Changing Tastes: A Quick Reasoning of Why ZZ Top is the Best ‘Band’ Ever

If you’d asked me when I was 10, I’d have said the Stones; at 13 it was Primus (for a long time it was Primus). I can (and probably have) made arguments for Led Zepplin, The Beatles, The Who, Van Halen, Motorhead, Metallica, and many more. But right now, if you asked me who the best band of all time is, I’d say ZZ Top.

What?

Let me put it this way: there are bands that have more artistic merit. There are bands that are more technically talented. But at this point in my life, I’m a full-on boring-ass grown up and I know what a band’s job is–you hire a band as entertainment for your bar/club/roadhouse. You hire a band to get people to dance, and drink, and drink more, and dance, and make questionable ‘relationship’ decisions after a sufficient number of drinks.

Go listen to a few ZZ Top records–go on, just let ‘em play through. Is there any other band you’d hire over them? Van Halen gets close; Aerosmith has it’s moments. Mick’s obsession with being taken as an artist dragged the Stones too far away too many times, otherwise they’d be a shoo-in. ZZ Top swings; they’re understated until they’re not (the end of Nationwide is pure badassery). They can provide the soundtrack for a whole evening of stiff drinks and bad decisions. You can’t do that. If  could do that, I’d have never ended up working in wine/beer stores. It’s a gift.

Best band ever. Until I realize someone else is.

 

ArlNow Column 10.17.14. Supplemental

Song of the Week: Born to Hula, Queens of the Stone Age. Just ’cause.

A quick post today, with some additional thoughts related to my ArlNow column as I’ve instituted a word count on myself there…

“What came out was, frankly, depressing; no one here wants to read about me being a sad panda.” I can’t begin to tell you how much I hated the first pass at this week’s column. It wasn’t so much bad as it was unfocused; a total slog to get through reading. Also, by the time I was done I realized what I’d written wasn’t really how I felt about the matter–a valuable lesson for the writers out there: recognize when you’re onto something and when you’re just getting your thoughts sorted out.

“More people with less experience in and knowledge of the industry, and of beer itself are going to be weighing in.” From local morning shows to mainstream websites/magazines, you’ll be seeing lots of “Hey, look–there’s more than just Bud Light out there!” kind of bullshit over the next few years. Set your Hack Filter to ‘Kill’.

“…it’s about good beer made by good people who give a damn.” That’s not to say that there aren’t good beers being made at the ‘macro’ level, or that there aren’t highly-skilled, wonderful people making them. Of course there are. Word count demand cut the qualifier; I just wish I didn’t have to feel like I had to do one at all.

“There’s no point in getting worked up about the opinions and speculation of people who weren’t with beer as it was starting out, and won’t stick around when/if the industry ever hits a slide..”  I do want to expand on this a bit. I didn’t mean this as a dig on Chang–as I say earlier in the column, he’s not ignorant of the ‘craft’ beer scene, only expressing his own personal opinion. That line is more about the coming wave of media coverage the beer industry is going to be caught up in.

As beer geeks, we’re gonna have to be a bit more selective over what we get worked up about. There’s gonna be a lot of misinformed articles, TV features, etc., but it’s important to bear in mind that most of it will be essentially harmless. The fact that we’ve all spent the week going back-and-forth about the personal opinion of one chef rather than refocusing on the inevitable AB/InBev/SABMiller merger with the Times weighing in is troubling to me. Like I said on Twitter, there are real issues that can/will impact the growing ‘craft’/independent beer industry; celebrity chefs liking Bud Light ain’t one of them.

Though if you’re looking for someone to do the ‘takedown’ piece, Garrett Oliver pretty much nails it here. There’s a reason I really like that guy. Also, Jeppe from Evil Twin has a great ‘rebuttal’ on his Tumblr.

Next week: I (most likely) dig into my cellar a bit, and get to try my first batch of homebrew!

California Love, Part 3: The Good, The Bad, & The Hoppy

Yeah, that’s one from the ol’ wayback machine there. Nice.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve recapped visits to two Southern California breweries–Stone and The Bruery–that I made during my recent vacation. Today, to wrap everything up in a nice little bow, I’d like to talk about some of the things I noticed during my too-brief stay out West:

Good–L.A.’s beer scene: I expected to find all kinds of good beer in San Diego, and was not disappointed. What did surprise me was how many breweries are up and running in L.A. itself. During an afternoon trip to the beach at Santa Monica, my wife and I ducked into The Commons Ale House, a small beer bar just off the beach focusing on craft beer with some great local options on tap. Over games of Connect Four, we got to try Angel City‘s Eureaka! Wit (4.9% and made with Nelson Sauvin? Yes, please!) and El Segundo Brewery‘s Blue House Mosaic Pale Ale. El Segundo makes a handful of Blue House Pales featuring different hops. I noticed some Blue House Citra at a Whole Foods near my friend’s house later on in the week, along with a number of other L.A.-based brewery selections. Reading a Brewing News-style periodical about the L.A. beer scene, it appears that there are more breweries are coming online across the city; always a good sign.

Bad–Hop-centric, sometimes to a fault: What I found in SoCal was a dearth of the Lagers, non-hoppy Ales (Kolsch-style, Golden Ales, etc.), Wheat Beers, and mild Belgian styles that are more readily found here on the East Coast. For the most part, I was fine with this–I got into beer as a hophead, and I’m always going to be one. For people like my wife, the emphasis on big hops in nearly everything being put out by craft brewers can be tough to deal with.

