Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I once had a teacher who asked me to write about what I thought was the most significant invention or innovation of the last two hundred years. I can't remember exactly what I wrote about, but I'm sure I settled with one of the usual suspects like the printing press, the automobile or the telephone. Looking back on this assignment of highly questionable educational value, what I should have chosen was the invention of refrigeration. There are few modern conveniences that taken for granted like the fridge. It's become such a stalwart of the modern kitchen that most people reach into the refrigerator every day without ever thinking about what an amazing innovation it truly is. Before the refrigerator was invented, preserving food was a veritable crap shoot. People had to use ice boxes or even root cellars to try to keep their food from rotting. Like any food made from natural ingredients, beer will eventually spoil if it is not properly refrigerated. This simple law of nature made brewing beer in the summer almost impossible in the summer for centuries. In Germany, March was the last month in which beer could safely be brewed, so most breweries produced copious amounts beer in the spring before the summer heat made it impossible to preserve. These were the very same beers that our friends Hans, Fritz and Klaus would enjoy every year during Oktoberfest, which today is equivalent to the beer lover's olympic games.
Paulaner Marzen is a beer brewed in the same tradition as these beers that existed before the advent of the refrigerator. Marzens were brewed to be rich and hearty beers that were capable of being stored for long periods of time while still retaining their taste. While I can only guess as to what a true marzen that was brewed before the creation of refrigeration might taste like, I'd like to believe that Paulaner Marzen is pretty close to being the real McCoy. Paulaner Marzen pours a deep golden amber color with an off white head that sticks around for a little while, but not long enough. Paulaner Marzen has a very mild, wheaty flavor that is complimented by the understated accent of floral hops, caramel malts and a general sweetness that seems to permeate this brew. Overall, I'd say that Paualner Marzen is a decent example of what an Oktoberfest beer should be, but there are certainly a handful of others that I would pick before it. Paulaner Marzen is a seasonal beer, so look for it in the springtime and enjoy!
Monday, August 17, 2009
When I first started the 365brews project, one of the most common questions that I got besides "Why the hell are you doing this?" was "Do you really think that you're going to be able to find that many different beers?"
"Of course!' I said 'There are thousands of different beers in the world, I've got to be able to find at least 365."
As it turns out, I was right. There are plenty of beers out there for me to choose from. The problem that I hadn't anticipated however, was finding beers that interested me. At first I figured that drinking a beer every day would be great and that I wouldn't have any trouble grinditg it out. I mean, how bad could it really be drinking my favorite beverage constantly? I was convinced that my entire plan was foolproof, but there was one problem that I never accounted for. The one factor that I had forgotten to plug into the equation was finding beer that still interested me after a few months of drinking beer everyday. By this point in the 365brews project, alot of these beers start sounding the same. Blah blah blah hefeweizen..... yadda yadda yadda white ale.... you just never know what to expect until you pop the top and find out for yourself.
Thanks to my newfound ennui for all things alcoholic, I've found it hard to muster up any sort of inspiration when I'm shopping for new beers. I used to be a lot more thorough with my selection process, but by this point my selection criteria has devolved into these two categories: A.) Is it cheap? and B.) Have I had it yet? This is hard for me to admit as a self confessed beer snob, but the process by which I choose each beer has become more or less a crap shoot. Sometimes you reach for the first thing on the shelf and strike gold, and other times you come up with liquid crap. Fortunately, tonight I've struck it rich with a surprising little beer called Aventinus. I found this one on sale for a pretty modest price at my local beverage shop, so I didn't really expect much. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Aventinus when I tried it for myself and it didn't totally suck. This one pours a rich, dark shade of chestnut brown that has become the hallmark of most dunkels. Aventinus is a bit darker than the average dunkel, which gives a much more complex and layered flavor with hints of caramel hops, spice and even banana. There have been a few times during the 365brews project that I've found myself to be mired down in a horrible slump, but whenever that happens, it simply takes a fine beer like Aventinus to free me from my rut and remind myself of why I'm doing this absurd project in the first place.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Ahhhhh, Italy! There's no other place on earth quite like it. The only country on the planet where you can work for three hours, take a three hour lunch, then come back to work for a couple more hours (or not. who's going to be able to tell the difference? Everyone else is still asleep). An entire country full of people who can't seem to speak without waving their arms around wildly in the air like marionette puppets. A culture where every man with functioning genitalia is convinced that he is God's gift to women, and is just dying to prove it to any gullible, toed headed tourist. Yes, Italy is a nation that is nation that is well know for many of it's peculiarities, but not so much for their brewing heritage. The grape has always been king in Italy, and it's no secret that some of the world's finest red wines have been produced there for centuries, but as a nation they've been slow to jump on the beer bandwagon. In fact, one of the worst, most god awful examples of putrid filth that I've ever had the displeasure of tasting was an Italian lager called Wuhrer.(It only cost me 54 euro cents when I was last vacationing in Italy, but I would have demanded a refund if it were possible. Seriously, don't try Wuhrer.) As a result, I've always been a bit biased against any beer that happen to come from Italy, but the 365brews project has taught me to expand my horizons a bit and to be careful about judging anything until I've tried it for myself.
