Posts Tagged ‘Beer’

St. Louis

June 16, 2009

Last year at this point, MB and I were going to go to St. Louis for a long weekend but we got thwarted by the floods as almost all bridges to the east or west of us were unpassable.  We could have made it to Saint Louis but it was going to take us at least 3-4 extra hours and we bailed on the plan. It took us a year to try again, but we spent this last weekend in St. Louis. It’s a good town, plenty of good beer and food but also still a small midwest town at heart. What really amazes me is how quickly neighborhoods shift character, sometimes having a run-down neighborhood directly across the street from an upper-class neighborhood. For instance, we spent a good bit of time in Lafayette Park, an upscale neighborhood with a beautiful park and old townhouses like these:

lafayette#2 while only a few blocks away is some fairly run down sections of town. I’m not sure what to make of it really, but I find it gives the town a unique flavor. I know that all cities are really a kind of mosaic, but it seems even more so in St. Louis.  We spent some time chatting with Dylan, the beer guy at 33 Wine Bar & Tasting Room, and his take was that St. Louis is generally a pretty depressed town because it’s built solely on a river and rails infrastructure. But he sees the pockets of nicer neighborhoods expanding and his ultimate take is that there’s no city with more potential right now. In my limited exposure to the city, I think I get what he means.

We managed to hit two brewpubs, Schlafly and Square One. I’m already a fan of Schlafly beers and they were nice on tap (we were at the tap room, not the bottleworks) but the service was pretty bad I have to say. Square One’s beers were solid but unremarkable, but we had a great time there. We had a really good waiter and enjoyed the outdoor seating. Very comfortable place.

square oneJust down the block is 33 Wine Bar which has a pretty fabulous beer list. We had some Founder’s, North Coast Old Stock, Moylan’s Hopsickle (amazing beer). Great place that I’m already looking forward to visiting again. Found a good Ethiopian restaurant and pretty nice Thai place. We also made it to the Hill for some Italian. We were really tired and hungry at that point, though, so I’m not sure we gave ourselves the time to make the best choice (especially since all restaurants had about an hour wait at that point); we found a good and entertaining restaurant, but nothing that special. A really funky place we discovered (well, really, we were pointed to it by the Yellow Dog) was the Iron Barley, a small hole in the wall in a residential neighborhood south of town. We got directions from our hotel that were so wrong on so many levels that it was amazing how much of town we saw to get to this place, but that in itself was interesting–and then the restaurant itself was a real find.

iron barleyGood food, good cask ale on tap, good vibe.

We also got over to Clayton to go to the Wine & Cheese Shop to stock our bar for the summer. Plenty of good finds that we can’t get in Iowa. And Dylan turned us on to a few other places we should visit on our next trip and let us know about STLHops.Com, a blog that keeps a listing of all the different things on tap at the different bars–a nice and easy way to learn where to go to hunt down some of those hard-to-find goodies.

In general, we spent most of our time walking (which is what we really do in any city, walk until our feet can’t take it any more) through the parks and neighborhoods, a long time wandering through the Tower Grove Park and through Forest Park and the zoo. On our way back north, we stopped by the Columbia River Bottom at the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi. Great birdwatching area with Dickcissels everywhere.

columbia bottomWe’re thinking about going back there at some point during spring migration.

A short but sweet little trip. Good food, good drink, some good walking and good birdwatching, all the stuff we love.

Top 10 Beers

February 27, 2009

A recent post by the yellow dog (ah, do we capitalize or not? the topoi of formal names vs. persona, Dylan vs. dylan, Thomas vs. tom, but I guess I’m free-associating now, hmmmm) made an off-hand comment about the metaphorical top ten list of beer.  I am pretty diligent about posting my beer tasting on Rate (recent pleasurable find: Alameda Black Bear Stout), but like the yellow dog I don’t know how my ratings hold up in the long run. I taste, I note, I comment, I rate, and then I drink some more, go searching for more, the pleasure of finding the new beer. I’m not sure the notes are more than having noted that I tasted the beer. But what about that metaphorical top ten?  What would it be? Would it be the BEST beer? Would it be the beer we most want in a given situation?  Would it be a ratio between quality and price (which incidentally is one place I draw the line for that vague “overall quality” category on rate beer: is it worth the price? I mean I had a great experience with Rogue Brewery’s Imperial IPA, a fabulous beer that was the nightcap to a great trip to the west coast, but when I saw the price of it per bottle, it didn’t seem so great. Context, I suppose, is everything). So, knowing that such a list will change probably by the time I finish the list in the first place, here is my current top ten. Do remember, I’m not claiming these are the best, but the ones I most want to drink at the moment:

10. Summit Pale Ale.  OK, I’ve written about this before. I acknowledge it’s not the most outrageous beer.  But it is an incredibly well-balanced beer and this one gets the nod for sentimentality as well as quality–it’s the combination, a very good beer that also serves my memory well. I can pretty much drink it any time and be happy.  What else do you really want from a beer?

