Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sometimes you just gotta say...


So I've tried a few beers. I've got my favorites. I've got my top 5, all time, desert island beers. I've got favorites for every season, every weather variation. I've got my end of the world, hoard as many bottles of it as I can favorite. I've got my last drink before I die favorite. I've got my first day of Autumn favorite, and less surprisingly the SuperBowl Sunday favorite. Yep, I'm feeling pretty comfortable knowing that no matter what, I'll never spend more than a few minutes at my favorite bottle shop musing thoughtfully about what I want to drink. Well let's see...What time of year is it? What time of day is it? What's the weather like? Indoors or outdoors? Drinking with real friends or just people I know? Will there be music? Confined to bottles or am I somewhere with some decent glassware? Important questions that will help me define the perfect beer for any mood.


Here's the deal: I'm bored to effing tears. You see, I've done it. Been there, had it. I've been the overly excited beer-neophyte. I was the guy that never wanted to try the same brew twice. I've spent many a year keeping a list of every beer I've tried (the list exists, I assure you), ranking it against my favorites to see how it stacked up. But I experienced somewhat of a revelation recently, a moment of clarity maybe, and found myself pondering what is arguably the most dangerous question ever asked: "Why?". What is it that drives me to search high and low for some new excellence when I've already looked upon it countless times, knowingly, unashamed at its brilliance? I know it by its many names, we're old pals. Trust me, I'm in the will. That being said, I've decided that perhaps the next few chapters in my beer memoirs should focus on something other than the few truly great brews I've had over the years. Maybe it's time to see how the other half drinks. Someone has to be buying those horrifyingly tall cans of swill you see in the gas stations and grocery stores all over town, otherwise no one would bother making it right? Well, here's to you, the 24oz can of high-gravity misery that awaits. I'll be searching high and low for one of you with the potential to best me, and believe me when I say that I truly hope you exist. Try me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Out of season?

It's hard to think of a better time for a nice stout than in the dead of a long, cold winter. Something about snow on the ground and seeing your breath seems to really bring out the warming nature and smokey flavor of a stout. It's like chicken soup for the beer enthusiast, more comforting than any food, and in my opinion rivaled (perhaps even beaten by a slight margin) only by a sweet, bitter, loaded barley wine. In fact, between the two, even I would be challenged to ask for anything more on a cold winter night in front of the fireplace. However, that being said, it cannot be stressed enough that there is hardly a bad time for a stout, and on a warm spring evening I decided to solidify that notion with a bottle of Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout by Anderson Valley Brewing Company.

I was able to secure one and only one bottle of this brew almost a year ago on a business trip to California. Since Anderson Valley does not distribute to MO, or even anywhere near here for that matter, I've been unable to find another. This being the case I was looking for a somewhat special occasion to open it, however, given the lower gravity I'm assuming this brew was not meant to be aged so I decided the wait had gone on long enough.

As usual I poured into one of my trusty Boulevard Smokestack chalices even though I'm sure that's not the proper glassware for an oatmeal stout. The color was typical of the style, almost completely black with hardly any light shining through. The head was soft and creamy, although it did not take long for the fluffy foam to recede to a thin off-white layer, leaving a trail of thick lacing which coated the walls of the glass for the duration of my partaking. The smell is of roasted coffee, chocolate and smoke, fairly standard for the style. Mouth feel was also standard, which is to say a little thicker tasting than lighter fare but short of the lip-smacking stickiness of a barley wine. As with most stouts the flavor improves greatly as the beer slowly warms to just below room temperature which is a reason as good as any to slowly savor this brew. As far as taste goes, the first thing you'll likely notice is the smokey flavor up front with a slightly higher than normal hop presence, followed by bitter-sweet chocolate malts and a well-rounded alcohol finish. This seems to have a much stronger flavor than I was expecting given what, in my experience, is a fairly mild style.

I won't pretend to be an expert on oatmeal stouts since I can count on one hand the ones I've tried but that won't stop me from calling this my favorite so far. It's an easy-drinking stout that would be just as comfortable in front of the fireplace watching the snow fall outside as it would sitting on the back porch around a firepit on a warm spring evening.

Monday, March 31, 2008

2008 Bigfoot, or How I Learned to Stop Shivering and Enjoy the Cold

It's the coldest, grayest month and even though it's the shortest of the year it hardly feels that way. No other month can cause grief the way it can. It's bitter, toothless bite can make even the slightest problem seem like a black, infected spot that exists only to hurt in the deepest, darkest depths of your slowly rotting soul. Yes, my friends, I'm talking about none other than February, and it's a real bitch.

Fortunately though, there was a bright spot in my February this year. As I perused the aisles of my favorite bottle shop looking for something interesting I found it: a $11 six-pack of something that could bring even me up from the miserable depths of winter. Bigfoot, by Sierra Nevada, is a 9.6%abv American Barleywine style ale that pulls no punches and makes no apologies. The alcohol is strong and the hops are bitter; this beer will demand your respect. Poured into one of my trusty Boulevard Smokestack chalices, this beer gave off a dark, murky burgundy hue not unlike a deep glass of red wine. The smell was floral and a bit earthy. The mouthfeel was thick and oily and sticky. The taste was sweet, bitter, malty goodness. The alcohol was well-balanced but still quite obvious. This is not a beer that will sneak up on you, there are no secrets with Bigfoot.

