Session Beers: The Freedom to Drink Outside, All Day

Drinking outside at the Phoenix Brewing Co. The light!

Beauty pageant winners in my book. At the Phoenix Brewing Company in Mansfield, Ohio

Independence Day is an important holiday for both its historical and cultural significance. We celebrate our independence from Britain, we wave mini flags at beauty pageant winners grinning stiffly from convertibles, we use copious amounts of lighter fluid in our meals.

Most importantly, we openly exercise our freedom to drink. Outside and all day. This year I enjoyed a beer on my stoop while the local Fourth of July parade went by. The insurance agents and scout leaders who handed out swag eyed my beer avidly and threatened to return. They didn’t though; and does anyone want a State Farm water bottle?

Drinking outside is really one of my all time favorite summer things to do, if you can call it “doing” (which you can, and that’s part of why I love it). It’s perhaps second only to my love of backyard badminton, at which I am a crack shot. It’s hard to pinpoint precisely what it is that I find so appealing about indulging outside: the glow of a pint in the midday sun, the crisp bite of hops on a muggy day, or how much more charming I become over the afternoon. Continue reading

The Russian Imperial Stout: A Beer with Authority

Peter the Great, clearly in need of a beer

Peter the Great, clearly in need of a beer

I always thought I’d make a good Russian: I love cold weather, I can ice skate (kinda), and I can appreciate a bleak and tragic love story with the best of them. I even enjoy the balalaika! Why would I fail the Russian citizenship test? Vodka.

I mean, how do they do it? Granted, my experience with the stuff is pretty much limited to the plastic jugs available to you when you’re 19 and have to take what you can get. (That and the spicy shot of horseradish infused vodka I diligently drained in a midtown Manhattan bar where I was the only customer not affiliated with the Russian mob.) Fortunately for me, there is an alternative: the Russian Imperial Stout (RIS).

Much like IPAs, the Russian Imperial’s beginnings are tied up in Britain’s colonial aspirations. After visiting England in the early 1700s, Peter the Great got a taste for dark beer and requested some be sent to him back home. The obsequious English did so immediately, but the beer spoiled before reaching St. Petersburg. On their second attempt they upped the alcohol and hops (as with IPAs on their way to colonial India) and thus was born this, the most appropriate beer to drink on a cold night, ever.

The specs on Russian Imperials vary pretty widely, with one characteristic remaining unchanged: they are BIG. They always have a high abv, at least 8%. The one I’m drinking right now, from Founders Brewing, is 10.5% and looked like motor oil when I poured it. Every one I’ve tried has been opaque and near-black, but the hop character ranges from barely there to whoa there. Founders is toasty, a little fruity, and fairly dry — a state I aim to achieve during winter, myself. Continue reading

Top 10 Beers of 2013

I can’t remember a damned thing if I don’t put it on a list: where to be, what to do, and what to drink while do it. Even then I forget where I’ve set my drink halfway though. As such, I am a fan of the proliferation of end-of-the-year lists around New Year’s, and offer you one of my own: Llalan’s Top 10 Beers of 2013.

10. Celebration Ale. I do the Dance of Joy every November when this beer is released. It was on last year’s list as well, and this beer will likely be on every end-of-the-year list as long as Sierra Nevada continues to produce it. It is one of the few nutmeg- and cinnamon-less winter seasonals out there. You can bet there is always some in my fridge during the holidays. Don’t bet on me sharing it, though.

9. Burton Baton. Because Dogfish Head’s 60-minute IPA is another perennial (and inspirational) favorite in my home, I want to feature one of their other, lesser-known brews. The delicious concoction (also mentioned this Thanksgiving) is actually a combination of an imperial IPA and an English-style old ale, aged together in an oak tank. Like nothing I’ve ever had and like everything I’ve always wanted.

8. Lucky 13. Lagunitas first brewed this beer in 2008 to celebrate 13 years of brewing and brought it back last year to celebrate 20 years of putting out fantastic beers. It’s a big red that has that delicious something peculiar to Lagunitas. In the end, we’re the lucky ones.

7. Righteous Ale. I am a huge fan of rye beer; insert bitter joke here: ______. The Sixpoint take on rye beer is definitely one of my favorites, in part because it does not coat your mouth with that potent and unpleasant aftertaste most ryes have. It is unique in its adaptability to the weather, in that it will warm you in the winter and quench you in the summer. Continue reading

Thanksgiving Traditions: Please Pass the Beer

Watchin' football with the other turkeys

In my Thanksgiving post last year I hinted at the fact that this is not exactly my favorite holiday. I may have also insinuated that it takes alcohol to get me through an entire day with my family, which isn’t really fair: I also have to be bribed there with the promise of my Aunt’s pumpkin pie. I only have a week left to prepare, so here is my game plan for now.

We’re always asked to arrive at one-o-clock for a two-o-clock dinner; dinner is never actually on the table before light leaves the sky, so we will arrive at two or three. Since I know I still have quite a wait before real food is served I’ll grab a session beer. A bitter would just be too easy, so I go with my favorite session at the moment, Founder’s All Day IPA — full of flavor, not alcohol. For the one and only time this year, I will find football fascinating. I’ll join my male relatives, who’ve also discovered a spontaneous love of the game, in the dog fur-coated den.

The November light grows thinner and the smell of cooking meat grows stronger. As a vegetarian, I begin to rehearse my yearly explanation for loading up my plate with green bean casserole and mashed potatoes with no gravy. I will need a thinking beer, something bright and effervescent and strong. I’ll go with one I just recently tried, Dogfish Head’s Burton Baton, which is aged in oak barrels. That takes the alcohol edge off the taste enough that I’ll feel the effects of the 10% abv before I taste it. Continue reading

A Matter of Taste II: Pairing Music and Beer

Beck and Jack vie for my heart!