My wife, you see, is not a fan of particularly bitter hoppy beers. Over the 10 years we’ve been together, she’s tried more beers than most people in the industry, and she has a great palate–she knows what she likes, and knows what she doesn’t. Too often in California we’d look through a menu at beer lists and there just wouldn’t be much of anything that she could get into.

Good–That may be changing? All that said, I did see some signs that things might be shifting a bit on the West Coast. The aforementioned Angel City Brewery offers their Wit year-round, along with a year-round Pilsner, and seasonals like a Wheat Ale and Oktoberfest. Modern Times offers a Saison and Coffee Stout that, while relatively hoppy for their styles by the numbers (30 and 40 IBU, respectively), aren’t overly aggressive. AleSmith‘s Anvil ESB was a beer we both loved. Even during our Stone visit, my wife found herself enjoying Go-To IPA (no bittering hops; all aroma) and loved the limited-release Sprocketbier from earlier this year. I got to snag a sixer of Firestone Oaktoberfest and was impressed; hopefully production is boosted enough for next year that we see a little on the East Coast.

Good–If you do like hops, though… Oh man, is it fun being a hophead in California. The night we landed, my friend and I went on a BevMo run to stock up his fridge a bit. I decided to buy some ChronicAle from Port Brewing. I’m a fan of Port and hadn’t tried this one before. ChronicAle is a hoppy Session Amber Ale, clocking in at 4.9%, and comes in six-packs of tallboy cans. How cool is that? Also, those sixers of tallboys cost $9.99 at BevMo–this was the first of many moments where I contemplated staying in L.A., and never coming back. Also found and enjoyed while in California: Firestone 805 (in six-pack bottles and 12-pack cans), AleSmith IPA and Pale Ale 394, Stone Bastard In The Rye, Beechwood Alpha Master, Ritual Single Rye IPA…there’s a lot of great beer in SoCal, y’all.

Good (though bad for my waistline)–The four main food groups: Doughnuts, burgers, shakes, and tacos. They’re all everywhere, and of such quality that it’s hard to pass them up. The doughnuts especially; I had no idea that doughnuts were a thing out there, but they are. There’s an outstanding doughnuts shop a couple blocks from my friend’s house–every morning, we found an excuse to stop in for buttermilk doughnuts with maple icing, cronuts (I had to try one–delicious, but in a way that’s a little too much), Thai iced tea, and simple old-school glazed doughnuts that were so good but I can’t explain why–they just were.

About a mile from where we were staying. Had to.

About a mile from where we were staying. Had to.

On the way back from our visit to The Bruery, we stopped at a King Taco location in East L.A., where we destroyed a copious amount of great lengua tacos, sopes, and there was a burrito somewhere in there too (my friend, I think). The fresh cilantro, perfectly done beef tongue, hot sauce, and open-air seating made for one of my favorite L.A. meals.

Put it this way: this was the first vacation I’ve ever gone on that I’ve gained weight during.

Overall, I found many more good than bad things about SoCal. There’s a lot to love (especially the changes of scenery available with a minimum of driving time), but more than anything else I can’t wait to go back. We had a sort of whirlwind tour of the area, barely scratching the surface. I can’t even begin to think about questions like ‘Could I live out there?’–though I am curious. I think I might be able to: it’s not so different from the DC area in that the trick is in finding the part of town that works best for you. I would miss Southern food terribly…

…it would be nice to live in a place like that, though. It’s expansive and mysterious to me. I don’t know L.A. in the slightest: I liked what I saw, thought, and I’m intrigued.

I say stuff like this every time I come back from anywhere else, it seems. Even I’m annoyed with myself at this point. I’ve been thinking a lot about my life lately–what I should be doing, what I might want to do, where I want to live, what’s important to me. Basically, what the hell am I doing with my life?

My wife and I both have obligations that have us tied to the DC Area for the foreseeable future, so even if we found a place we’d want to move to, we wouldn’t be doing it any time soon. I think I keep using the idea of moving to another area as a way to daydream about what I could  be doing, instead of trying to do that here. Instead of having the difficult conversations with myself to figure out exactly what it is I want to be/should be doing.

It’s very early on Friday, September 12th. I am watching a collection of footage from the September 11th, 2001 attacks. It’s a day I remember vividly, but I always watch some of the news reports from that day every year. I don’t know why. A reporter talks as people scramble; in the background is the sound–what I understand to be the sound of sirens of vehicles that were crushed in the collapse–that I’ll never forget. My dog is laying on the floor; he opens his eyes alertly when he hears it, having been drifting in and out of sleep. He was born more than a decade after all of this; he doesn’t know what the sound is.

On 9/11 I was 21 years old. I had recently gone through a break up that would mess with me for some time to come. I sold guitars by day and occasionally played them at night, and had taken to quitting my job every few months when the bullshit of the place got to me. It would be about 4 years before I even took my first job in a wine shop.

I was just beginning to sort myself out back then; but when I think of those days now I look through the lens of the maxim “Do what makes you happy.” Back then I was happy when I was playing–and with one person in particular. No matter the project, or the circumstance, there was a guy who always made it worthwhile for me, who allowed me to be happy. We made no money, and a lot of the time I spent in the band I was in back then was chock full of unnecessary bullshit, but it was all a means to an end, and being on stage led to meaningful moments.