9. Bell’s Hopslam. My tastes start to show through here: incredibly rich, luscious hops that just can’t be beat here. It’s not available all year (and not at all here in Iowa) so drink it while and where you can.

8. Surly Furious. Yes, I’m new to the Surly bandwagon, but I’m hooked. This, too, I have to travel to find, but fortunately Minnesota is one of those places I love to travel (or that friends will bring me beer from–thanks to the Koeods for the beer extravaganza in Austin, MN–and the Spam museum–but that’s another story). Like Hopslam, this is all about the hops. Yummmm…..

7. Lagunitas IPA/Maximus. Both of these are great versions of what has become one of my favorite breweries. I suppose I’m repeating myself, but can you say hops? If not, this probably isn’t the list for you.

6. North Coast Brother Thelonius. A west coast Abbey style ale that I find really well balanced and rich and creamy and tasty and I want another one as I’m typing this.

5. Saint Bernardus Abt 12. I know there is an immense number of great Belgian beers, all with a unique flavor and yeastiness, but this one really hits the spot on almost any occasion.  I vote for this one for its sheer versatility as well as its quality.  A great, great beer.

4. Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. Yes, there are a number of amazing dogfish head beers. But for my general drinking days, I’ll go with the 60 minute. It’s everything I want in a beer, really.

3. Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye. I suppose any beer with hop in the name is bound to appeal to me. But add that tang of rye in there and it’s something special.

2. Stone Arrogant Bastard. An incredibly dense and layered and complex strong ale. “You are not worthy” the label says, but I am, I am, I am. Pour me another you bastard.

1. Pliny the Elder. Double IPA. Nothing like it. It’s all things beer that I love. It is the best.  Sure, my list may well change tomorrow, but I’m not sure this one will.

My honorable mention list would just go on and on. I start listing beers and all I can really think is all the fine beers that won’t make the list. How can I? How can I? Oh, but such is the nature of the list.Yes, such lists are ridiculous in the end. Argue with me and disagree, in the end, the point, as with my many musical lists on this blog, is to keep searching out the good stuff and enjoying. Here is to the hop!

Late Summer Flurry

September 2, 2008

The summer slipped by far too fast. Things kept getting in the way and I really didn’t manage to do half of the fun things I was planning on. I got the work side of things done, but the fun parts seemed to disappear. Didn’t get to saint louis. Didn’t get to minneapolis. Didn’t go camping or canoeing. Etc. We were planning a long labor day trip to minneapolis but a million republicans made that hard to do. We managed, though, a quick trip to see CBD and Erin and Madelyn. Always a treat to see them, and while this also was too quick of a trip, we had a great time. The weather was perfect for a nice cookout and homemade ice cream and beer late into the starry night. You can see Bradley’s beer line up here. I especially enjoyed the Lagunitas Gnarly Wine. I’m not always a barley wine fan. It’s a challenging beer to have any sense of balance. When it’s good, wow, but when it’s not it’s a difficult beer to drink. This Lagunitas is excellent though. A strong roast flavor balanced with a bit of fruitiness and a dry hoppy finish with a warming alcohol flavor. Lagunitas is currently one of my favorite breweries and this didn’t disappoint. We added a few nice beers to the mix, including the Double Wide IPA and a limited release Stone, the Vertical Epic Ale 08-08-08. The epic ale I thought was amazing, powerful yeast and spice flavors with just a touch of hops. The flavors were intense and really lingered.

I also managed to keep up my feverish late-summer brewing last night and brewed a hybrid oktoberfest/steam beer. I’d mentioned earlier that I wanted an oktoberfest but couldn’t use a traditional yeast at this point. I think the steam yeast will still bring out the full malt flavor that I want in this brew:

1 lb Caramunich, steeped in a gallon 150 degree water
Sparge with a gallon of 170 degree water
Add enough water to bring to 6 gallons and boil
9 lbs. of Northern Brewer Pilsen malt extract
1 oz. Sterling hops, 6%, in boil for 60 minutes
1 oz. Hersbrucker Hallertauer, 3.3%, in boil for 45 minutes
1/2 oz. Sterling hops, 6%, in boil for 10 minutes
Chill to 75%
Add starter culture of wyeast california lager yeast

I’ll repitch the yeast for my next brew which will be a dry-hopped steam beer. (I’m sorry, I just can’t bring myself to say “california common.” I love the Anchor brewery as much as anyone, but I have trouble with them trademarking the name of a style that preceded them. California common sounds so boring compared to steam. Fritz Maytag: release the rights of the name!) So, at this point I have three beers in line to brew: the dry-hopped steam, a russian imperial stout, and a strong winter warmer, then I’ll shut the brewery down for awhile as duty calls and life gets too hectic again.