“What beer should I drink while listening to this band?” This is a question I run into nearly every night around 7:30 when Ben’s about to start cooking dinner and I’m doing yesterday’s dishes. I turn up the stereo in the other room so we can hear the music over running water and sizzling butter. After pairing beer with authors, setting my evening drink to music seemed the natural next step.

Let’s start by having a ball and a biscuit, baby. Jack White often screams along to our grilled cheese-making, usually in White Stripes form. I suppose it is no surprise that I’m secretly in love with Mr. White, considering he resembles my Mister a good bit. (He’s pretty good looking for a boy.) How easy it would be to suggest a Red Stripe for my White Stripe? How easy, indeed. Here’s what matches White: a black IPA. Try a 21st Amendment Back in Black or a Fade to Black from Left Hand Brewing or even an Iniquity from Southern Tier (an imperial). All strong, bitter and dark as nightmares–same way I like my rock stars.

The Black Keys, while also one of my favorite driving-around-Ohio sing-along bands, is also a great cook-along band. While Ben is slicing potatoes and beets onto a cooking sheet, I’ll be wagging my butt along to the El Camino album, which naturally has a van on the cover. The beer in my hand? A rye ale. It tastes like the bright green fields of winter crops you pass on your drive up to Akron, and it tastes like the rubber processing plants you pass on your way out of Akron. Founders Red’s Rye P.A., mentioned earlier, and Sierra Nevada’s Ruthless Rye IPA. Not for the faint of heart.

When we’re cooking up some particularly sensual meal, like guacamole or something, we turn to Lana Del Rey, whose voice will never break glass, but could maybe glue it back together. Continue reading

Top 12 Beers of 2012!


We’ve entered that dead man’s zone between Christmas and New Year’s; a week long sugar- and family-hangover that floats heavy over the couch while you sit and watch sequels of Christmas movies and ponder the impending death of another year-full of dreams. Hm. So to distract you, here’s another arbitrary end-of-the-year list! Llalan’s Top 12 Beers of 2012:

12. Edmund Fitzgerald Porter from Great Lakes Brewing. Since I’ve moved back to Ohio, this brewery has played a large role in my evening imbibing. Last January I was reminded that even the coldest Midwestern storms can be warmed by this beer — itself a tribute the power of The Lakes’ fury. One of the best porters on the market, which I continue to buy regularly despite the risk of having the Gordon Lightfoot song pop into my head.

11. Left Hand experienced a brief flurry of attention when their Milk Stout came out in Nitro bottles. At a favorite bar, the manager passed around a pint of freshly poured Nitro, which rolled and cascaded like a draft Guinness. I overcame my unease at sharing a glass with eight virtual strangers and decided yes, it was worth it.

10. Flying Dog has long been one of my favorite breweries, and not just for Ralph Steadman’s inexplicably terrifying label art. Their biting Raging Bitch Belgian IPA has clawed its way to the top of the pack, despite the gaping wide comic opening it allows my sweet mother. Continue reading

Imperious Imperials and Sexy Stouts

Spoiler Alert! This one wins.

“You can really taste the chics!” Ben quips after his first sip of Dogfish Head Chicory Stout. Upon review, this means nothing, and was in fact a harbinger of the nonsense to come. This tasting of stouts was brought to you by Ben and me and only Ben and me. The pressure to keep witty banter aloft between us while maintaining lucidity nearly buckled my resolve to try all six high-powered beers. Fortunately I’m known for both my resolve and my ability to handle alcohol.

When tasting beers it’s wise to begin with the brew with the lowest percentage of alcohol by volume (abv) so as to not blow out your taste buds immediately. We tried the aforementioned Dogfish Head (5.2% abv), with high hopes for this perennially good and weird brewery, but unfortunately all we got out of it was a puckered face and a mediocre pun. The next was unremarkable enough to skip here. I began to question the prudence of taking this project on all by ourselves.

I was already feeling a bit warm at that point, which reminded me to follow my own advice. We took the next four beers out of the fridge to ensure we got the most of their flavors. The next stout was from Weyerbacher, a brewery I highly recommend. That said, this is when I began to suspect imperial stouts were just not to my taste. Old Heathen Imperial Stout (8% abv) was sweet with a taste somewhere between licorice and raisins. Dry hop back, but little bitterness — too sweet, like those soccer moms you suspect are popping Valium in the back of their minivans. It is a good beer, but not my beer.  Continue reading

I’ve Always Depended On the Ryeness of Strangers

ryeness of strangers“This – this is the Blanche DuBois of beer! Do you know who that is?” My aunt looks at me, disbelieving, and then wheels around to look at my father, “These ‘young people’ don’t get the reference!” She has just finished her sample of beer number three and sits on the floor in mock indignation. I’m embarrassed that I don’t immediately recognize the name and smile back idiotically. My aunt has spent the entire day visiting with her older sister and her elderly mother and has a well-deserved jump on the rest of us in terms of beer sampling. She lays on her back. “There’s one more, right?” I answer that there’s two. “Oh, Jesus.”

Today we’re tasting rye beers. Why rye, you ask? Because they’re hip, dammit, and like most hip things I know of, they’ve been hip for a while but I just noticed them. Rye beers are simply beers that have some rye brewed in the mash along with the traditional barley.  They’re dry, bitter, sour, and stick with you; there’s a Woody Allen joke waiting to be made here and I’ll let you do it. I have found them a welcome addition to the brutally hot afternoons of Ohio in the summer – perfect for those of us tired of hefeweizens and sangria.

The tasting starts off with a bang as we all say cheers and take a swallow of Founders Red Rye PA (6.6% abv). Right off the bat we get to play with the word “mouthfeel,” as this is positively sparkly. Continue reading