Sunday, April 27, 2014

Leffe Blonde

Perspicacious.  That’s an interesting word.  I used to know what it means, I think.  I should look it up before it drives me crazy all day.  Un momento…  Ah, there we are!  Perspicacious: having keen mental perception and understanding; discerning.  Okay, I’m back in the knowing-what-perspicacious-means game!  Hold on, what’s this?  Often confused with perspicuous.  Hmm…  Perspicuous: clearly expressed or presented; lucid.  I can see how those are similar.  Most perspicacious people are likely also perspicuous.  Of course the former is more difficult than the latter.  Someone who is perspicuous could be clearly expressing drivel.  Or is it?  Someone with a connection to the autistic spectrum would probably disagree.  And I have witnessed very thoughtful people with keen insights get crushed in debate by deft rhetoric.  I guess we should strive for them together but be content with either and hopefully never fall short of both.

I should just let my musings sink in and then apply them to my reviewing and writing styles but I like to use them directly in a kind of zymurgic personification.  How does Leffe’s Blonde exhibit keen mental perception and how does it lucidly express it?  Concretely it doesn’t.  It’s water and sugar and alcohol after all.  But I can imagine.  If a baby can recognize faces on inanimate objects, I should be able to assess the cognitive abilities of a drink!  If it doesn’t work, no harm done.  If it does, I can call a psychiatrist.  Either way I get a beer.  Here is Leffe Blonde.

Leffe Blonde
Well the color is clearly expressed!

That aroma does not beat around the bush.  It pops up right away saying “I’m Belgian and you love me!”  Sure there’s complexity in the nose between mild notes of astringency and banana, but they all point with one hand.  The flavor speaks of the joys of non-fruit Belgian beers.  It briefly mentions alcohol bite, yeast funk and horse blanket but never delves into any on them.  It even gives a small hint of that quintessential dry mouthfeel in the aftertaste.  Definitely perspicuous.  Short winded and prosaic.

As for its perspicacity, I’m drawing a blank.  It could have just hobbled the flavors together and chanced upon a good combination or it could have very particularly chosen every ingredient so as to exemplify the beer making tradition to which each is wed.  If I had to choose one I’d go with the latter simply because it’s more optimistic and optimism always makes life happier.  But I can’t seem to get inside the head of Leffe Blonde.  I guess my psychiatrist will have to spend today alone, sitting on the couch perspicaciously thinking about other people’s problems.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Vanilla Stout, Big Muddy Brewing

A common exercise among aficionados of either food or drink is to pick out optimal pairings of the two.  White wine with fish, IPA with Thai, etc…  It’s really the same game brewers play within their recipes.  “Would fuggles work with crystal?  What about centennial with black patent?”  By discussing pairings you get to talk in analytical terms about your meal without having to know every ingredient that goes into each piece (though it does help).  Today’s beer, like any adjunct reliant brew, is a pairing in itself.  Big Muddy’s Vanilla Stout is a combination of, well, vanilla and, well, stout.  The vanilla is pretty straight forward.  We know what that’s gonna taste like.  But will the stout counter it with coffee or dark chocolate?  Either could work, just like multiple pairings for the same dish can be made depending on if you’re complimenting or contrasting the beverage.  Anyway, on to the beer!
Big Muddy Vanilla Stout
Sniff sniff, yep.  There’s vanilla.  Nice creamy head too.  Feels like it could almost form a mustache.  To be alliterative, this beer is very vanilla.  There’s a little bit of coffee, but it’s mostly vanilla, as if you added the french vanilla creamer to french vanilla flavored grinds.  Or maybe it’s more akin to vanilla flavored soft drinks.  Now that I think of it, the nose gives that impression.  The mouthfeel leaves a sweet coating reminiscent of root beer.  It has its merits but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to get it.  Though I am a guy who, given a blind choice between chianti and pinot noir, will always go with the chianti.  If you’re into sweets like caribbean rum drinks, it may be right up your alley.