Tonight my friend Chris just happened to show up with a six pack of an Italian beer called La Rossa, which he was more than happy to share with me. Moretti and Peroni are pretty much the only two Italian beers that have any kind of presence on the international market, so it's no surprise that La Rossa is brewed by the makers of Moretti. La Rossa is a red ale, which if you have any grasp of a latinate language like Italian you were probably able to figure out. Most Italian beers follow the vienna style lager format, which generally means a light golden color, slight edge of hops and notoriously light on the tastebuds. La Rossa however, as the name implies, is a red ale which is pretty uncommon for the eyeties. As a result, La Rossa turned out to be a much more interesting beer than I had anticipated. La Rossa is a dopplebock that is a dark, rich red color with a very complex mix of flavors and aromas that grabbed my attention from the first sip. If you grab a case of La Rossa, be sure to look out for the flavors of malt, caramel and dark roasted grains that are infused in flavor of this beer. While Italy still may not known for it's world class beers, La Rossa is definitely a step in the right direction toward changing their lacklustre reputation.
One of the great things that I love about drinking beer and beer culture in general is how truly international it is. There are so many places around the globe that have such rich brewing traditions, and each is different from the other in many ways. Being almost as insane about traveling the globe as I am about beer and soccer, for me trying beers from different parts of the world is like transporting my tastebuds to those places that I can't go myself. My usual rule of thumb is the more exotic the country of origin, the more eager I am to try it, but this is not always the case. It's so easy to get caught up in the search for exotic imported beers that I sometimes forget that there are so many American born brews for me to try. As wonderful as an imported Belgian ale is on most nights, sometimes you just need a little bit of that down home, American lager to hit the spot.
Tonight I've decided to forgo all the fancy, expensive imports and go with a good old can of Busch. There are no frills with this beer. Nothing fancy, no enticing aromas, no sophisticated or interesting ingredients; simply cheap American brewed lager that's guaranteed to bring the party with it. As much as I strive to portray myself as a person who thrives on culture, education and the arts, there is always that little latent spark of redneck that needs to come out every now and then. Busch is the kind of beer that you can pound with your buddies while playing flip cup or beer pong. Busch is the kind of beer that is always there when all you've got is a $5 bill in your pocket and an insatiable desire to get hammered. Busch is the kind of beer that a snob like me will turn down at a certain kind of party, but will gladly toss back at a tailgate. Put quite simply, although Busch is near the very bottom of the list of beers that I've deemed worthy of drinking, there is definitely a time and a place for it. Tonight I'm sitting in a car with my buddy Mike, listening to bands like NOFX, Guttermouth and MxPx, and reminiscing about our bygone high schools days that were full of debauchery, drunkeness, and all around good times. For tonight, there aren't many other beers that could take the place of Busch.
Most people have their own vices, those things in life that they can just never seem to get enough of. Some people are chocolate lovers, some people will lose their sanity without their daily cup of coffee, but me? I'm an ale addict. It feels good to get it off of my chest and admit that I have a crippling addiction to almost all kinds of ale. It doesn't even really matter what kind of ale it is either. You could throw almost any adjective in front of the word ale and I would love it. Dark ale, light ale, pale ale, brown ale, white ale, black ale, cream ale....you name, I'll drink. Tonight's beer, however, is one the first ales that I have come across in recent memory and really had to take a step back and think over before buying. The brew of the night is called Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale. Sour ale? What in the name of everything that is holy on God's green earth is sour ale? The first thought that came to my mind was how unappealing sour ale sounded, but then my second thought was, "Why the hell not?"