Lewis Black and Budweiser

July 24, 2008

So, it is official.  InBev from Belgium is buying Anheuser-Busch.  A very remarkable development indeed.  Can’t say it really affects me one way or another except that when I say that I really like Belgian beers will people now think I mean that I like Budweiser?  Hmmm….

Of course, InBev assures people that it will still be brewed by the same people following the same recipe.  To which, Lewis Black asks the important question: Budweiser uses a recipe?

Sam Adams and American Marketing

July 23, 2008

I love good beer. I don’t overly think of myself as a beer snob, though. There’s a time and place for a good cold Budweiser (although let’s not even talk Miller, okay?). The more I know about beer, the more some of my old favorites fall out of favor with me; but many beers I’ve loved for years still find their way into my cooler. It’s about range and variety and set and setting I suppose. That said, I generally find Sam Adams beers innocuous enough. They’re not great beers, but I’ll drink them without too much of a fuss. My main complaint with them is that they brew this huge selection of beers, most of which just don’t taste that different. They have a flavor profile that runs throughout their beers. I’d love to see them brew fewer beers but give each of them a bit more character (although I have yet to try their triple bock yet which certainly seems to fall into the extreme beer category). Nonetheless, I was at a local pizza place last night and Sam Adams lager was really my only option–so, as I say, I ordered and was generally content. Why am I writing all this, though? Because I feel like Sam Adams and Jim Koch, as most American advertisers, play us for fools.

For instance, have you seen those ads that emphasize they use “a pound more hops” than other beers? OK, and that means….? There are two options here. One, the target audience is one that knows beer and knows that this claim in and of itself is meaningless. It’s about flavor profile and hop varieties. Is it a beer style that’s appropriate for a pound more hops? What kinds of hops are we talking? If your audience understands hops then give us something of substance. The other possibility, and more to the point, is you’re selling beer to people who don’t necessarily understand the dynamics of hops in a beer. In that case, the claim is mere pandering, bolstered by the American notion that more must mean better. Hmmm, more hops must mean better beer, ok I’ll buy it. It’s like the old Coors ads that rave about the Rocky Mountain water they use. Fair enough, but either your consumer understands the way water works in a beer or not. For instance, you wouldn’t want to brew an English style ale with such “pure” water as the mineral content is what makes an English ale an English ale. Now, the water that Coors was touting may actually be appropriate for the lager style beer they were brewing, but so the hell would purified water. Does it really matter that it came from the Rockies? Not so much. But back to Sam Adams and hops. Here’s their lengthy, fairly full-of-itself description of their American Lager:

Samuel Adams Boston Lager® is the best example of the fundamental characteristics of a great beer, offering a full, rich flavor that is both balanced and complex. It is brewed using a decoction mash, a time consuming, traditional four vessel brewing process discarded by many contemporary brewers. This process brings forth a rich sweetness from the malt that makes it well worth the effort. Samuel Adams Boston Lager® also uses only the finest of ingredients including two row barley, as well as German Noble aroma hops. The exclusive use of two row barley not only imparts a full, smooth body but also gives the beer a wide spectrum of malt flavor ranging from slightly sweet to caramel to slightly roasted. The Noble hops varieties, Hallertau Mittelfruh and Tettnang Tettnanger, add a wide range of floral, piney and citrus notes, which are present from the aroma, through the flavor, to the lingering smooth finish. We take great pride in the Noble hops used in our beers. They are hand selected by Jim Koch and our other brewers from the world’s oldest hops growing area. Among the world’s most expensive, they cost twenty times as much as other hops.

OK, you use a decoction method. Again, it’s this claim that’s geared toward those who may not know what it means. Most people would ask why it has been discarded by most brewers. Could it be that technology has allowed brewers to achieve some of the same effects more efficiently? Most brewers who still use decoction are Belgian brewers who need it to achieve a flavor profile that is particular to many Belgian beers. I’m not suggesting that James Koch should or shouldn’t use the decoction method, but just to point out the ambiguous way it fits into this advertising campaign. OK, your hops cost twenty times as much as other hops–again, the question is about the flavor profile of the hops. Are you telling us about flavor or why you may be able to charge a particular price for your beer? I think this description, while it appears to be informative, from a beer-lover’s perspective is all marketing. Don’t get me wrong; I understand the importance of marketing and know that sam adams is a business, but it’s at the heart of what I see wrong with discourse in America today. It’s all sound bite and slogan vs. substance. It doesn’t work for politics and it doesn’t work for beer either: talk to your audience as if they know beer, and you’ll teach the others along the way. Or, better yet, save the speech and brew the best beer you can.