Big Muddy Vanilla Stout doesn’t strike a perfect pairing between its own component parts.  The vanilla overpowers the rest in an act of ruthless domination.  But how did it do with dinner?
Definitely went with contrasting tonight.  The jalapeños and tapatio work to clear out the sinuses so you can taste every little detail.  The stout shoots back by relieving the heat.  The eggs help ward off hangovers.  Everybody gets along in a meal brought to you by random chance.  Pairings are a lot of fun and can add quite a bit to your culinary enjoyment, but you’ll still be happy if you eat and drink whatever you want at the time.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Poet, New Holland Brewing Company

Today’s beer has in a roundabout way gotten me thinking about heaven.  It’s called The Poet and its label is a raven in the night.  A pretty clear allusion to Edgar Allen Poe’s poem named after the bird.  From my reading of it, the crux of the work comes in two stanzas near the end.

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels name Lenore?'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

In the first stanza the narrator learns that his ceaseless mourning has deprived him of the promise of heaven.  Worse yet, in the second stanza he learns that he’s also lost heaven for his beloved Lenore as well.  If heaven had never existed, the raven would have said “no,” but it pretty consistently sticks to “nevermore,” pinning the blame on the bereaved lover.  It’s all kinda giving me second thoughts about drinking New Holland’s Poet, but it is an oatmeal stout.  Also beer.

New Holland The Poet
Bubbly bubbly head.
The second thing I noticed about the label was that the moon is upside down!  The basalt lava plains mostly occupy the northern hemisphere of the near side, duh!  I’ll just focus on the glass.  This looks pretty darn good.  The aroma hits me with lots of milk chocolate.  The crystal malt brings the sweet feeling of smugly enjoying esoteric poetry.  It ties a rope around your waste and keeps you from losing yourself in the deep, dark abyss of the chocolate malt.  Each sip is a tightly controlled descent into the enveloping unknown while always tethered to safety.  Subsequent visits to the aroma as the beer scurries down the glass reveal the hop notes hidden in the 37 IBUs.  This is squarely a tasty beverage.  Even the tactile senses of the mouth get to revel in it’s velvety smooth texture.  No banishment from celestial existence here!

Poe was not at all the only poet to muse over the concept of heaven.  I recently encountered End of the West where Michael Dickman describes a quasi “What Dreams May Come” image where heaven is whatever you want.  The last page of his Wang Wei: Bamboo Grove reads,

You know
how we are going
to disappear

into the dirt forever

Or burn
into the sky
into oceans

Well, I love this about us
and I want to be able to do it
all by myself

It won’t be scary
or cold

Not like what they told us at all

If the are spiders
and there will be

they will not kill us
in our
New Cities

In the next poem, End of the West, he goes on to describe four of these “New Cities.”  Each one a personal heaven for a loved one and one for himself.  We all get a heaven that we construct through our experiences and desires.  Or maybe it’s even closer than that.  In a more straightforward way, Helen Lowrie Marshall wrote,

Heaven’s not a fenced-off place
In some far distant sky,
Nor is Eternity consigned
To some sweet by-and-by.

Heaven lies in every
Ordinary, common day.
We make our own Eternal life
Each step along our way.

Eternal time is measured
By a common hourglass.
We glimpse a bit of Heaven
As hours and minutes pass.

We only need the eyes to see.
The heart to count its worth,
To make our own Eternity
A Heaven here on Earth!

Three different poems from three very different directions that all have one thing in common.  They all paint an intrinsic link between the here and now and heaven.  Whether it’s Poe’s heaven that can be brought in and out of existence by our commitment to living, Dickman’s heaven that is formed by our life before death or Marshall’s heaven that is this present life, the onus is on us.  Heaven will not just come scoop us up one day.  We have to take charge of it.  Man!  I should start wearing floaties before reading poetry because it is getting deep!  Beer is such a small thing, insignificant when compared to the fundamental workings of the universe.  But I for one think it’s not a terrible place to start.  Even if it doesn’t know what direction the moon goes.  Cheers!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sir Dunkle, Berghoff Brewery