Technically speaking, Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale is a type of beer called oud bruin, which in Flemish translates to "old brown". While oud bruins are usually brownish red or copperish in color, they really don't have much in common with the traditional English brown ale that you might be used to. Monk's Cafe, like all oud bruins, has a very distinct acrid taste that is hard to accurately describe in words. Sour is probably the best word to describe it, although simply calling it sour ale doesn't seem to quite cover it in my opinion. There's just an odd, sharp twinge to Monk's Cafe that certainly grabs the attention of your taste buds quickly, but I just could decide what to make of it all. Part of me was intrigued to try a beer that tasted completely unique and in some ways totally foreign to me, but the other part of me just wanted to pour that whole damn bottle out and demand a refund. I'm not saying that Monk's Cafe was either good or bad, but rather that it was so different from anything else that I have tried that I really couldn't decide what I felt about it. In the end, I decided that my curiousity had been asuaged and I don't think I'll be purchasing anymore Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale in the near future, but for all you beer fans out there, I think it's worth it to give this one a try and experience the odd sensation of an oud bruin for yourself.
Op uw gezondheid and a votre sante!
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Beer is good. Free beer is better. Free beer that is actually handcrafted to perfection like a liquid work of art, well it just doesn't get much better than that in my opinion. Yesterday afternoon while I was engaging in my usual Sunday routine of playing video games and avoiding the huge stacks of writing projects that have been collecting on my desktop over the past couple of months, I heard a knock at the door. Assuming it was just a kid trying to sell me some crappy newspaper subscription, I remained fastened to my seat but the knocking persisted. I looked through the peephole and noticed my upstairs neighbor standing patiently outside my front door. "Great... ' I thought 'he probably needs to borrow a cup of sugar or is inviting us to some sort of ill conceived dinner party of some sort". When I opened the door, I was surprised to see the shining bottle of Angel's Share Ale in my neighbor's hand, and suddenly I was more than happy to welcome him into my home. As it turns out, my neighbor is actually a good friend of my older brother, who told him about the ever popular 365brews project. He explained that he had recently decided to quit drinking, and his loss turned into my gain because he gifted his unopened bottle of Angel's Share Ale to me.
The neighborly gesture was surprising enough for me, but I was floored by the bottle that he was simply handing over to me without asking for anything in return. This isn't like hooking one of your buddies up with a 40 oz. of Old English; Angel's Share Ale is a super premium, gourmet beer that represents some of the finest craft brewed ale to come out of Southern California. I'm not exactly sure how much this bottle must have cost, but it was clearly above the $30 range. This is a premium beer that deserves the same treatment as a bottle of fine wine, so I decided to cancel my plans for the rest of the day, pop the cork, put on a little Elvis Costello, and just take it all in.
Angel's Share Ale is unique because of the oak barrel brewing process that it undergoes before being bottled. The name Angel's Share is actually a reference to an old whiskey distilling phenomenon that causes a small amount of whiskey to seemingly disappear from the barrel. The whiskey in these barrels wasn't taken by the Angels as their share as popular legend once held, but the aged oak barrel absorbed a bit of the whiskey, infusing with the grain of the wood and creating a unique taste. This is essentially the same process by which Bourbon and some varieties of scotch are still produced today, and Angel's Share Ale follows the same process. The result is a beverage that is highly fermented, creating a sort of hybrid between a tradition beer and a stronger, liquor like super beer. Angel's Share Ale is similar to many of the so called "extreme" beers that have huge amounts of alcohol by volume, and as such it isn't a beer that you're meant to pound in a game of beer pong. The sweet, complex flavors of Angel's Share are offset by the strong taste of alcohol that permeates every sip, so it's best to sip it slowly. You're never supposed to recork a fine alcohol, so if you decide to track down a bottle of Angel's Share, be sure you have plenty of friends to enjoy it with. Thanks again to Brandon for the free beer, it was truly appreciated!
