomenal beers, Double Shot (a coffee stout) and Juice Machine (a DIPA), that tasted fantastic if a little safe for the EBF. I’d heard great things about Tree House and have been dying to try some of their beers. I was not disappointed.

Lost Abbey also knocked my socks off with some fantastic offerings: Angel’s Share Grand CruCuvee de TommeSpontaneous Cheer, and Frambroise de Amorosa. And Kane Brewing got my attention, as well. I’d never heard of Kane before EBF, but not only was their A Night to End All Dawns an incredibly delicious beer, but it was my favorite name at the fest (beating out Sam Adams’ Kosmic Mother Funk (delicious) and Off Color’s Rats In the Ashes (meh)).

A few friends and I pre-gamed with a bottle of Maine Beer Co’s new Dinner, which was phenomenal and a can of Heady Topper, that I’m said to say was tainted. For a day that started with a bad can of Heady, it ended wonderfully.

On a final EBF note, I got to see my buddy Jeff from college, who helping Stone Jeff pour (Stone had Crime and Punishment, punishingly hot chili beers) and got to meet Lee from Craft Beer Cellar, as well. We closed the night with pretzels and beers at Harpoon’s Beer Hall (those pretzels, man) before cabbing it home.

Next Beer Up: Bandito

How awesome is that image?

Anyway, I have some big posts/updates coming this week including a recap of the now unofficial Boston Craft Beer Week, and one of my favorite events, Extreme Beer Fest. The latter of which I have a short, but checkered past with. I may or may not have been barred entry from The Tam and may or may not have vomited on the Red Line, courtesy of a wee-bit of overindulgence on fantastic – but highly alcoholic – beers.

In fact, that’s another topic I want to hit soon: overindulgence. But for now I want to focus on the next beer up: Bandito.

It’s been a while since I last brewed; about a month ago I started working on Matt Brown Marzen which I will be bottling probably this weekend. Two of my brew goals for this year were to 1. re-brew Cheeky Bastard and 2. develop a “house” beer. As we’re almost a quarter of the way through the year and nary a goal has been ticked off, I think it’s time to double down on these goals. As I said in the goals post, Cheeky is probably my best beer to date (others would argue otherwise) but it was significantly lacking in the bitterness department for an IPA (or even for an American Pale Ale).

I’m currently retooling the hop additions from Cheeky, but keeping the grain bill and yeast (Conan) the same. I really enjoyed the creamy mouthfeel and malt backbone of the beer. I may try to clear the beer a bit more this time, but also redistribute the hops and possibly use some different varieties. My original recipe for Bandito called for Citra and Calypso hops, but I’m skeptical of my ability to obtain Calypso. I am also going to avoid adding any Citra at the 60 minute mark, because I think it was ultimately a waste in Cheeky.

I may also dial-back the 2-Row so that I can add some sugar to the recipe. I want to avoid making this beer too boozy, but I also want to make sure it was a drier finish. You can view the tentative recipe for Bandito here, but it will be in-flux probably right up until brew day. As always, comments are more than welcome. Cheers!

Quick Beer Review: Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale

The girlfriend is a big wine drinker so she naturally gravitated towards some of the sour beers I was trying. Though I’ve tried a number of sour beers, I’d never had a lot the “classic” or “good introductory” sour beers like Rodenbach or Monk’s Cafe. So I split a 12oz bottle with the girl this afternoon after brunch.

Monk’s Cafe – brewed by Brouwerij Van Steenberge - pours a deep brown with hints of burnt orange highlights and a persistent off-white head. There’s a strong vinous character to the smell (For Tim: that means “wine-like”), hints of sour grapes and some spicy character. The body is lighter than its appearance leads you to believe, but I think it’s about right for the style/flavor of this beer. Any more and it would be too heavy, velvety is a good description.  The taste is predominant grape-like, with a little vinous sour flavor. There’s hints of other fruits like sour apples and maybe pear. It’s a good balance of sweet and tart. Monk’s Cafe finishes fairly dry and is pretty quenching and quaffable (again, for Tim, this means “drinkable”).

It’s a very interesting beer, but not one I think I would get again. Having been introduced to more potent sours and “American Wild Ales,” the reserved balance taste of Monk’s Cafe is a bit underwhelming for me. Neverless, it is still a damn good beer and definitely one to seek out if you’re new to sours.

Overall: 3.75 out of 5.

Drinking Coronado

Coronado Brewing Company is based out of Coronado, California. It started in 1996 as a brewpub founded by brothers, Ron and Rick Chapman, and grew a distribution arm in 2003. In 2012, Coronado added a 30-barrel brewhouse and now has national distribution (thanks to Stone, if my memory serves me). I’d heard good things about Coronado, so when I was at my local last week I saw a couple bottles from them and decided to give them a shot. I picked up one each of their Mermaid Red (an American amber ale), Islander IPA (an IPA, duh), and Idiot IPA (an Imperial IPA).

Instead of splitting this into 3 separate beer reviews, I thought I’d give you my quick thoughts on each of the 3 beers.

Coronado 4

Mermaid Red

Mermaid Red. An American Amber Ale that was is a clear, ruby color with a thin, white head. Mermaid has a malty smell of caramel and toffee. There is a spicy character in the flavor, presumably from the hops. There is a slightly sweet toffee taste as well, and a touch of citrus, floral taste and bitterness. Though it was a pretty good match for the Indian food I had with it for dinner, I thought this was a little too hoppy.