That they were meaningful only to me is irrelevant now; what is relevant is that I’ve rarely felt that sense of meaning since. I love what I do, and it’s amazing to have been witness to so much growth in the industry I’m a part of. But I’m turning 35. I hobble when I get out of bed in the morning. I don’t know what it is I’m working toward, but I know the path I’m on right now isn’t getting me there. I like where I work; I like the people I work with; I love my customers; and I love the spectrum of breweries and beers I get to support in the position I have.

I work in beer. I’m not trying to change the world–frankly, with my family history, it’s probably for the best for me not to try to change the world. I’ve been looking for the sense of purpose, of meaning: I get some of it from the writing work I do, but it’s fleeting–supplementary income on a subject I enjoy. I’ve been looking for BIG meaning, where instead I just need to remember I was just as happy with those moments doing things that only held meaning for me and a handful of others, at most. I’m looking for what’s next; I’m looking for the point. And it’s so much easier to imagine all the things I could do somewhere else when really I’d just be having the same struggle in a new setting. Most days, I’d say that’s enough of a change to be worth it–but it’s not. It’s not even close.

I’ve been doing my job and trying sort it out, just like I imagine most of you all are, and I’ll continue to do my job the best I can. As I do, I’ll continue visiting new places, and maybe I’ll pass through the right place at the right time and it’ll all come together. Maybe not. I wish I had a conclusion; some kind of epiphany that would make all of my typing a little more relevant. But I don’t.

L.A. was cool; as were Palm Springs and San Diego. I don’t know if any of them are the place for my wife and I. For certain, you can expect me to make at least a few more visits–for research, of course. Until then, we keep going. Best of luck to you all.

Until next time.

 

 

 

California Love Part 2: A Visit to The Bruery

Yeah, we’re just gonna keep with the theme here.

 

Last week I recapped the first weekend of my recent Southern California vacation, which included a trip to San Diego County for Stone’s 18th Anniversary Party and a tour of the brewery itself, along with a great lunch experience at the Stone Bistro and World Gardens. This week I’d like to tell you about the other brewery visit I had while I was staying in Los Angeles—to The Bruery, in Placentia.

Depending on where you’re staying in L.A., you can get to The Bruery’s Orange County location within an hour or two (I was staying near LAX, and the drive took about 50 minutes in late-morning traffic), though with the tasting room opening later in the afternoon most days travel time is subject to the whims of the freeway gods. I mention the tasting room hours because tours of The Bruery are currently on hold; I was lucky enough to be shown around thanks to The Bruery’s Virginia distributor setting me up with Jonas Nemura, Senior Director of Operations and Distribution for The Bruery.

As I mentioned last week, most brewery tours are fairly similar experiences, but what fascinated me at The Bruery was how different their approach was compared to Stone. Both breweries aim for world-class quality and expression of style in their beers, but for all of its experimentation Stone is much more in the ‘traditional’ mold—around half of the production at Stone’s Escondido brewery is dedicated to their IPA, which is their flagship beer. Not only does The Bruery not have a flagship beer, but when one of their recipes began to show signs of becoming a flagship, they stopped making it—such is their dedication to an ever-changing lineup with an emphasis on trying new things and being on the experimental edge of the beer industry (there’s a reason I called The Bruery “fearless” when I wrote a short profile on them back in 2012).

Even as someone who works in the business with an appreciation for what The Bruery does, it can be jarring to hear a business plan that so diverges from the norm. The thing is, it’s working: when I visited, The Bruery was working on yet another expansion, gobbling up even more of the warehouse-like storefronts its complex occupies. In six short years, The Bruery has become a name known to beer lovers worldwide—one synonymous with boldly-flavored, cutting-edge Belgian-style, Sour, and barrel-aged beers. A special treat during our tour of The Bruery was a stop in its barrel-aging warehouse. We were led to a nondescript office building a block away from the main facility, and upon entering the combined aromas of oak, bourbon, and other assorted barrel varieties smacked us in the face. Walking into the warehouse itself was like entering a real-life treasure trove: somewhere between 10-12,000 square feet of space with rack upon rack of wooden barrels. It was like the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark—except for beer.

Can't lie; it moved.

Can’t lie; it moved.

Mind you, none of these contain The Bruery’s vaunted Sour Ales—those are created and aged in a different facility about three miles away. Part of The Bruery’s evolution involved moving Sour/Wild Ale production; fresh wort is even trucked over to the ‘Sour house’ (my phrase, not theirs) so all fermentation involving Brettanomyces and The Bruery’s souring bacteria can take place away from the regular production line, all part of an effort that should help avoid some of the cross-contamination issues that have occurred with a handful of beers in the past.

I recommend going in a small group like I did (my wife and best friend came with me); The Bruery’s approach is one that involves a lot of styles that aren’t for everyone, occasionally delving into ‘extreme’ beer territory. Unlike other breweries that forge their own path however, The Bruery’s wide-ranging lineup is welcoming to all palates, truly offering something for everyone to enjoy. My best friend is not a Sour Ale fan, and my wife is not into aggressively hoppy beers; all three of us found brews that we enjoyed at the tasting room. Because of the spectrum of beers The Bruery offers, telling your server that you’re not a fan of a particular beer won’t elicit any of the exasperated sighing or beer geeksplaining from the crew there that you might in other places; just suggestions on what you might enjoy trying next.

Much taps; many tastings; wow.

Much taps; many tastings; wow.

