Cure for the Common Valentine’s Day


Whoa, let’s not get carried away here…

Few holidays are loathed with the same venom as Valentine’s Day. I say, save all the energy you expend complaining about not getting a date and put it into not celebrating the day white man did not discover our land mass. No? Would it be different if you got Monday off? Maybe you just want to binge-watch John Hughes movies and aggressively eat obscene amounts of chocolate. You can do better than that! Let’s do it up right and drink the whole damn day away. Here are a few beers to pair with your own particular brand of self-hatred.

Say you intend to spend a reclusive evening alone on Valentine’s Day, as you’ve spent the entire beginning of the 14th spiraling down into a dark and inescapable funk after Facebook-stalking your ex and obsessing over the syntax and contextual hints of their most recent posts involving someone named Jamie. It is clear you need a stout, a Heart of Darkness from Magic Hat, to be specific. If you’re going to lose it, really go for it. Continue reading

How to Run a Successful Beer Tasting: Step 1) Invite Poets

The Royalty

The Royalty / Fallen Soldiers

According to the experts, when you run a beer tasting you should always begin with the lightest beer with the lowest abv; however, when you’re tasting only imperial IPAs, this might mean you start at 8%. My friends Kate and Orie came over to help Ben and I taste a mixed sixer of double IPAs so I wouldn’t end up with an article on alcohol poisoning instead.

We had some pizza while we did our stretches and a few warm-up sips of a Brooklyn East IPA — overall a very responsible preamble. We also did a little research, by which I mean we talked at our phones and accepted Wiki definitions as good enough. Turns out Imperial just refers to any beer that has extra bunches of hops or malt, resulting in extra bunches of alcohol. It originated when the British had to brew their stout extra forte to make the journey to the royal Russian court. Basically, big and bold beers, regardless of style.

We start out with Hopmouth, a double IPA from Arcadia Brewing in Kalamazoo, Michigan. At 8%, Hopmouth was dangerously smooth — sessionable, even. Overall it was good, quite drinkable, but not our favorite.

Brooklyn Brewing’s Brooklyn Blast, at 8.4%, is up next. (Side note: this name is embarrassingly hard for me to say even without alcohol, transposing my Ls and Rs like I was Long Duck Dong in the spectacularly un-PC Sixteen Candles.) Kate takes a sip and trills, “it’s the tips of the hairs on the back of a bee! A ferocious honeysuckle meringue!” (Side note 2: I should also mention that Kate and Orie are musicians, poets, artists, beautiful people with shiny, twisty minds.) 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

It’s Can-demonium! The Wild Proliferation of Craft Beer in Cans

Bottles and cans, just clap your hands, just clap your hay-ands.

I imagine when I first saw a can of Oskar Blues beer, my expression was akin to the one my mother made the first and last time I made her listen to Beck. Like, really–you thought I’d like this?

I first came across this can-only Colorado brewery at the 2006 Great American Beer Fest in Boston. Until then, my only contact with canned beer was that one Busch Light I sipped on unhappily for hours at a college party, the stress of being polite rendering me dead sober. Imagine my surprise when I tasted a sample of Ten Fidy, an imperial stout in Oskar Blues’ trademark can, and found it not just equal to the beer samples I’d had poured from bottles, but even better than many.

Now, eleven years after Oskar Blues launched the “Canned Beer Apocalypse,” the rest of the craft beer world is picking up the trend. Cans are IN. Why, you ask? There are numerous checks in the pro-can column; here are a few:

  • Cans are cheaper to make and ship. Aluminum is less expensive than glass and considerably lighter, resulting in lower shipping costs. Also, the cost of creating a label and a bottle separately can be costlier than using pre-printed aluminum. Lastly, glass can break in transit; aluminum doesn’t.
  • Cans keep beer better than glass. They don’t let light in, light being the prime culprit in skunky beer. (Beer in green bottles = bleh.) Also, these aren’t my father’s cans: nowadays aluminum cans are lined so the beer never actually touches it, which eliminates that metallic zing on your tongue. Continue reading

Judging Beer by Its Cover

I believe most of my bookish friends will back me up when I assert that YES, in fact, you CAN judge a book by its cover. I hold that that the same does NOT hold for beer; in fact, many of my favorites have downright ugly labels. (Ahem, Dogfish Head.) But I’d like to share some of my favorite tasty, artsy beers because they look good all lumped together. What follows is a mix of well-illustrated, graphic, eye-catching, and imaginative label art. Click the image for a better look at it; web addresses are below.

This is making me drool a little. I’m sure there’s more out there I’ve yet to taste–what’s your favorite beer label?

*Beers left to right, top to bottom:
Flying Dog (Ralph Steadman!)
Left Hand Brewing
Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project
Sixpoint Brewery
Oskar Blues Brewery
Surly Brewing
Brooklyn Brewery
The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery
Cisco Brewers
Redhook Brewing
Southern Tier
Rogue Brewing

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