The Growler

A growler is a reusable bottle with a removable and replaceable cap. Growlers are usually 32 or 64 ounces. In general, they are designed to take into a bewery or other seller of beers and get fresh kegged beer on tap to go. There are a number of reasons to try this. One of those is because beer on tap tastes better.

Okay, I can hear all of you who drink beer in a casino, or in Florida, or at softball game, saying “No it doesn’t. Draft beer tastes like crap.” This is not the fault of the beer. It is the fault of the brewery and the establishment. They have not cleaned their lines. Beer is a living thing, or at least it contains living things, and if the lines that carry the beer from the keg to the tap are not cleaned once a week, nasty stuff that you can taste will grow in there.

The phenomenon of the unclean line has single-handedly turned thousands of people off draft beer, and convinced many other poor souls that the only decent beer is Budweiser out of a bottle. You know why if you’ve ever tasted beer out of an unclean line. I’ve seen the snake of organic material that comes out of those lines, and I’m surprised that I still drink anything at all. So the first thing you have to ascertain is whether anyone is cleaning the lines or not at your chosen watering hole. Once you find a clean bar, it is time to start tasting some draft beers.

Many beers, especially those with strong malts and high alcohol contents, can age like wine. However, hop bitterness begins to oxidate and disappear as soon as the beer is transferred from the tank where it was born. So too go Hefeweizens, and even more rapidly. As far as I know, it is impossible to find a good Hefe in a bottle. That’s why they add a bunch of fruit and spice to beers like Blue Moon, to cover for the fact that the delicious natural flavor present in true Belgian yeasts doesn’t last for a second once they jam it in a bottle and seal a cap on it. That’s why Widmer Hefeweizen used to be available only on tap in Portland, and why it used to taste like liquid gold. It’s also why it began to suck immediately after Budweiser bought it out and started bottling it. All the magic has gone by the time you put your lips to it.

In order to truly enjoy a good Hefe, you had better get close to the source, wait for a fresh batch, and then drink it off the tap. If you drink in bars, fine. If you like to drink in the privacy and safety of your own home, how do you do it? The growler, that’s how. You won’t waste any bottles, or any beer (hopefully), and when you’re ready for another round, trot your growler down to your chosen watering hole and get them to fill it up for you. The carbonation and flavor won’t last for long, but it shouldn’t anyway, because you should be drinking it before it has a chance to go flat.

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The Hammock

I find it hard to slow down. I don’t even want to sit down for a minute. I don’t know if it’s chemical or just a fear of not getting back up. It’s been a long weekend. Work pays the bills, but there’s not extra, and the car is dying, and things are changing at work when any little change is enough to cause stress.

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Tonight I made myself lie in the hammock and it was so nice. I had a Rogue Farms Fresh Roast. Kim and I have been to Rogue. It’s on the coast of Oregon, about halfway down the state. We went for the day. It is a large brewery, with long lines for the beer tours and a good selection of different styles on the blackboard. The food is good, but they are on the coast of Oregon, so things like clam chowder and fish and chips are subject to stiff competition from places that just focus on those things.

The Fresh Roast is a fine beer, a nice dry red, like the Jackie Brown that of course I can’t get anymore. There’s exactly the right amount of hops that I don’t taste it in front of the malt but I know that it’s there. I should go get more bottles. I noticed they had many, as though a shipment had just come in. Hopefully it’s something that will be readily available, like the Ninkasi Believer.

San Diego had the corner on the market there for a while, with Ballast Point and Green Flash, among others, but combined with the way I like their 7 Hop for IPAs and this beer I might have to say that Rogue has the edge now. Most brewers are trying crazy things right now to capture dollars, and Rogue is no exception, with their Voodoo Donut beer and a multitude of others that remind me of the list of jellybean/ice cream flavors. For what I like and the availablity of bottled brews in this market, when it comes to growing their own hops and malt and then making great beers that justify the price, I don’t think there’s anyone doing it better.

Eventually the dogs got up into the hammock with me. They wanted the beer.

Minding Our Pints and Quarts

That’s P’s & Q’s, by the way. For this beer blog I am feeling a lot of hops and a lot of malt, so I’ve selected three beers that I really like with a heady dose of both. Kim and I are going to try them and I will write literary descriptions of all of them. I don’t care much about ABV’s and IBU’s. The two bombers are around 7.5% (perfect) and the Dogfish Head is 9% (a little strong, but smaller.) This is more about flavor, and why I keep going back to these brews when I travel to the store. I’m not a sommelier or a professional taster, but I do know what I like. All three of these beers are on the medium expensive side, but there is a reason why they taste so good.