Overall I felt that Bigfoot was an excellent representation of my favorite style of beer. It was everything an American Barleywine should be. I fully intend to cellar the remaining bottles for next winter but we'll see how that goes. Now that we're well into March and it's not so cold any more the temptation to crack open the remaining bottles is waning, but if history serves as any indicator, we're not quite through winter yet. And I've got 4 more bottles waiting in the basement just in case.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale

This being my first experience with any beer made from fresh hops I was not quite sure what to expect. That being said I can't say with any authority whether or not it's an acceptable representation of the style, however, I am happy to report that SN Harvest Ale is quite good. As in really, really f'ing good.

Poured from a fair-sized 24 oz. bottle it was the perfect amount of liquid for one session unless you plan on getting sloppy or if you're a person who regularly finds yourself having to split anything over 12 oz. (you know who you are and if you can sleep at night then I'll hold my judgment for another time). I was feeling a bit fancy so I used my trusty Boulevard Smokestack chalice, although I've tasted the same brew from a standard pint glass since then and noticed no outstanding differences other than a more pronounced smell when experienced through the chalice. As expected, it pours a murky caramel color with a truly amazing frothy head. Think sea-foam only less disgusting. The head retention was spot-on and was easily rebuilt every time I topped off the glass and lasted through the end. This beer will make you feel like a professional every time you pour it. The smell from the glass was just as I had hoped: lots of piny, grassy hops and an overall "green" scent. After a moment to settle I was ready to begin.

This one is difficult to relate to since I'm not familiar with the style. That being said, this is an absolutely delicious beer. The mouth feel is spectacular: somewhat sticky as the lacing would suggest. Plenty of hops, with a nice clean, bitter finish. It's redundant to describe it as fresh since it says so in the name but that really is the most accurate description I can give it. This beer tastes like a nice spring day. If mowing the lawn had a taste and that taste had been bottled and sold, it would be damn similar to this.

Let me conclude by saying this: if Harvest Ale is a true representation of the fresh hop style then I'm in.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Is it really that hard?

Ok, so...I'm a sucker for a good review. I'll spend days obsessing over which digital camera to buy. I'll obsess for months over a new television. It took me 2 years to decide on the last car I bought. I’m a firm believer in reading about other people’s experiences before committing to experience something for myself, and in my opinion there is no more important subject to critique than a restaurant. I know it’s all subjective and that tastes will most certainly vary but you can usually get a pretty good idea about a place just by reading some reviews.

Now, with that being said, let’s suppose for a few moments that from time to time you’re going to completely disagree in every way with every good thing you’ve ever read about a particular place. This is the case with today’s lunch spot, The Jumpin’ Catfish at I-35 and Antioch. This being the season of Lent and my wife being the devoted Catholic that she is, I thought it would be a good idea to try a little seafood for lunch today. I’ve read the glowing reviews, I thought I knew what to expect. I have to admit, I was excited. I’ve been driving by the building for years, never thinking much of it. Finally the day had come for me to try it.

When we walked in we were greeted by a lovely display of death: bears, opossums, you name it and it had been stuffed and posed in the lobby. “Ok, no big deal”, I thought. I was raised in a hunting family; it was going to take more than some stuffed wildlife to keep me away from what I’ve been looking forward to all week. We get to the table, talk, order. She has the “Jumbo” butterfly shrimp. I go with the jambalaya. I’m told that the jambalaya doesn’t come with the standard sides, which excites me a little since at this point I’m thinking it must be good if it stands alone.

Now, a little back-story is in order here. For the past several months I’ve been on a mission, a kind of food safari, if you will. I’ve been searching all over Kansas City for a decent plate of jambalaya. I tried The Power Plant, I tried the little Cajun place on the square in Liberty (which, not surprisingly is closed now). Always walking away disappointed I thought I’d give it just one more shot at the old Jumpin’ Catfish.

Moments of conversation pass and the server brings out the standard appetizers that I’ve been reading about. What would probably be a salad at a different restaurant are a bowl of white beans and a bowl of cole slaw at The Jumpin Catfish. Now, I’m pretty excited by this point…I mean, who serves a bowl of peppered white beans as a standalone precursor to a meal? This was going to be awesome and I knew it.

Fast forward another 10 minutes or so and our meals are brought out and sat before us. In front of my wife is a plate of medium-sized butterfly shrimp on a bed of decent looking potato wedges. However, to my dismay the server apparently misheard me when I said “Jambalaya” and instead brought out a smallish bowl of what looked like a ricey crap in its place. I’m not usually one to criticize but…wait a minute…what am I saying? This plate of stinky slop in front of me reminds me why I enjoy writing about food so much. I get to string together all sorts of words that I just couldn’t fit into my vocabulary otherwise. Grainy rotten cat food. Mushy fish throw-up rice stew. Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but all the successful jambalayas I’ve tried in the past had a certain something…what was it? Ah yes, taste. Flavor. Something to mask the fish-musk emanating from the plate. Ok, in all fairness this is a seafood jambalaya. Some fish smell is to be expected and even enjoyed but this was more akin to the smell from the fish-cleaning station at the lake. Maybe a pond turning over.

I’m torn between condemning the small portion size and being thankful that they only saw fit to punish my lack of judgment with a smaller serving. Honestly though, if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to eat little pieces of shrimp-flavored leather, you should check it out. In the interest of second chances though, I do plan on going back to The Jumpin’ Catfish sometime soon. As I regretfully tried to stomach my plate of sandy slop I happened to see someone sitting in front of a massive pile of fried catfish and was immediately very, very jealous. Maybe it was my fault. Who goes to a place with “catfish” in the name and orders the jambalaya?