When you walk into a beer garden in Bavaria there’s a good chance you will only have one brewery to choose from and only five options.  It’ll all be brewed in house and listed simply as Helles, Dunkles, Weiß, Pilsner and Radler.  When you walk into a brewpub in the United States you may have other breweries represented (depending on how restauranty it is) and every beer will have its own name.  Hoppy Hooligan, Summer Beach Fest, Boozehound Bruce, etc…  So when Berghoff Brewery in Stevens Point, Wisconsin decided to mix up a standard dunkel, it just couldn’t resist nameifying it into Sir Dunkle.  They even reversed the e and the l.  Lets see if their Americanisation stops at the name or if it permeates the beer itself.

Dark indeed.
Very lagery.  Lots of malt notes but the delivery is light and crisp.  That jives with the high clarity of the beer when held up to light.  If feels like a standard American lager with a bit of the same aftertaste to boot.  The sweetness from the darker malts does a very good job presenting itself without the smooth or creamy mouthfeel it often accompanies.  It lingers quite a bit and even thinly coats the mouth.  While not reminiscent of a South German Bräuhaus, I think I will remember Sir Dunkle if I’m headed somewhere with lots of American lager fans.

The label declares this to be a dark lager but Berghoff claims this beer as an altbier, which uses top fermenting yeast.  I just don’t know what to believe.  My mouth says lager, which means either it’s not an altbier at all or they really didn’t utilize the yeast strain to its full potential.  Not sure which would be worse.  It’s like taking an IPA and aging it or making it into an eisbier!  Damn you Americans and your twist top bottles! I feel so betrayed, bemused, bewildered…  Good thing none of those B words affect the beer itself.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Indica, Lost Coast Brewery

Mysticism is the idea that truth or understanding can be attained via subjective means.  One way to think of it is as Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness.”  Always go with the gut because books lie!  Another way to think of it is as a complement to concrete knowledge.  Much like Kierkegaard’s kennenschaft, implying discovery through personable intuition.  Or as any writer who tells you fiction is really nonfiction because it documents the human condition.  The bottle today’s beer comes in describes its aroma as mystic.  That’s not a common word used for the chemical compounds that waft from a glass of beer, but it very well could be merely a function of the India motif their label is going for.  Indica is an IPA so they’ve taken the I from the acronym and jumped on the western association of Hinduism with mysticism.  This association probably stems from the religion’s view of widely disseminated truth.  “May good thoughts come to us from all sides” being a common prayer.  Also because yoga and reincarnation can conflict with the dualism imparted on western religions by Greek philosophers.  I doubt the hops in Lost Coast Brewery’s Indica will unite my atman with the One, but maybe it can align my chakras or something like that.

Indica, Lost Coast Brewery
Orange and cloudy.  Perfect IPA.

That mystical aroma is pretty leafy, but the bulk of the flavor doesn’t hit you until it’s in your mouth.  Another more colloquial usage of the word comes to mind.  That of something mysterious.  As in, where did Lost Coast get the zip file to transport such a hoppy flavor without puckering my face into oblivion?  It may even be on par with the inexplicably large cheese flavor in cheez-its.  Usually with a beer this bitter, my tongue would be having to brace itself for the onslaught of each sip.  Instead that aforementioned leafiness evenly distributes itself between my mouth and my stomach.  Good guy Indica gives you the hops you want without punching you in the face.

Perhaps this is the mysticism referred to on the label.  You can know there’s more to hops than bitterness and floral tones.  You can find beers with lots of IBUs that don’t shrivel your face.  But until you’ve experienced a beer that can deliver lots of bitter hops while simultaneously sidestepping lots of bitter hops, you can’t really know.  It’s a paradox of zymurgy.  Maybe I’m just overreacting.  Maybe I like beer too much to be objective.  Maybe I’ve just had too much.  What I do know is that my experience in this moment, as subjective as I must concede it is, is unquestionably positive.  Mystic, even.