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Posted by Bill Shannon at Sunday, January 11, 2009
I have a friend named Christian who is a wine/liquor guy, but lately, he has been wanting -- perhaps to humor yours truly -- to learn more about beer. Every couple of weeks we meet at Wegmans and pick out a couple sixpacks to sample.
One problem: he doesn't like hops, which is basically saying that he doesn't really like beer yet, at least not the full spectrum. Because of this, our trips to Weggie's often consist of my scouring the West Coast and East Coast sections, while he trolls the Belgian and European sections, their beers being more brown sugary-sweet and less hop-intensive.
Personally, I think we all come around to hops in the same way that we all come around to coffee: over time and on that one time that it just hits you the right way. But for the time being, I am trying out a couple odd Euro beers that I wouldn't normally purchase.
Problem was, a few weeks ago -- against my "are you sure?" skepticism -- we picked up a six pack of Baron's Wattle Seed Ale. Apparently, wattleseeds come from the Acacia plant, a pea-like bit of foliage that bears pods. That's right: peas in beer. Other than it's admittedly useful medicinal function (not that I need it, am I right ladies...?) it's not a beer ingredient I would normally fancy. In fact, a bit more knowledge of the Magnoliophyta plant division might have steered us away from this unfortunate choice.
I have to give Christian credit: though he doesn't like hops, his palate is remarkable. He took his first whiff of it and said, "It smells like peas." And at this point neither of us had any idea what a wattleseed was. And boy was he right. It has the aroma of cooked vegetables and cigarette ashes. And as for the taste, imagine a Bass Ale brewed with more brown sugar and boiled broccoli. Please don't hurt yourself driving to the store to get a case.
It's a really dreadful beer, one that I found undrinkable. I drank half of it and poured the rest down the drain. Naturally, Christian gave me three to take home and try out.
Back at Christian's this past week, I brought some beer, including the two remaining Wattle Seed Ales, hoping perhaps to fool him into drinking some more, but also see if I could get it to go down easy. I hate wasting beer, even bad beer, and it's still got alcohol in it for pete sake!
I decided to cut the beer with two American beers with very strong flavors, hoping that they would be enough to grab those little wattleseeds by the throat and beat them into submission.
The first test was Stone's Arrogant Bastard Ale. Stone is one of my favorite breweries, but I have had Arrogant Bastard more times than I can count this year. Plus it's abundant and cheap, so if I ruined a bottle, I wouldn't be happy, but I wouldn't be heartbroken either.
I poured the beers half-and-half. The color of the beer was very Bastard-ish. (For all it's flaws, Wattle Seed Ale has a nice brownish red color.) The aroma took on that of an Arrogant Bastard Lite: still has some of the harsher, darker notes -- the alcohol, the woods, the dark malts -- but muted. The wattleseeds were drowning in the richness of the Bastard. Strangely, it made the Arrogant Bastard more "drinkable," in the Bud Light sense of making it lighter and less filling. It was not an unabashed success, but it made the Wattle Seed Ale go down easy like a worm pill hidden in a chunk of Purina.
The second beer I tried was Magic Hat's Roxy Rolles, another beer that I like, but that I've had a million of this winter. The color remained the same chunky red, but a little more transparent. This was a pleasant surprise, since the severe, woody hops of Roxy completely choked the life out of what was left of the Wattle Seed Ale. If I may: the Wattle Seed was The Colonel from Boogie Nights, and the Roxy Rolles was his large African-American cellmate, slapping him and telling him to shut up.
All-told, I am going to have to try cutting these terrible beers a lot more. Neither pairing was an improvement upon it's original non-Wattle Seed counterpart, but it saved me from having to waste precious, precious alcohol.
If you've never had the pleasure of viewing an episode of Three Sheets, the globe trotting drinking show, it's probably because it was only available to about 34 households nationally. While exclusivity is nice, it may also have something to do with the December demise of MOJO HD, the network that aired the first three seasons. If you haven't seen the show, you should. It's great. Well, maybe great is strong, but it sure is fun.
Host Zane Lamprey is genuinely funny, and Three Sheets manages to be irreverent and informative without geeking out. It's equal parts beer, wine and liquor, and all about drinking locally. As if that weren't enough, Zane is from Syracuse and went to college at SUNY Cortland, which is interesting to all of us at Beerjanglin', considering our various connections to Central New York. Anyway, don't take my word for it, watch the damn thing! The first three seasons are available for your viewing pleasure on Hulu.com - don't worry, it's free (and legal!).
