Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Three Floyds Rabid Rabbit, tap

Last night I'd really hoped to leave work early enough to watch the Hawks game. Not that I'm such a big hockey fan, though I do like the sport; in fact, it may be the most stressful and mesmerizing for me to watch. It's just not always that I want to be stressed out and mesmerized. Still, showing in public places for the Big Game is one of my few rituals of normalcy, even if it's a put-on half the time, so last night was meant to be one of those occasions.

Instead, I got wrapped up in work and left just in time to hear the start of OT on my car radio, hoping the game would extend long enough to catch the finish in moving pictures. The players ignored my plans, ending the game before I could reach a public place with cable. What can you do. 

Though the game was over and I knew it would have preempted vinyl night at the usual Tuesday destination, I needed a Lunar fix and popped in anyway. Game or no game, vinyl or no vinyl, there is always great beer--and real human faces. These things are important too.

Rabid Rabbit is a saison, a categorical favorite of mine. It's also one of those magical beers that cycles through multiple flavors and aromas as your senses adjust and readjust to every sip. The initial whiff is all peaches and bark, but compared to the average saison, Rabid Rabbit is less sweet, more bitter, and drier to the palate. I prefer this style, but if you like them sweeter, you may be better off with something else. The bitterness is citrusy, lurking behind the other fruity notes--apricots and pears, I think--and cardamom or some similar spice. It also had characteristically hefe banana and Double Bubble notes, and I kept getting a hint of cumin and, weirdly, rice at the finish, which I didn't expect at all. Work my suggestibility enough, and I could probably name dozens more flavors I may or may not have picked up as I drank this.

Grade: M, for metamorphosing. By the time I finished, I felt like I'd had a few different beers. For 9% ABV in such a light-colored beer, it was exceptionally smooth. If you like Belgians without the sugary kick, I would recommend it.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Scotch Ale Twofer: Tyranena Shaggin' in the Wood and Three Floyds Robert the Bruce

Slow Friday nights at bars are terrible for business but awesome for patrons, especially those who are too weary for the logistical hurdles and social pressure of being with "real" friends. Because the bar is overstaffed expecting a big weekend crowd, service is especially fast, and the yahoos keep in line. 

At Brixie's, it also means seeing a (usually) good band performing for a few dozen people--again, bad for business, bad for the band, but enjoyable for me. Last night's band, Shannon the 2 Timers (that's a pair of timers, rather than an indefinite number of two-timers) gets my endorsement. Based on the hour of their set I caught, they're a country cover band that does mostly non-country songs, mostly quite well. "Ballroom Blitz" was a particular highlight.

I also played my first game of pinball--not in my life, but at least in fifteen years. The bar has two machines, but in all the times I'd been there, I'd never felt compelled to play. I don't remember pinball being so great as a kid, and as an adult, I expected it to be boring. But I got talked into a game. I was affirmed in my assumption of boring; add to it a little annoying--lots of waiting for the ball to fall and enough flashing light to put chemically stable brains near seizure.

Shaggin' in the Wood is barrel-aged scotch ale, so it's stronger and sweeter than your typical variety. I thought it had more of a bourbon than a scotch flavor, but that could have been some synesthetic conflation with the country twang in my ears while I drank it. The aroma had that roasty caramel smell and some dark fruits like dates and cherries, which also came out in the sip. The texture was thin but syrupy enough to swish, perfect for the flavor. I'm not a huge scotch ale drinker, but this was one of the best I've ever had. 

Grade: G, for good medicine.

Robert the Bruce is a very different type of scotch ale, so it wasn't redundant to my first beer. Still, as I expected, it was a step down but still very enjoyable. I'd had this beer a few times before but never (I don't think) on tap. Molasses is probably the most prominent note in both the aroma and taste. The hops give a little blueberry on the whiff, along with some general cakiness. The sip finishes more bitter than most scotch ales I've had. Neither of these beers has much of the musty flavor I think of with scotch. 

Grade: B, for borderline-walkable. That is, I could walk away from this beer if I couldn't finish, which I almost did, but I'd rather not.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Great Lakes Burning River, bottle

This week, while my brother and sister-in-law are on vacation in Florida, I've been watching their cats.