Yesterday I tried a beer called Jagged Little Pilsner that's made by a little microbrewery called Backstreet Brewery. I was so surprised by the Jagged Little Pilsner that I decided to come back to the same pizza joint to try a different brew from Backstreet. Today I'm drinking La Costa Rasta. La Costa Rasta is a dark, sweet stout with a very complex aroma and taste. When you first smell La Costa Rasta, scents of Coffee, Chocolate and Molassess greet the nostrils invitingly. The sweet molassess scent extends to the taste, complimented by the bitter edge of the hops that seems to float just below the surface. La Costa Rasta is smooth and thick like most stouts, but feels a bit thinner and more manageable than something like Guinness that drinks like a three course meal in a glass. La Costa Rasta has definitely piqued my interest further in Backstreet Brewery, so watch this space for more of their beers in the futute.
p.s. Yes, I wore the same shirt two days in a row for those of you who were paying attention. I'm lazy ok? Get over it.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
One of the more difficult things about growing up and finally becoming an adult is coming to understand certain things about yourself that you were able to ignore when you were younger. Most of us reach a certain age, usually in the mid twenties, when we have to take a good hard look at ourselves and refrain from living in denial. Just recently, I've realized that as much as I love sports, I'm just no good at some of them. I'm not going to say that I have no athletic ability whatsoever (mainly because I'm still living in denial), but there are certain traits that I'll never really possess when it comes to sports. Recently I joined a softball team with my Brother, Sister-in-law, girlfriend and some of our close friends. I've always adored the sport of baseball, and for most of my life I've tried to convince myself that I could actually play the game well, but joining an adult co-ed slow pitch softball league has completely shattered any athletic delusions I may have had.
Simply put, I suck at softball. I'm not fast enough to run down tough balls in the outfield, I suspect that I'm still somewhat afraid of getting hit by the ball, and I have about as much discipline at the plate as a recovering alcoholic in Dublin on St. Patrick's Day. Our team is a mix of a few very good players, and a bunch of not-so-greats (myself included, of course). Most of the teams we play against are stacked with die-hard, ultimate softball types who carry $400 bats and will crush any weak player like a bug underneath their shoe. One particular game, when I had pulled my quad and was particularly hungover, the opposing team crushed four base hits in a row to right field where I was trying my best not to puke all over myself. These assholes actually picked me out as I limped and shuffled my way awkwardly around the right field grass and picked me apart mercilessly.
On days like these, I find myself asking why I even attempted to join a softball team in the first place, but it all comes back to me then minute someone suggests pizza and beer after the game. Whatever I may lack on the softball field, I more than make up for with my ability to eat and drink most men under the table on any given Sunday. Some men were born with the ability to crush a softball 300 ft., and others like me were born with the god given talent to drink beer in copious amounts. Today was our first official game, and we've just had a rude introduction to the league with a 14-0 drubbing, so I've decided to drown my sorrows in a pint of something called Jagged Little Pilsner. We're at the local pizza joint across the street from from where our games are played, and there's a little microbrewery attached to the backside of the building called Back Street Brewery. Aside from being a pun on the incredibly annoying singer/songwriter Alanis Morrisette's debut album entitled Jagged Little Pill, Jagged Little Pilsner is essentially your run of the mill pilsner. There's nothing ground breaking or innovative with this one; it's simply a tasty little lager that tends to run a bit on the light side. While a pint of Jagged Little Pilsner was decent and refreshing enough, I don't think I could have handled an entire pitcher of the stuff without getting bored halfway through. But for a beer that's meant to drown the sorrows, wash down the greasy pizza and make you forget your troubles for a bit, Jagged Little Pilsner was not a bad choice.
Orange County, California is such an insulated, closed off place that it has created several generations of natives who have no real perspective about the history of the world. Most of the buildings here are less than 50 years old at the most. 300 years ago when Europe was being reborn in an unprecedented period of art, music and general enlightenment, Southern California was still a dusty, inhospitable desert that bordered the cold waters of the Pacific. During the first and second world wars while ancient cities in Europe were be razed to the ground, the suburban enclaves of Los Angeles and San Diego and the vast expanse of Orange groves in between were beginning to swell with life and thrive. It's no wonder that so many people who have spent their entire life behind the so called "Orange Curtain" have no concept of the dessimation that Europe and Japan suffered during WWII.