Season four has been shot already and is merely awaiting a good television home. We've got our fingers crossed.
Flourishing tip of the ol' cap to Mr. Rick Lyke, another fella with Syracuse roots, for pointing out on his excellent blog that a new episode, the Second Annual New Years Eve Pub Crawl From London, is streaming on mojohd.com. Check out the first ever show, Three Sheets: Belgium, below.
Old Chicago Pizza and Pasta, famous for offering "110 Brews", has closed its only New York State Location. The owner of this particular location had previously filed for bankruptcy protection, so this move can't come as a complete shock to anybody who has been paying attention.
Old Chicago opened on Wolf Road in Colonie (which is Albany as far as we're concerned) amidst much fanfare in the fall of 2007. We visited on more than one occasion and were generally pleased. In the chain restaurant wasteland that is the Wolf Road corridor, at least you could get a decent bite to eat and wash it down with something other than a Smithwicks or the current Sam Adams seasonal.
The problem -- as far as attracting the infinitesimal segment of the population that into this sort of thing -- is that they didn't do much in the way of rotating taps and getting something new and interesting on a regular basis. I get that they are a chain and are (uhh, were) operating under some corporate constraints, but in a town in which a place like Mahar's has thrived for years, there might just be at least a bit of a demand for a beer selection that sets you apart from all those national chain joints surrounding you. The latest offering from Redhook ain't exactly gonna get it done. Or maybe people around here are just as happy to eat at Appleby's and the Olive Garden and enjoy a Bud Light bucket special when they are lucky enough to come across one. Maybe it has nothing to do with local tastes or beer selection and the dude simply took on too much debt in getting the place up and running. Could be that pesky economy we keep hearing about. Whatever the cause of your demise we're sad to see you go, Old Chicago.
Here are the best beers I had in 2008, in no particular order...
It wasn't long ago that drinking beer that came from cans was considered something far too gauche for the drinker of finer beers. But brewers such as Saranac, Sly Fox and Oskar Blues have been scoffed at such constraints. Now, rather than being ignoble, canned beer is considered just as acceptable as bottled beer. In some cases, it may even be better for transport and storage purposes.
Plus, we all pour them into a glass anyway, don't we?
Long gone is the metallic taste that used to creep into the Miller Lites and Coorses of our youth. Since the "can liner" was pioneered by Keystone*, we have not had to add aluminum to our tasting notes.
With this stigma now removed, I felt little guilt about purchasing a twelve pack of four canned beers by Butternuts Beer and Ale in Garrattsville, New York. Butternuts' website describes their mission thusly:
It's a place where common men brew approachable beers for other common men. Translation? No pretentious eight dollar a bottle Weenieweissers allowed. Here, the ingredients are simple and natural. The brewer's art is practiced with creativity and reverence to the old code. The beers are eminently drinkable.(Believe it or not, none of us at BeerJanglin' added that last line.)
And farting is funny.
So there is a clear -- some might say belabored -- credo to appeal to the "just plain folks" demographic; in fact, the site often takes irreverent potshots at the classic English and German styles. But will they apply the same irreverent whimsy to their beers?
With all the fast-moving happenings in the craft brewing world, we have been remiss in being slow to ignore some of the good things that the Ithaca Brewing Company has been doing lately. I first took notice on Thanksgiving weekend, when I noticed that their seasonal twelve-pack was absent the previously ubiquitous Apricot Wheat beer (a popular beer of which I am not particularly fond).
Instead, the twelver has four solid offerings: the decent Pale Ale, the gloriously hoppy Cascazilla, the surprisingly nice Oaked Nut Brown and my favorite winter offering, Gorges Porter.
Ithaca has also thrown their hat into the Big Beer movement, by offering 22-ounce bottles of new beers, in their Excelsior! series. They have just announced the release of their new αlpHαlpHα Double Honey Bitter and it has become clear that we are way behind in getting in on the Ithaca action.
[Note: It is going to be hard to find information about the Excelsior! series on Ithaca Beer's own website since it's not listed among their beers. They may want to get on that.]
Ithaca has released a beer in the series called White Gold, which is labelled as a "Strong Pale Wheat Ale." The label describes the beer thusly:
A Belgo-American Ale brewed with domestic barley and French wheat malts, the finest Continental and U.S. grown hops, and fermented with Belgian, English and Wild yeasts.