The Madison Haul

July 14, 2008

We had been planning to go to Saint Louis this last weekend, get away from the ever-present flood remnants for awhile, go to Schlafly etc. It’s about a 5 hour trip for us going down Route 61.  It might be a tad quicker going interstate down toward Peoria, but highway 61 is part of the appeal, a beautiful drive down through the Missouri bluffs along the river, a stop in Hannibal etc. The Iowa DOT though was a little sketchy on continued detours and bridge closures due to the floods, so we weren’t sure how much extra time the trip was going to take.  We decided it would be better to wait until the roads are definitely clear.

I found myself Saturday morning, then, unsure of what to do with our weekend when MB suggested going to Madison for the night. I’m always game for Madison (It’s a great town and a pretty easy drive) but we get there fairly often and I wasn’t sure about it. I asked MB why she thought Madison and she said, “Well, I’d really like to get that Sayur Lodeh (coconut soup) at Bandung.” OK, I thought, I can see the appeal. It’s a fabulous Indonesian restaurant and we can’t get it around here. Then she added, “I’m also worried about your beer supply running low. I thought we could check out the beer store that Bradley suggested.” It was a great reminder of why I love this woman so much!! Yes, she was worried about my beer supply, sigh….

So, off we went to Madison. I don’t think our haul at Steve’s was as big as Bradley’s recent haul, but we did pretty well:

Bells Hopslam
Bells Two-Hearted Ale
Lakefront Brewing IPA
Avery The Reverend Quadrupel
Andersonville Brother David’s Tripel
Lagunitas IPA
Lagunitas Maximus
Lagunitas Lumpy Gravy
Tyrenena Bitter Woman IPA
Tyrenena Chief Blackhawk Porter
Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye Ale
Bear Republic Black Bear Stout
Bear Republic XP Ale
Stone Ruination IPA
Stone Arrogant Bastard
Ale Asylum Hopalicious
Ale Asylum Contorter Porter

All seems right with the world. Steve’s is indeed a well-stocked store and worth the visit. They don’t have the Belgian stock like John’s Grocery in Iowa City does, so we’ll still just hop down to John’s for the Belgians, but I liked the west coast supply of beers like Bear Republic and Stone. Yumm. And indeed we had a good dinner at Bandung and some good beers at Great Dane Brewing. I’ve been to Great Dane quite a few times and really enjoy the place and have always been fond of their beers. I must say that this time something seemed a little off, though. Some of their bigger beers were lacking body. For instance, their Texas Speedbump IPA, which has a ton of hop flavor, was surprisingly watery in body. As was the ESB. Their APA, though, was quite nice and creamy. And I had a Belgian Pale that started out on the watery side but really filled out as it warmed up a little. Nice, spicy pale. Now we’re back to being money poor but beer rich. I think a nice mid-summer cook-out tonight with some Hopslam is in order. Sigh…


June 24, 2008

So I promise not to turn this blog into a post-flood requiem. To that end, I shift gears back to the truly important matters, like beer.

MB and I recently went back to Maryland to celebrate my Dad’s 80th birthday. Glad to say he’s in great shape and still kickin’ in high gear. There was a big bash, but our real mission was to go to one of the Dogfish Head franchise bars that has opened not two miles from my folks’ in Gaithersburg Maryland. In fact, it was our first stop in town.

That’s Mom and Dad, mom with a Lawnmower Light (she was a good sport, but this was not the bar for her in terms of beer) and Dad with a Shelter Pale Ale. That’s MB’s 90-Minute IPA in the foreground, mmmm….

And that’s me, sleepy from travel, but thoroughly enjoying a Raison D’Etre. Nothing like a pint of that stuff to kick an afternoon into gear. I also had their Indian Brown which was surprisingly nice, says the man who doesn’t generally go for Browns. It had a unique spice to it.

Now, as much as I love Dogfish Beers (and they are indeed some of my favorites), I was hoping for something much more from the brewpub. It really was a fairly standard fern bar, although the vegetarian options for food were certainly above par. What I was really bummed about, though, was that they had none of the harder to find beers that I really wanted to try. The Raison D’etre was superb to get on tap, but they didn’t have the Raison D’extra. The 90-minute is one of the best beers around, and it was a pleasure to have on tap, but I was looking forward to tasting the 120-minute. The spring Aprihop was done. No Immort Ale. No Black & Blue, no Red & White, no worldwide stout, and none of the “brewpub exclusives.” Again, I don’t begrudge Dogfish anything here (just keeping brewing big strong beers, guys!) but I really thought that the brewpub would offer a bigger range of their beers. Oh well, I guess I have to go to Delaware.