I have noticed that a beer can taste delicious one day and the same beer can be uninteresting the next. I think it has to do with my biorhythms, what I’m eating, how I’m sleeping, the air I’m breathing, how I’m feeling, etcetera. I guarantee that all three of these will be delicious, because I’ve been at work all day, and it’s Memorial Day, (Just a Pima Indian) and because I’m going to make Kim drink them with me, even though she thinks hops are gross.

PPPFFFSHHTT . . . Ahhhh!

The Double Black IPA is the darkest, of course, with a thick caramel head. The Imperial Red is, well, more red. Thick headed and red. The 90 minute IPA is the lightest, golden brown, not as foamy. I poured them all out and Kim is wondering how we are going to drink all of these, but she’s a good sport. Cheers!

Double Black IPA–well, Kim said it’s kind of chocolately, which means she likes it. It’s not crazy hoppy, more like light hops. She says it’s creamy, too, and she’s exactly right. It has a chicory or coffee flavor, maybe just because it’s so dark, but there’s a really nice tangy flavor there. I’m surprised to see that this is the least strong of the three, but in spite of its color it doesn’t hang around long on my tongue, and I would almost call it a summertime beer. Kim says fall and warm winter day. Wearing a sweater, sitting outside on a deck. It says drink outside to me too.

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Imperial Red–Much hoppier, and the malt is more, chewy, strong. Grabs hold. More layers to it. Makes Kim think of wood and live band. A nice bar, not concrete and grease. The alcohol flavor is much. much more. It’s thicker, stays on the tongue. Kim says Yeeucchh. Not her thing. I like it a lot, big hops with even bigger malt. There’s a lot of sugar in this beer. I think this beer is the one I will blame my headache on tomorrow. Kim doesn’t like it.

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Dogfish Head 90 Minute. The strongest and most concentrated. The first time I tried this beer I didn’t like it. Three years later we went on a vacation in Florida where there weren’t a lot of good bottles. They had Dogfish at Publix, around the corner, and this beer was my special treat. A ton of alcohol. It’s very clean, but you can tell it’s strong. Lighter malt flavors, less sugar, tastes like a piece of buttered toast just broiled to where it starts to bubble and brown, not like the last one that is toasted and covered in marmalade. The hops is light but still there. Kim says it activates her glands. It seems to be of better quality. The alcohol is in it like oil. The back end is floral, island flowers, hibiscus and plumeria. Summer beer.

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Going back to the black IPA it tastes burnt. The Imperial Red is a mouthful. Kim says I hate you.  I like this style, but I think the crab is a good label for it. The 90 minute has the most finesse, by far. The Ferrari of the choices, where the black is a Camaro, fast and slippery, and the Red is an El Camino, capable of carrying a broken refrigerator to the dump and making me whistle on the way.

Dark Awesomeness

It’s a good time to be a beer lover.

It didn’t used to be this way. I grew up in Portland, which has always had a beer culture. In those days it was Widmer Hefeweizen, which, if I remember correctly, was produced in a tiny little brick room near Pioneer Courthouse Square. It was only possible to get on tap, which is the only way to drink a Hefeweizen anyway, as bottling destroys all its delicious essence and leaves it flat and uninteresting. That’s the reason they put oranges in Blue Moon, and add spices and fruit. A true fresh Hefeweizen tastes great all on its own, with just its basic four ingredients, yeast, grain, water, and hops. After I went to college in Florida I had such a time trying to find Hefeweizen anywhere, until someone opened a brewery in Winter Park and started making a Hefeweizen of their own. It wasn’t great, but we drank it and were happy. (On a side note, Budweiser bought out Widmer and now it sucks.)

When we moved to Lake Tahoe in 1999 we couldn’t even get Fat Tire. I still remember our friend Jay showing up with two twelve packs that he picked up on his way through Colorado. Oh, how things have changed. Now there are so many yummy choices that I haven’t tried them all. In my time as a beertender I have been converted into a hophead. I love searching out new flavors in hops. I love these clean refreshing beers. Hops are definitely trending now. They may even have reached their peak popularity; it seems like everyone is trying to out-do everyone else with IBU’s and alcohol, and sometimes the beer suffers. There are great ones, though, and the only way to find them is to try them all.

At the moment I would say the next trend is sour beers, and that brings me to the brewer I am going to mention today, although I haven’t tried a single one of their sours, even though that is their specialty. No big whup, I always like to have somewhere new to go in reserve, but damn those things are expensive.

The brewer is Mikkeller, and they may be my favorite. Not, as I say, for hops, and not for sours, but for their brown ales. Mikkeller was started by two brothers, Danes I believe, who swoop in, take over a brewery, and brew whatever they want in there. They do not constrain themselves with the traditional German ingredient list, which made them popular in Europe, where people always want to try what we’re doing in America. They have put everything from cherries to civet cat poo coffee beans in their beers. I don’t really care about any of that stuff, either. I like what they do with brown ales.