Their names are Fluffy and Furball. Just kidding. They're Newman and Vargas, taken from the Seinfeld character and his Bizarro-world counterpart. I've previously chronicled my responsible dog-sitting, but this is my first experience with cats. I thought cat-sitting would be much easier since I don't actually have to do anything, other than bear their presence and scoop the litter box (which, incidentally, feels less demeaning than I expected). And it is easier, from that standpoint. But I'm always concerned--overly concerned maybe--with the comfort and happiness of the animals under my watch. The dogs give me instant feedback; their needs are greater but more obvious. The cats? I can't figure out what--if anything--they need from me. In that sense, their self-sufficiency is disconcerting; I worry that it's concealing some deep emotional need on which I'm utterly failing them, my cat sense undeveloped as it is.

As I type this, in fact, Newman--as he's been doing all week--is purring and weirdly rubbing his body against the side of my monitor, occasionally trying lick or nibble at my fingers. What the heck do you want, cat? I pet him, but, see, I don't even know how cats like to be touched. And now he's sort of digging at the bed under the corner of the laptop. What a weirdo.

When my brother brought the cats over on Sunday, they came with a sixer of Burning River and some homemade strawberry ice cream. I won't lie; the ice cream was probably the bigger score--not that I don't love Burning River, but as a weekday vegan, ice cream is an indulgence I'll rarely afford myself. And the fact that something is homemade not only mitigates the guilt of eating dairy and stuffing my face, it actually gives dairy-eating and face-stuffing a feeling of purpose and righteousness that comes with the gracious acceptance of a gift. And so goes the slippery slope of communal sin.

I think of Burning River as the misunderstood troublemaker--complex, layered, masked by an abrasive exterior, worth the patience to really understand him. If you think this analogy is beneath me or any other self-respecting blogger, you are correct. But I haven't been sleeping much, and that's all I've got right now. What I mean, in slightly more substantive terms, is that Burning River is a hoppy punch of a pale, and that's all it will be if you want. But he's really a slightly sweet, dense pilsner with a bitter exterior, doughy, fruity, and faintly toasted on the swirl... shelled by a layer of hops. The grainy side is like rye; the fruit is not citrusy, the bitterness being more earthy like pine than sour like a grapefruit. Raisin or blueberry is probably closer to it.

Grade: Y, for, you don't understand him like I do. Be patient; get to know him.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Brooklyn Pilsner, bottle

From everything I've ever read about it, Brooklyn is the most rugged, edgy, lively, depressing, poor, wealthy, artistic, soulless, white, black, phony, and authentic place on earth. My impressions may be completely wrong, though; I've never actually been there, and I assume I never will. People like me, i.e. suburbanites, are best off staying away from cities; it's obvious we don't belong and just risk embarrassing ourselves. And I really don't like to embarrass myself.

Whenever I have a beer from such an unattainable place, I expect mysticism. I expect cool factor. I expect it to make me resent my usual cretin swill and want to leave the farm for good. I expect to feel shame.

Brooklyn Pilsner probably falls in the German pilsner category. It's less grainy and more bitter than the popular brands and just a touch sweet (honey). The hops are more green matter than dead matter and some citrusy, which I'd actually place closer to lime than the typical grapefruit notes. The aroma's fine but weak and unimportant; it's a pilsner. The feel is dry as you'd expect. It did finish a little tinny on a few sips, but I wouldn't read too much into this--I'm not sure how clean the glass really was :-/

Grade: L, for lacking mysticism. Off hand, it reminded me a little of Lagunitas Pils but not quite as good. It left me pleased but not ashamed. And really, the price point to buy it here in flyover country is probably too high to be a worthy purchase except to sample it once.

BONUS: While we're on the subject of Brooklyn, via the Infra Blog, here's another happy reminder that our infrastructure--nay, our entire standard of living--is literally crumbling down around us. If you can't get in the mood to drink, this might help:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Breckenridge Vanilla Porter, bottle

In an effort to make better (more better?) use of my time, I decided a while back that I'd only blog about really exceptional beers unless I had a great story to tell along with the beer review. Instead, for no other reason than my fingers feel like typing, tonight I'm reviewing a mediocre beer, drunk by my bedside on a nondescript Tuesday night.

The label on Breckenridge Vanilla Porter says "remarkable" and "partakable" on the front. I'll let you guess which word is a more accurate description. (Hint: it's the word that gets flagged by spell-check.) Snark aside, it's a perfectly ok beer--nothing notable, nothing objectionable, nothing much for me to say.