And there’s almost always something to try next. A visit to The Bruery’s tasting room involves grabbing a piece of paper and selecting a handful of beers to try (in two-ounce sampler glasses) for a flight—kind of like a sushi place. Once again, thanks to the kindness of Jonas and the crew at The Bruery, we were allowed more than the five samples that come with the typical flight, and we allowed access to beers typically reserved for members of their Preservation Society and Reserve Society.

What I took away from both of my brewery visits was a renewed sense of optimism for the future of beer: as different as Stone and The Bruery are from each other, there is no sense of competition there—no accusations of one or the other doing the ‘wrong’ thing. Both breweries are striving to elevate the standards of the art; both want to use the best ingredients possible to make the best beer possible. Both approaches work for both breweries, as well as their fans. If you can, I highly encourage visiting both.

Now, the tasting notes!!!!!!

Loakal Red: This was the lone unanimously loved beer among the three of us. A nod to the mostly hop-driven SoCal beer scene, Loakal Red is a hoppy Amber Ale that wisely sees a quarter of the beer aged in oak before being blended into the final beer. That oak-aged bit is enough to take some edge off the bitterness of the hops, allowing anyone with a taste for beer to get into it. I think there’s a chance we may see this on the East Coast at some point, but The Bruery wouldn’t clue me into that one way or the other.

Shegoat: A riff on German Weizenbock done in a manner only Bruery head Patrick Rue could come up with. Nothing insane happening here; just loads of sweet caramel malts and a ton of old-school banana-like Hefe yeast notes. The result is more Doppelbock than Weizenbock in feel, and is kinda banana bready. Delicious.

Sour In The Rye (w/Pineapple & Coconut): SITR is one of my favorite beers, period–so I jump at any opportunity to try a variant. Predictably, I loved the pineapple and was ‘meh’ on the coconut–but then, I love pineapple and am kinda ‘meh’ on coconut so that makes sense. Still, and overall excellent beer that I’d punch your mom in the face for a bottle of.

Tart Of Darkness (w/Vanilla Bean & Cacao): The combination of being from the 2013 batch of TOD along with the boldness of the vanilla and cacao made this version come off a lot rounder, less intensely acidic than others I’ve had in the past. The bourbon barrel felt a bit more prominent here too, but the vanilla may draw that out more. Very nice.

Atomic Kangarue: This is an insane Reserve Society offering that my wife and I both fell in love with. What’s so insane, you ask? Well, here’s a rundown of what Atomic Kangarue is: “A Belgian-style golden ale, brewed with Semillon and Viognier grapes plus three types of hops, fermented with Brettanomyces Trois as well as our house yeast strain, then blended with a sour blonde ale and finally dry-hopped with Amarillo hops (credit).” I mean, who does that? Madness. IN any event, this was so damn good  and basically steeled my resolve to get into the Reserve (and eventually the Hoarders) Society. Amazing, complex, floral, fruity, acidic yet fleshy on the palate–seriously, track this down.

White Chocolate: I tried White Chocolate for the first time in 2013, at a bottle share. I never would’ve guessed that I’d love a cacao-infused Wheat Wine this much, but it really is something special. Yes, it’s sweet, but there’s a hint of balance in White Chocolate (not to mention enough alcoholic heat) to keep it from going too far.

Oude Tart (w/Plums): I’ll put Oude Tart up against just about any Flemish Red made in the U.S. right now, and the fruit-addition versions (there’s also an Oude Tart with cherries) are really special. Oude Tart spends 18 months in wine barrels, so there’s already a vinous, fruity character in it that plays wonderfully with the plums.

Dad’s Infidelity: A wine barrel-fermented Saison with two Brett strains and blackberries. Delightfully floral wild yeast notes; just enough berry flavor–I want more of this in my life.

BeRazzled: The Bruery does Framboise. BeRazzled pours a color you’d expect from cough syrup, but if you’ve ever had their Gueuze-style Rueuze, you’d know that the sharp acidity of that base beer would cut well through a big fruit addition–and it does just that.

Soroboruo: A Sour Wee Heavy (!) with heather tips. The sour is mild in this one, which is as it should be–with the heather involved and considering the Wee Heavy style, any more sour would’ve been too much. It was a bit much for my friend, who is admittedly not a Sour fan, but it was a nice experience for him nonetheless.

Smoking Wood (Bourbon Barrel-Aged): I LOVE Smoking Wood; a 13% ABV smoked Rye malt Imperial Porter usually aged on Rye Whiskey barrels. This Bourbon barrel version struck me a bit more approachable than the Rye–less Islay Scotch-y. You can find some bottles in the NoVA are right now; recommended.

Sucre (Tawny Port Barrel-Aged): I had this one at the Stone Anniversary Party. The Tawny Port barrels bump ABV to 15.1% in this version of The Bruery’s 6th Anniversary Ale. Essentially an Old Ale done through a Solera system (with previous year’s versions blended into the next year’s), Sucre is a natural fit for fortified wine barrel-aging. Nutty, with a bit of extra sweetness and a subtle raisiny note. Delightful.   

Next week: wrapping up with an East Coast perspective of the California beer scene—the good, the bad, and the hoppy (which can alternately be good and bad). See you then!

California Love (Part 1)

Yeah, that’s how we’re starting this week.

I just got back from a vacation visiting my best friend in Los Angeles. Our trip just happened (I swear this is true) to coincide with Stone’s 18th Anniversary Party–my friend’s brother lives near Stone’s location in the Northern part of San Diego County, and we were thinking about going to see the brewery and its vaunted World Bistro and Gardens anyway, so we decided to just go for it.