My favorite Mikkeller beer is the basic Porter. Here is a picture of the label.image

I haven’t seen this beer in two years. Kim and I even searched out the Mikkeller Bar in San Francisco, where I had the delicious hoppy Tenderloin Wit, but no luck with the Porter.

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I hope they decide to make it again someday, and hope I am lucky enough to find a bottle. It’s not sweet. It’s not full of dessert flavors. It’s just a complex brown ale, and when I say complex I mean hops and malt tangling with each other to see which one tastes better and neither one getting the upper hand. It’s like a thunderstorm coming on. It’s like tucking your head under the blanket and reading with a flashlight. Love it. If you ever find it, buy it immediately, and don’t share, unless you want to send it to me.

This weekend Jay came to visit. He brought some Alaskan Amber, a popular amber ale, and I tried drinking that, but it didn’t really work out. (I don’t have anything against Alaskan, in fact their Pilot Series includes some excellent beers, the Smoked Porter, the Black IPA, and the Imperial Red, but the amber is a sticky sweet bowl of syrup that gives me gas.)

I went to my beer fridge and pulled out a Mikkeller that I hadn’t tried for us to share.image

This is the Jackie Brown, another brown ale, and comparing those two beers, the Jackie Brown and the Alaskan Amber, really made the Mikkeller shine. In the glass the head was bitter, so much so that I was afraid, but once we got into the beer I remembered why I like Mikkeller so much. I think it went something like “Oh Holy F#@! that’s good!” Again, not a touch of sweetness, just dark brown layers of hops and malt. That is what an ale should taste like. I don’t have the proper brewer’s terms at my fingertips, but I know what makes my taste buds go bonkers, and I will be going to get another bottle of the Jackie Brown to put in my beer fridge as soon as I can. I recommend that you do the same. Hats should be removed before drinking.

Beer Blog #2

This is a special day for me, because not only is it the blog weekend, the day I talk about my favorite beers, it is also Cinco de Mayo, which is an integral part of mine and Kim’s anniversary week. Eleven years ago today our friends and family began to gather in Boca Grande, Florida for what was to be the most amazing event in my life.

In Florida there is probably no way to get this beer, which makes me sad for a lot of people. It is actually pretty hard to come by in Nevada. Lots of beers don’t make it across the border from California, but this particular model is one of the most closely guarded by its brewer. There are occasional rumors of its taphandle going up in Stateline bars. It is also delivered to some California stores, such as Whole Foods, so if a person knows the day that it comes in, it is possibimagele to arrive at the proper hour and maybe score a bottle. If you’re thirsty, you had better be ready to fight the other beer geeks who are already waiting.

The only surefire way to get this water of life is to drive to the source in Santa Rosa, California. Even at the brewery, hands are stamped at the door, insuring timagehat each visitor can only take a limited amount. It used to be six bottles. Now they allow people to buy a case at a time. That, friends, is how you drive up demand. Is it worth it? Hell, yes.

I was lucky. My beautiful wife went for me. She brought back these bottles, freshly minted eight days ago now. Inside is the freshest, best tasting example of a double IPA that I have ever had, and I’ve had a lot of hops. There are many IPAs out there, and it seems like every month or so more come out. We might even be reaching a point where some other style of beer will become the new “it” thing. I’m not sure there will ever be a more perfect hoppy beer than this one. I hope that someday you have a chance to try it.

Ode to the Thudder

Love is the seventh blog.

It seems like a day for levity, an opportunity to take my hair down and relax. What should I talk about today?

Like a clean carbonated wave the answer comes flowing into my brain, like a rich mouthful of roasted grain I can almost taste on my tongue, like a sack of whole cone hops emptied over my head so that the green dust covers my pores and sticks between my fingers.

I should talk about BEER.

My guest and good friend Bill M. taught me a concept that I am going to pass on to you. If you have ever cleaned up your apartment the morning after a party, or if you fell asleep on your couch last night with a bottle of beer somehow balanced perfectly upright on your knee (how do I do that, when I can spill a cup of coffee just by looking at it?) then you are already halfway there. You have created a thudder.

Your thudder is the last beer you drank last night, the one you left on the counter with three or four swallows still in it. What should you do in the morning, when you wake up and find it waiting in its place, looking at you, accusing you of waste, inattention, and wussness?

Drink it, of course. Immediately. Do not pour your thudder into a cold glass. Do not wrap it in a wet paper towel and place it in the icebox for five minutes. Doing so changes its essential nature. Thudders are drunk at room temperature. Thudders are drunk in one long draught, without coming up for air.

The next time you wake up and find a thudder hiding in the corner of your kitchen, try it for yourself and be amazed.