The vanilla is subtle, though not totally ingrained into the brew. Subtle would also be a pretty good way to describe the rest of the flavor. There's the usual toasty malt and a slightly bitter finish, but mostly, I was wondering if I'm coming down with a cold. It was only fragrant on the initial pour; once the head dissipated, so did the aroma. It was pleasant enough while it lasted--malty, earthy like bark and broccoli, and coffee.

This isn't viscous enough to be porter, but it has the right amount of carbonation. Because of the thin body and low ABV (4.7%), it's not really a sipper--too few tilts of the glass for my liking.

Grade: V, for value-neutral. Partakable really is an apt description. Gotta hand it to the marketing team.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Because we should probably say something about the Goose Island news

Of the two of us MBB bloggers, I'm probably not the person to be commenting on today's big beer story that Anheuser-Busch has acquired Goose Island--mainly that I'm indifferent to the news, both as a consumer and general observer, but I'll share what little I have to say before the story goes stale.

As a beer drinker, I'm not terribly concerned how the acquisition will affect the quality of the product because a) I expect its change to be minimal and b) I don't think much of it to begin with. Yes, some of Goose Island's specialty brews are quite good--in fact, I gave a very positive review of one in my last post--and I suppose it's possible that these will be lost or ruined. But I doubt this very much for reasons I'll mention in a second.

If you're worried about the quality of the flagship brews, you should have already moved onto better beers anyway. I don't say that as a snob but as a friend. I've had worse dishwater wheats than 312, but that's the best I can say; to cop the tired pizza analogy, the IPA is the Papa John's in the heart of Dagoville; and don't get me started on Green Line. For Chicagoans who lament the loss of a local brand, the alternatives are hardly lacking. (With--shill alert!--another on the way.)

But that's all beside the point that $39 million is a whole lotta wort, or yeast, or whatever, and if I had great brand recognition and a so-so product in a market with a swelling pool of competitors, I'd be looking to cash out too. Ironically, craft beer going mainstream is as much Goose Island's doing as it stands to be its undoing the more the palate of the beer-drinking public matures. In the meantime, it's still a nice bridge between A-B's current market and their future.

Anheuser-Busch knows that commercials and stadium contracts can't protect them when taste and choice trump image, as declining sales have already proven. They've seen the trends in food and dining and realize that the only way to survive is to diversify, or at least straddle the hoity toity-hoi polloi divide. A high-profile craft was missing from that portfolio; now they have it. Good for them.

For Goose Island, the timing seems appropriate, with competition creeping up and their microbrew cred bordering on gone. I don't know their motivations, but if ambition means accepting when you've become the establishment, maybe that's what Goose Island's done by selling the brand.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Goose Island Dominique, tap

When I'm this far up in my head, I shouldn't even try to be social. My work, the weather, my sleep, my food supply--not much room for human interaction. Tonight I tried because I thought I needed it. Brixie's is a grounding spot, usually, but I couldn't find the handle. Thoughts wouldn't form words; I spoke out of turn; I stared; I didn't even notice I was biting my nails until I started to make them bleed and had to stick my hand up in my undershirt because blood's not a great palate cleanser. I don't think the staff or regulars noticed. The last thing I want to do at a bar is seem drunk or sinister because I'm neither. But what can you do--at least I got out.

Dominique is a Belgian sour, a slow-sipper that doesn't taste very Belgian and only a little sour. The aroma is oaky with some fruit--cherries or cranberries. It reminded me of the Frank's Nursery and Crafts I worked at in high school--fake flowers and wicker baskets. The taste was similar but with a bourbon kick. The tart, cherry notes stick out; maybe some apple too and a vague hint of celery or turnip. It's mildly sweet but boozy first, bitter second. It's 8.5% ABV but tastes like more--surprisingly not a bad thing. The twelve ounces lasted a good eighty minutes; I bet I tilted the glass twenty-five times by the time I was done, but that's probably an exaggeration.

Grade: G, for gripping. You won't let Dominique get too far out of sight once it's in front of you, and it'll stand out after the fact. Drink this on its own when you have plenty of time. Calmly. Never when you're anxious. Trust me; it's pretty good.