Anyway, it was a great way to open up the weekend festivities for my Dad. Looking forward to many more Birthday visits to come!

Mardi Gras Blizzard

February 6, 2008

We had a lovely 13 inches or so of snow for Mardi Gras here in Cedar Rapids. So, as the snow dumped outside, the pot of veggie gumbo boiled away (Boca sausages and Qorn chicken tenders if you want to know) with some sourdough bread and Dixie Blackened Voodoo and Abita Turbodog and plenty of Dr. John, Clifton Chenier, Steve Riley, Earl King and others on the stereo. Yes, I know the Dixie is kind of silly, the New Orleans heritage now brewed in Wisconsin, huh? It’s not that great of a beer either but I had to see how it was doing. The Abita, now, that’s another story. I know Abita sometimes gets a bad name, but I actually like their beer–the turbo especially–but maybe it’s just because it really says New Orleans to me and I love the city. Sometimes I guess it’s hard to distinguish taste from emotion.

On other fronts, my new class is up and running and their blog is starting out nicely. It’s a new process for me, but I like the opportunities it offers. It’s a matter of sorting through what I can do with it and then really thinking about the why. Of course, this early in the class, I’ve already realized an added benefit I hadn’t really considered. With this much snow, we’re missing several sessions but I can still hold conversations with them or ask them to have conversations amongst themselves. This is especially important at Cornell where it’s silly block plan (they take, and we teach, one course at a time for 3 1/2 weeks) means that missing a day really means missing a week in semester-time. I know, I know, I can already hear my colleagues saying “it’s not a silly plan” and to some extent I agree. I am constantly amazed at the innovative ways my colleagues design these courses. So, yes, it’s just silly to me. But the blog at least makes me feel less guilty about not driving in the ice and snow. A nice bonus.

If I knew then what I know now….

January 30, 2008

So, I’m drinking some Piraat and quite enjoying it and wondering how did I get here (this is not my house, this is not my beautiful wife…), you know, getting to where one really enjoys a nice belgian ale over, say, the ubiquitous Budweiser.  Where does it come from?  I trace my lineage back to Three Dollar Dewey’s in Brattleboro, VT.  I went on to live in this town, but at the time I was visiting from Maryland.  The wife and I head up to see some friends and mountains and snow in March (just a few days mind you since I had to be at court on Monday but that’s another story).  Three Dollar Dewey’s was a run down bar on the edge of town that had one hell of a beer list.  After drinking with friends all evening, all over town, we end up at closing time at Deweys (oh, we’d made earlier visits during the evening) and I have this memory of trying to make sense of the beer list, what to have for that last beer of the evening.  Ray McNeill, friend of a friend and beer connoisseur, tried to talk me through it.  Problem was, Molson’s was extravagant to me at the time.  I don’t know what I ended up with, but I know that I didn’t like it.  The condition I was in was no condition in which to be venturing into Belgian beers.  Well, as I say, I ended up moving to Brattleboro and even working at Deweys.  Ray went on to open a quite nice Brewpub downtown (if you’ve seen “American Beer” that’s him playing cello and being quite witty and charming early in the film with a definite shift in tenor in the late-night scene soon thereafter–if you haven’t seen it by the way, I’d say see it) and I really learned beer from Ray.  Still not sure I got it by the time I left Brattleboro (my tastes were still far from out-of-the-ordinary, but I was certainly equipped with a real love of beer and the readiness to explore).  I wonder now how life would have been different if I’d had a real love of Belgians and other good beers when I lived in Vermont.  I’m guessing life wouldn’t have turned out that different, except that I’d probably still be in Vermont because I wouldn’t have had the money to move away–I’d have drank it away in those beautifully cloudy tulip glasses.  Ah, as the zen master says, we only see what we’re ready to see and the teacher comes along when we’re ready for the teacher.  Thanks Ray.

Important Decisions

January 22, 2008

Well, MB and I are off to see our good friends CBD and Erin and Madelyn this weekend. We don’t see them nearly as much as we’d like to, so it’s always a pleasure when we do. The pressure, though. How can one show up without some really interesting beers in hand? Oh, what to choose? A trip to John’s Grocery in Iowa City is in order certainly. But the pressure of good friends who love good beer, oh man, I tell ya…