Rather than simply open the Bistro and have a celebration of all things Stone and only Stone, the Anniversary Party is basically an all-day beer festival split into two sessions; one earlier in the afternoon and one later. Some sixty breweries were featured, with well over 100 beers available for sampling. Tickets weren’t exactly cheap ($45—and yes, I paid for them), but the price ensured a crowd of die-hard craft beer enthusiasts. The crowd was as big as you’d expect considering Stone’s popularity, but not so big that I had any difficulty getting around the San Marcos campus of California State University, where the Party was held. Also, I should compliment everyone involved in setting up and running the Anniversary Party; I can’t remember ever attending such a well-organized beer fest, completely lacking in the B.S. that usually makes me avoid beer fests.

Make no mistake, though: it was a big crowd, and some breweries attracted a lot of attention.

IMG_2061

This was the line to sample what The Bruery brought (their tent is the one straight ahead in the picture)

And the line for Russian River sampling was twice as long, but the pourers worked efficiently and lines progressed smoothly. Overall, very well done.

After the Anniversary Party on Saturday, we were treated to spots in a tour of the Stone brewery on Sunday, along with reservations at the Bistro (those I’ll thank Stone for). The brewery tour itself is…well, it’s a brewery tour—they’re all fairly similar:

“These are tanks!”

“These are tanks!”

 

"MOAR TANKS"

“MOAR TANKS”

“These are other tanks! And pipes!”

“These are other tanks! And pipes!”

This actually was pretty cool to see: these are the small tanks that make up Stone’s ‘pilot’ brewery, where they experiment with recipes to see what works and what doesn’t (I almost made a “rough drafts” joke here).

This actually was pretty cool to see: these are the small tanks that make up Stone’s ‘pilot’ brewery, where they experiment with recipes to see what works and what doesn’t (I almost made a “rough drafts” joke here).

I always enjoy brewery tours though, and at Stone I appreciated not only our knowledgeable and engaging tour guide, but the carefully selected samples poured for those on the tour immediately afterwards in the Stone Company Store. Not to mention the well-stocked refrigerator (note the presence of 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA, the new 18th Anniversary Golden Brown IPA, Enjoy By 9.20.14., sixers of Coffee Milk Stout, and not pictured are the bottles of Bastard In The Rye that I couldn’t stop myself from snagging one of):

"Buy ALL THE THINGS, Nick. DO IT."

“Buy ALL THE THINGS, Nick. DO IT.”

There were a couple noteworthy items during the tour: The first, on the heels of my last ArlNow.com column (about the issues California breweries are having with the state’s ongoing drought) was that Escondido—the North County area in San Diego where Stone is located—was under a boil alert the weekend we were there. Testing that Friday the 15th showed the presence of coliform bacteria, so the first thing we saw when parking at Stone on Sunday was a very large truck outside pumping clean water in. By Monday the 18th, the alert had been lifted for all but around 60 of the reported 6,300 water customers in Escondido. While this issue in Escondido wasn’t drought-related, it was interesting to see how an operation their size had to scramble to handle a temporary water emergency.

The other thing that came up on our tour was the news, released the day before the Anniversary Party, that Stone has narrowed the potential locations for its East Coast brewery to three finalist cities: Richmond, Norfolk, and…Columbus, Ohio? Ok, then—I’m still rooting for Virginia to get the nod (and rumors are flying about large spaces in both Virginia cities that could potentially work for Stone), and it sounds like we won’t have to wait much longer to find out for sure.

 

The Bistro

The Bistro

The Bistro is everything you’ve heard about it: a bit pricey but the food is delicious, with carefully chosen ingredients prepared very well. The draft and bottle beer lists are exceptional, featuring more than a few Bistro exclusives by Stone, along with cool unexpected Belgian selections and brews from Evil Twin and Mikkeller. My advice if you’re visiting? Grab a snack and a couple pints and enjoy a walk around the lovely outdoor area; I can imagine that as a really nice way to spend an afternoon.

Getting back to the Stone 18th Anniversary Party, here are some highlights from the beers I tasted there:

Stone Brewing Company stuff: Of course, there were a lot of Stone beers at the Party. I started the day with their 18th Anniversary Ale, which is just arriving in Virginia this week. A ‘Golden Brown IPA’, the malts make a nice counterpoint to the all El Dorado-hopped IPA. I’m partial to El Dorado right now; it always brings a nice, minty feel of freshness and a restrained amount of the citrusy/piney hop character that can be overdone in too many beers. Something I didn’t expect to see was Enjoy By 9.20.14., but it’s always appreciated. This batch won’t be hitting Virginia or DC, but if you need your fix it is available in Maryland. One I’d never heard of was Tiger Cub, a Saison in this case aged in white wine barrels with sour cherries. As you’d expect, opinions varied but I thought it was lovely. The new Coffee Milk Stout was great; not too strong, not overtly sweet, and if the six-packs ever get out here I’ll be stocking up on it for sure. My wife didn’t like the recently released W00tstout 2.0 as much as last year’s, but I found it to be just as punchy, rich, and enjoyable as before.

4 Hands Prussia Passion Fruit: I’d heard next to nothing about St. Louis’ 4 Hands Brewing before going to San Diego, but now I’m obsessed and it’s solely because of this Berlinerweisse with passion fruit added to it. It’s 3.5% ABV, tart as all get out, and the passion fruit just worked so well in the style. I must have it.