One such place that remains a mystery to minds of many sheltered Americans is the German city of Bitburg. Although it wasn't among the more oppulent cities to nearly meet it's demise during the blitzkrieg of WWII, the town of Bitburg as 85% destroyed. The carnage was so devastating that the U.S. Military officially classified Bitburg as a "dead city" once the bombing had ended. Hundreds of years of civilization, culture and history had been destoyed forever in a single night. It seems impossible to imagine destruction of this magnitude for people who have lived relatively comfortable lives in the lap of luxury here in Southern California, but no one could deny the incredible success story of the Bitburger Brauerei. For any brewery to survive in a city that was virtually wiped from the face of the planet is impressive in and of itself, but to thrive and become one of Germany's most successful breweries is a remarkably astonishing feat. Having a clearer perspective of history can sometimes make a beer more enjoyable in my opinion, and I can appreciate what the brewers and citizens of Bitburg must have had to endure to keep brewing a beer to such high standards despite the major setbacks that surely came along with war.
Bitburger is great example of what a German pilsner should be, and sets the standard for many pilsners because of its overwhelming popularity both at home in Germany and abroad. Like all pilsners, Bitburger is a light, golden straw color with just a bit of transparency. Hints of wheat and fruit come out right away in the aroma, but are overpowered by the Saaz noble hops that are used to create Bitburger's classicly crisp and hoppy flavor. Bitburger feels pretty mellow on the palate, but those famous saaz hops seem to jump out every now and then and give the taste buds a little kick of bitterness. All in all, Bitburger is a pretty decent brew and a great choice for anyone who enjoys a refreshing German Pils.
Few beer enthusiasts, even the most hardcore that would put an amateur like me to shame, seem to really recognize the incredible influence that tradition Belgian ales have had on modern brewing processes. I doubt the Belgian monks who cloistered themselves up in the monasteries, brewing beer for their own enjoyment, shut off from the rest of the world, would have had any idea about the kind of impact that they would have had in the history of brewing beer. Almost all dark, craft beers owe a little something to their Belgian predecessors that paved the way centuries ago. Even some larger breweries have begun to embrace the classic abbey style brewing made famous by the Belgians, including the ever popular New Belgium brewery that produces American classics like Fat Tire Ale and Mothership Wit.
The story behind 1554 Enlightened Black Ale is actually quite interesting and tragic. 1554 Enlightened Black Ale was first crafted by the brewers at New Belgium from an ancient Belgian recipe that had been discovered buried somewhere among the dusty shelves of an old library. While 1554 Enlightened Black Ale proved to be a resounding success, a flood at the Fort Collins, Colorado headquarters of the New Belgium brewery destroyed the original recipe forever. The good people at New Belgium weren't content to simply let this one of a kind recipe disappear into the annals of history, so one of the owners and the brewmaster embarked on a quest back to Belgium to track down the original recipe once more. They eventually found something very close to the original recipe, and after much trial and error were able to create something that actually improved upon the original recipe.
1554 Enlightened Black Ale is a dark, heavy ale that isn't for the squeemish. There are many qualities about 1554 Enlightened Black Ale that resemble a tradition Belgian abbey ale, but there are also a lot of improvements that I think make this beer more accessible for the average beer drinker. Abbey ales are traditionally very strong and have some of the highest alcohol content to be found in any beer (aside from the new tradition of creating so called extreme beers that often top out at over 15% alcohol, but 1554 Enlightened Black Ale is much more mild than most abbey ales. Part of what makes this beer so great is that it manages to be a bit lighter than an abbey ale, without sacrificing any of the taste that one could expect from an abbey ale. 1554 Enlightened Black Ale is still somewhat of an acquired taste, and if you're used to sipping on Coronas then this is probably not a great choice for you. But, if you'd like to man up and put a little hair on the chest, be sure to give 1554 Enlightened Black Ale a go.
Op uw gezondheid and A Votre Sante!