3.5 out of 5.

Coronado 3

Islander IPA

Islander IPA. Citrus and pine on the nose. Some tropical fruit aromas as well. The taste is bitter and fruity, but manages to finish sweet and not too dry. The flavors are sharp and crisp. Islander is pale orange in color and light, but not clear – a bit hazy. Very bright. Hints of orange. Good carbonation and a medium light body. This was my favorite of the three; I’m not sure what more you ask for from an IPA.

4.5 out of 5.

Coronado 2

Idiot IPA

Idiot IPA. An Imperial IPA, despite only being 8% ABV. Same color as the Islander, but somehow slightly clearer. Same mouthfeel as Islander as well. The taste was  too bitter upfront and came across as less nuanced than Islander. There is less citrus flavor in Idiot, but it comes out more as the beer warms. Not a bad beer, but not as good as the Islander, similar without being an improvement.

3.75 out of 5.

Yuengling Has Arrived In Boston and Everyone Is Losing Their Goddamn Minds

Yuengling Traditional Lager, the flagship brew from America’s oldest operating brewery, has arrived in my hometown of Boston. And everyone is losing their goddamn minds about it.

I’m not here to rain on anyone’s parade or criticize anyone’s taste in beer, but I do not get the obsession with this beer. To quote my buddy Will from Deadspin and his ranking of 36 Cheap American Beers:

25. Yuengling. Why are people so into Yuengling? It’s quite popular among the Pennsylvania ex-pat community, which is odd given that the beer sucks and Pennsylvanians don’t strike me as an excessively prideful or self-important lot.

That might be slightly harsh – 2 kinds of Busch, 2 kinds of Natty and Milwaukee’s Beast (no typo) are all ranked better – but it’s not far from the truth. I once referred to Yuengling as the “beer that bros from Penn State drink when nana put an extra fiver in their care package and they feel like splurging.” I’m assuming a lot of mine (and Will’s) vitriol stems from the zealous fervor surrounding what is – if we’re being a honest – a fair-to-middling beer.

My theory on Yuengling is that its popularity is due in large part to kids who went to college in the Mid-Atlantic area and could get Yuengling for a few bucks more than Bud/Miller/Coors or any of their lesser cousins (Natty, Busch, Icehouse, Beast, etc). Going to college in Vermont, I had the same affinity towards Labatt Blue (though I probably paid a tinge more, what with importing costs and whatnot). It’s not that these beers are any better than Bud/Miller/Coors (though, subjectively, they are), but more that they simply aren’t Bud, Miller or Coors.

I was a loose cannon for drinking Coors Original; a decision I made purely out of a desire to be different and because no one steal a beer that smells like piss. Which leads me to another point: college kids are no good crooks. No one keeps tabs on how many Bud Lights are in the fridge, so if you put your 30-rack in there, hey man, it’s fair game. You toss a sixer of Yuengling in there, and you’re the guy who brought the fancy beer and you know exactly how many of them you’ve had. It becomes a financially prudent decision.

Because when you’re paying $50,000 a year for college, you don’t want anyone taking your $0.86 beer, bro.

And of course the biggest draw for Yuengling was that you couldn’t get it. DG didn’t distribute to New England (and much of the rest of the country) until now. People often ask with beers like Heady TopperPliny the Younger, or Kate the Great if they are as good as their hype, or if it is just a matter of scarcity. Well, Heady Topper is still my favorite beer, and usually get to have 3-5 cans a year despite its scarcity, so the answer to that question is a rousing “it depends.” I think Yuengling isn’t as good as these “white whale” beers, and I believe that the wide distribution will ultimately prove that it isn’t as good as people remember it.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. My favorite beer in college was Switchback Ale. I went back to Burlington, VT not too long ago, singing the praises of Switchback and dying to have my first pint since college. In the years since college, I got into craft beer, and my palette became more refined. So when I had a pint at Manhattan Pizza (related: I remember their pizza and wings being much better), I was really disappointed*. And I think a lot of people in my age who have expanded their best tastes since college will have the same reaction to Yuengling.

Look – if you like Yuengling, that’s awesome. I like Yuengling. I don’t love it, I don’t understand the massive love for it, but I’m certainly not turning down a pint of it. My point in all this rambling isn’t that Yuengling isn’t a good beer or that people who like it are saps. Not at all. My point is that if you’re a regular craft beer person (and if you’re reading this blog, you probably are), you should expect that Yuengling won’t be the beer you remember from college (or whenever). And if you’re a Bud/Miller/Coors drinker, but love Yuengling… maybe it is time for you to venture (or take a second look) into that equal parts scary and pretentious world of craft beer.

And if you still think I’m wrong about Yuengling, well… you can always buy me a pint and try to prove me wrong. Like I said, I wouldn’t turn it down.

* In the interest of full-disclosure and in fairness to fine folks at Switchback, I heard later that there was some kerfuffle over watered-down beers at Manhattan. I haven’t had a chance to try a Switchback on draft or in bottles (new for them) since then, but I resolve to return to my old stand-by with an open mind and a fairer expectation level.