Russian River Compunction: Sure, most folks were waiting in the absurd Russian River line for Pliny The Elder, but many of us were intrigued by Compunction, a Sour Ale of theirs that I personally wasn’t familiar with at all. Turns out to be a Sour Blonde with pluots (a plum/apricot hybrid). I was looking for more fruit character, but Compunction does not disappoint—it’s a Russian River Sour, after all.

Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin: Sculpin is about as perfectly-made as West Coast IPAs get; this variant with grapefruit added is just a little more perfect. If we don’t get bottles (or cans? Please?) of this in Virginia it’ll be a travesty. Ok, that’s a bit strong, but I really would like to have some to sell. In the meantime, I’ve heard of bottles popping up in DC, so keep an eye out.

The Lost Abbey Fuzzy Angel’s Share: I’ve only had Angel’s Share once or twice, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to, but this was wonderful. This version of Angel’s Share was made especially for the 18th Anniversary Party, adding black tea and stone fruit to the 12.5% ABV Brandy-barrel Strong Ale. Heady (especially as it was my last beer of the party), but so complex and just packed with flavor.

Modern Times Black House: Tasty Oatmeal Stout, under 6% ABV, in a can? Yes, please. Clean, smooth on the palate, delightful beer.

Beechwood Alpha Master Pale Ale: “Simcoe, Centennial, and Columbus hops in the kettle. It’s then generously dry hopped for two weeks with Simcoe and Centennial…” yeah yeah yeah, I know, another over-hopped West Coast beer–but wait. This is a 5.6% ABV Pale Ale, clocking in at 80 IBU but not enamel-shredding by nature. The kind of beer I wish more West Coast breweries aimed to make (more on that in a couple weeks).

Port Brewing ChronicAle: This wasn’t at the Anniversary Party (at least I didn’t see it there), but I picked this up the night we landed in L.A. during a BevMo run. ChronicAle, in its canned form, is a 4.9% ABV hoppy Amber Ale that can function as a hoppy Session Beer. The malt works really well here, shouldering the burden of the hops to carry the beer, and adding to the ‘Sessionable’ feel. The best part? ChronicAle comes in six-packs of tallboys, and cost $9.99 at BevMo. This was the first moment I thought to myself “Nick, have we landed in The Promised Land? Yes, Other Nick, we sure have.”

More travelogue next week, along with an awesome visit to The Bruery. See you then!

Gotta Get Back in Time: A Trip Through a 2005 Distributor Catalog

Yes, it’s now gonna be stuck in your head just like it’s stuck in mine.

Welcome to those of you who found your way here via this week’s ArlNow.com column. For those who didn’t, go check it out for an analysis of how pricing of beer has (and in a surprising number of cases hasn’t) changed over the years.

Over the weekend, my wife and I were cleaning out some stuff around the house. Among these items I found an old backpack of mine from the days when I’d haul my notebooks, distributor catalogs, and CDs (ask your parents, kids) to work with me in one. The contents of the backpack were pretty unremarkable save for a nice note I found from my mom and a vintage 2005 catalog/price book from Hop & Wine Beverage. Flipping through it was like living that West Wing episode where everyone’s reading the book about what life was like 100 years ago:

"Josh, it says here 100 years ago (in 2005) no one gave a shit about Lager and some asshole named Nick in VA was drinking 90 Minute as his 'Session Ale'."

“Josh, it says here 100 years ago (in 2005) no one gave a shit about Lager and some asshole named Nick in VA was drinking 90 Minute as his ‘Session Ale’.”

For those not familiar with the area, Hop & Wine is one of the bigger beer distributors in the state, with a focus on craft beer that was years ahead of the curve. This is a copy of their catalog from 2005:

I'm not an expert, but I'd say CGC would grade that somewhere in the 2.5-3.5 range. I'll brook no offer under $5,000.

I’m not an expert, but I’d say CGC would grade that somewhere in the 2.5-3.5 range. I’ll brook no offer under $5,000.

Like I said, for deeper analysis check out the 7.11.14 edition of my ArlNow.com column. In the meantime, here’s some fun stuff I found floating around in here:

Michigan? Where’s that? A grand total of zero Michigan breweries are listed at this point in 2005. That stands in stark contrast to now, as Hop & Wine currently represents Founders, New Holland, Jolly Pumpkin (in DC only–don’t get excited, VA people…), and someone else…

…oh yeah–Bell’s. No Bell’s in VA back in ’05. I remember the days when I sold beer and didn’t have to think about dealing with HopSlam; the memory feels like a brand new pillow that is just firm enough. /sigh

<David Lee Roth voice>Wish they all could be California brews</David Lee Roth voice>: Even at this point in the rise of the ‘craft beer’ scene, there was still a heavy bias toward California breweries. This 2005 Hop & Wine book offers 13 Cali breweries alone; the next highest number goes to Pennsylvania with…3. In fact, there are more Californian breweries in this book than there are for those from any other country, save for–wait for this–England, with 14. England. That’s pretty incredible considering the ‘DGAF’ I get from the market today when it comes to British beers without heavy metal band mascots on their labels.

“Dear Belgium: You’re Welcome. From: America”: Speaking of imports–I remember so many more Belgian beers being around back in ’05, but there are only 8 listed in this Hop & Wine book. Bear in mind that Hop & Wine is the distribution arm of Wetten Importers, which is responsible for introducing much of the American beer-drinking public to beers like Delirium Tremens, Gouden Carolus, and these days Halve Maan and Beersel. I remember the explosion of Belgian-style beers from American breweries that occurred after the travels of the Brett Pack; I hadn’t considered lately what kind of impact the popularity of those beers would have on the interest level of American beer geeks for Belgian breweries themselves. So not only did we let Belgium by in this year’s World Cup, but we also brought untold millions to its beer industry. That’s American Exceptionalism, my friends. (/sarcasm) (kind of)

“This was back in dicktey-five. We had to say ‘dickety’ because the KAISER has stolen our word ‘two-thousand’…”: Yes, this is the ‘Abe Simpson’ segment of the post.

Pictured: the author.

Pictured: the author.

In my day…

Dogfish Head still packaged Chicory Stout, Raison d’Etre, and f’ing Pangea. Also, 120 came out 3 times per year like clockwork, and I could order as much as I wanted. WorldWide Stout? Every year; none of this ‘every other year’ stuff. Raison d’Extra hadn’t even been released to the public yet; now it’s slated to return after a nearly six-year absence that should’ve only lasted closer to three. Great Divide was available in ’05, and there were only two Yetis in the catalog. Two! What did they do with all that free time? Dogfish Head and North Coast were the only American breweries in the catalog doing four-packs; even stuff like Weyerbacher Quad and Victory Storm King were still in six-packs.

Speaking of six-packs: here are the ones you could get in Virginia in 2005 from these now big-names:

Stone: IPA. That’s it.

Lagunitas: Censored (yes, it’d already been censored), IPA, Pils.

Bear Republic: …..

He’brew: Genesis Ale, Messiah Bold (also, Schmaltz is listed as a California brewery at this point).

Pour one out for–wait, wait, don’t actually pour it out! Oh no…: You knew it was coming; the part where we get to the beers and breweries listed as available at the time but no longer with us. Everyone take a deep breath. Ready? Ok.

De Proef: Technically still available here in VA with another distributor, but the selection is pared down to essentially nothing–which is a shame, as I’m a huge fan. In 2005, there was even less De Proef to go around; only one beer, Flemish Primitive (which we know now as Reinaert Flemish Wild Ale), is listed.

Burgerbrau: I used to enjoy occasionally stocking a random Czech Lager, and Burgerbrau was nice.

Gale’s Prize Old Ale, Harvey & Son of Lewes, Ruddles: You know, any or all of these may well still be available here (I suspect Ruddles can be had, at any rate). But such is the state of British beer in this area right now that I have no earthly idea.

Shenandoah Brewing Company: I wasn’t the biggest fan of Shenandoah, the ‘brewery in Alexandria’ before Port City opened up shop. But they held the distinction of being the only Virginia brewery in this Hop & Wine 2005 book. Thinking about it now, I don’t remember for sure if breweries like Old Dominion, Starr Hill, and St. George were being distributed at the time. To imagine so few breweries in the state as compared to now is stunning.

I am Trying to Break Your Heart: This is the part that’s going to hurt. Let’s start with this:

Hop and Wine 05 Book 3

FANTOME. And CANTILLON. Yes, it was by special order and there were no guarantees, but lord almighty do I miss even the possibility of getting any of this stuff. And last but not least…

 

le sigh

le sigh

I remember in the 2007-2008 area being able to get a case or two or three of Damnation every now and then. I’ve talked to folks at Hop & Wine in the past and have been told that Damnation was the only Russian River beer sent to Virginia. My theory is plans were in place to carry the others, but it never came to pass as I’ve never spoken to anyone who had ever bought any in-state. In any event, I just had Supplication again this past weekend and I need a goddamn permanent IV drip of it–and when you need something, that’s a responsibility.

You're damn right it is

I learned that from this guy

See you next time!

 

We Are All Beer Geeks Now

Squirrel In Cider

There will never be a greater image on this blog. Never.

I’ve had a thought festering in my head for some time now, but hadn’t been able to crystallize it until a conversation I had with my wife recently. We were talking about Vintage Ads; a livejournal that makes for a great addition to your RSS feed (if you use a reader). Vintage Ads is exactly what you think it is: a repository for images and videos of classic advertisements from yesteryear. My favorite posts on Vintage Ads are often the food-related ones; they tell the tale of American food appreciation from the earnestness (and casual racism) of the early 20th Century to the “Science is improving all of our lives!” spirit (and casual racism) of the 1930s (“Tingling Buoyancy!“; “Sunshine Vitamin D!…mellowed to ripe perfection under PRECISE ENZYME CONTROL; “The acid of the orange aids digestion…the fruit to eat with rich repasts“; “Lively flavor and goodness“), to the war effort/rationing (and overt racism) of the WWII-era and beyond.

My wife was pointing out how in the span of a few decades, Americans went from Hot Buttered Cheerios, Squirrel-in-Cider, gelatin-molded veg-all ‘pie-plate salads’, Impossible Cheeseburger Pie (pies are generally a source of nightmare fuel on Vintage Ads, btw), and frosted ham to a nation of organic, biodynamic, locavore, gluten-free, non-GMO, traditionally-styled/fusion/niche cuisine-craving foodies. That’s when the thought finally came together in my head, as we both realized that beer has taken a very similar path–

We are all Beer Geeks now.

Follow me for a moment: A media star rises, suddenly opening the eyes of an American audience to the history, culture and possibility of their consumables. Most importantly, Americans learn that doing it themselves is easier than they think–and it sparks a revolution. Other celebrities follow, and within a couple of decades an entire industry comes alive, spurred on by those who were inspired by that first exposure, and an American public newly awakened and curious about what it’s been missing out on.

Of course I’m thinking of Julia Child, but I could just as easily be writing about the late, great beer writer Michael Jackson. In the wake of The French Chef, America discovered more culinary guides: Jacques Pepin, Graham Kerr, Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain…hell, throw in Rachel Ray, Paula Deen, and Martha Stewart–it’s a big tent, after all, with room for all tastes and interests. Millions were inspired to start cooking for themselves at home; a small percentage of those went on to careers in the restaurant/food industry. Just like that, you have a revolution in food culture in the United States.

Jackson brought history, context, and a nobility to beer that largely had not been considered by America before him. With President Carter’s passage of H.R. 1337 in 1978, Americans began making their own beer in greater numbers than ever before; within a few short years many of the pioneering craft breweries were already up-and-running. People like Fritz Maytag (Anchor), Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada), Larry Bell (Bell’s), and Jim Koch (Boston Beer) began to stake out territory for a fledgling industry still seen as a curiosity by much of the country.

(Note: I realize this is an unbelieveably truncated version of the beginnings of the craft beer movement in America, but I only have so much time. Don’t be pedantic, and don’t be a dick. Don’t be a pedandick.)

Their work found an audience thirsty for world-class American beer, and as they say, nothing succeeds like success. The beers of one generation of craft brewers inspired the next to not only push the envelope in terms of flavor, but in the ambitions they had for the reach of their breweries and their corporate philosophies. Sam Calagione spreads the gospel of beer while encouraging beer drinkers to explore the history of the beverage and to try new and different (sometimes very different) things; Greg Koch has built a national brand while adhering to an overtly political stance regarding Big Beer, corporations, etc., and Lagunitas’ Tony Magee brings a musician’s perspective to the beer business, simultaneously attempting to achieve a purity of expression in his beers while constantly fighting to preserve the ‘artisan’ aspect of brewing as the industry grows. The similarities between the evolution of the food and beer industries are stunning when you start noticing them, and it’s hard to avoid a simple truth–this has all happened before, and it will happen again.

I KNEW they had a plan. Frackin' toasters.

I KNEW they had a plan. Frackin’ toasters.

For all of the talk of various trends and fads, the overall arc of American interest in food has been a continually rising one. The ‘foodie’ phenomenon has grown to the point where now fast food restaurants are offering ‘healthy’ alternatives and are racing to out-do each other with artisanal-sounding ingredients. Neighborhood grocery stores now stock organic, sustainable, gluten-free items–stuff you had to search far and wide for 10-15 years ago. You can buy organic eggs at the 711 on Washington Boulevard in Arlington now. The foodies have won. There’s no going back; this is the new normal.

The same thing is happening with beer right now. Blue Moon was the first sign that the tide had turned; Shock Top, the brewery buyouts, Budweiser Select, Budweiser Black Crown, Miller Fortune and the like all followed–the big guys chasing an audience that was suddenly demanding more. What’s most important here, however, isn’t how BMC has handled the rise of the ‘craft beer movement'; it’s how ‘craft beer’ has grown its audience to the point where it’s no longer a niche product. ‘Craft beer’ is in our grocery stores, our 711s, gas stations, neighborhood bars–like I said last week:

“I don’t get pissed off because Stone, Dogfish, Bell’s, Lagunitas and the like are available at the Giant across the street from me–them being there means we’re winning”

We are all Beer Geeks now.

The debate over craft beer being a trend, or ‘craft’ versus ‘crafty’, is done. All that’s really left to argue over are personal preferences and philosophies, which is great because those are all friendly arguments; those are fun. We should be vigilant and keep an eye out for BMC taking over more smaller breweries in an attempt to co-opt the movement of course, but once upon a time ‘craft beer’ was the rallying cry for those who wanted options; now there are more choices available to consumers in more places than I would’ve imagined possible even just ten years ago.

So let’s stop talking about whether Goose Island is ‘craft’ or not anymore, or Ommegang or Boulevard for that matter. There are immensely talented brewers working with pride at breweries of all sizes all over the world–it’s all ‘craft’. Let’s be open and frank about our preferences and let’s be specific about them, too. I’ll start: Back before the ABI buyout I got to try a couple Goose Island beers and thought they were good, but nothing to rave about. Since the buyout, I’ve tried some very good Goose Island beers (Honker’s, Harvest Ale, their new  The Ogden Tripel which is nice but finishes a bit hot for my taste; Pepe Nero), but I still see the takeover as ABI trying to buy itself some ‘street cred’. Between those factors and the only Goose Island beer I get requests for on a regular basis being Bourbon County Stout (which I’m also not crazy about personally), it’s an easy decision for me not to carry it. But you won’t hear me say the brewers of Goose Island aren’t good at what they do; nor will I say that they lack passion for beer or are trying to pull the wool over the eyes of beer drinkers, because they’re not. Everyone is trying to make the best beer possible; everything else is a matter of preference.

We are all Beer Geeks now.

There is still work to be done; still whole swaths of the country where smaller breweries aren’t available. But the tide has turned and it’s no longer a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. The day will come when we start reading people bitching about the dominance of ‘big breweries’ like Dogfish Head, Stone, Lagunitas, New Belgium, and the like–a day I think is coming relatively soon, actually. When it does, I’ll just smile and be happy that these upstarts managed to grow at all–let alone become national names–in the face of an industry that wanted nothing less than to kill a consumer movement before it ever had a chance to grow. Welcome to the club, everybody.

We are all Beer Geeks now.