Top 10 Beers of 2015

New Year’s Day is a time to sit back and reflect on the year, contemplate some of the big questions: Why am I here, What the hell am I doing with my life, and At what point did I finally drink my weight in beer. What follows is a list of my favorite beers of 2015. Why give a flippin’ firkin about what one hop head in the middle of Ohio drank this past year? Same as why you read any end of the year list: to judge yourself against popular taste and declare yourself the winner.

skeletonred10. Skeleton Red Rye IPA, Four String Brewing (Columbus, OH)
I was disappointed to learn this is only a fall seasonal, because it’s my favorite Four String beer so far. The beer is hoppy, fresh, almost citrusy, and yet seriously dry — attributes I strive for, myself. Skeleton was a favorite this fall and made me proud of Ohio’s beer integrity.


Wheeling Brewing: This is how we get by–all right!

9. Nail City Porter, Wheeling Brewing (Wheeling, WV)
Within a square block in the city of Wheeling I purchased: an armload of fantastic used books for $1 apiece from a used bookstore that specialized in towering, dusty stacks of novels; a vintage red leather jacket with rabbit fur collar from an antique shop specializing in the Confederacy; a growler of rich, roasty Nail City Porter from a bartender who looked like Britt Daniel of Spoon. I’m sure that had nothing to do with my attraction to it.

A Tuesday

Your average Tuesday

7. Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’, Lagunitas Brewing (Petaluma, CA) / Celebration, Sierra Nevada (Chico, CA)
Based solely on the volume of certain bottlecaps in our collection, these two beers earned their spot on this list. Both are go-tos: Little Sumpin’ year-round; Celebration from November to January. They remind me of each other in character, a bit. Each is dangerously, deliciously easy to drink and not of such an obnoxious abv that you can’t have two or three in an evening.
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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

The Future is Here…and It Has a Built-In Koozie

Great Scott!

Great Scott!

It’s recently been brought to my attention that Marty McFly’s future of the Back to the Future trilogy is now. Doc Brown and the crew time traveled to 2015. This troubles me manifold.

  1. This means I am quite old.
  2. This means I am quite old and still do not have a DeLorean.
  3. This means I am quite old and still do not have a DeLorean, NOR are there any hoodlums on futuristic hoverboards to run over in this beast.

And fourthly, I still think a DeLorean is futuristic. I’m pretty much behind the times in all forms of pop culture (those Hanson boys are cute, though). Unless you consider craft beer culture, “pop,” which many do. This is also troubling, because craft beer isn’t actually a fad; its development has, in fact, altered the course of drinking for forever.

As shocking as it is to discover you’re living in The Future, there is evidence to prove it. As the fastest growing segment of the beer industry, craft beer is inspiring innovation in the brewing practice itself as well as in the recipes and the way we drink the final product.

Beers in Space!

Beers in Space! The Hop Gun

Brewing: Many of you already know I’m something of a Hop Head, so it will come as no surprise that one of my favorite craft beer inventions made it possible to hop the bananas out of an IPA. A few years ago Sierra Nevada invented a contraption they call the Hop Torpedo. They fill this torpedo-shaped device with whole-cone hops and pump fermenting beer through it, adding some serious hop smack without the bitterness.

Tröegs Brewing has a similar device called the HopCyclone and yet another hopping device called the Hop Gun (do you think dudes named these things?). This contraption is filled with hop pellets and then beer is pumped through its double-helix-shaped interior. The pellets dissolve and the beer is infused with starshine and rainbows and magically spirited into bottles at a sparkly pink palace near you. Continue reading

You’re a Mean One, Missus Grinch

How I imagine Santa

How I imagine Santa

‘Tis the season! Bad traffic, angry crowds, mediocre renditions of Christmas carols by floundering rock stars, cinnamon-scented everything, and hard selling plastic crap to kids who believe in a fat elf lord with NSA-like surveillance capabilities. Oh the noise, noise, noise, noise, NOISE! Perhaps these shoes are too tight, but I need a drink.

It’s hard to reach for a beer this time of year without having a winter warmer pushed on you. Traditionally these beers are big on malt. The definition seems to be a bit nebulous regarding the spice issue. Many do without it, but some toss in frankincense and myrrh just willy-nilly and declare it a winter warmer. I find definitions in general rather claustrophobic, so I won’t fight that fight; instead I’ll just note that the spicy variety are pulling from the tradition of wassail, which is strong ales mixed and matched with spices — a tradition begun before hops were discovered to be the godsend they are. And a tradition celebrated in the holiday tune “Here We Come A-Wassailing,” best parodied in a 1980s claymation Christmas special with “Here We Come A-Waffling.”

It’s no secret that highly-spiced beers like pumpkin ale or Christmas ale are not my fave; I’ll leave the spicy stuff to the people who also think it’s okay to wear Santa hats in public for the full six weeks before Christmas. Instead I’ll continue to hoard cases of Sierra Nevada’s Celebration during the winter months as though those Jehovah’s Witnesses were right and the end-times are nigh…in which case I’d much rather be drinking a beer in a bar than sipping flat soda in the Kingdom Hall basement, but to each his own. Continue reading

Go Browns! An Homage to the Beer and the Hometown Team

O-I-H-O! wait a sec...

O-I-H-O! …Wait a minute.

I’ve never been a follower of The Ohio State University’s sports: didn’t go there; don’t care. But everyone assumes I’m a fan because I exist within 60 miles of their stadium. In the fall it’s perfectly acceptable for a complete stranger to invade my space and hoot, “O-H!” gesturing wildly like a confused Village Person. They expect the proper response, which is not, I’ve discovered, “F-U.”

Football madness also rages strong 60 miles to my north in Cleveland. In the Browns stadium there is a section reserved for The Dawg Pound. This section is known for its rowdiness, excessive alcohol consumption, and for its population of tirelessly enthusiastic men in Browns jerseys and rubber dog masks. This all sounds suspiciously like the antics at an afternoon in the OSU Horseshoe, but I’m here to tell you that Browns fans are different. They maintain magestic reservoirs of hope and optimism and, having been dragged through the mud many times before, retain this loyalty and the there’s always next year mentality through the worst of seasons.

In the Dawg Pound

In the Dawg Pound

It is hard to be a Browns fan. We don’t win all that much. I was thinking of this just the other day as I stood in the craft beer aisle looking for a brown ale. Nothing. Not even that Honey Brown crap we considered to be “the good stuff” in college. It was all IPAs and pumpkin beer. The next store, more of the same. I couldn’t win. The third store had one kind of brown ale, Bell’s Best Brown out of Michigan. Score. Continue reading

Good Beer, Bad Hair: A Visual Journey for Father’s Day

There's actually beer in that milkshake.

There’s actually beer in that milkshake we’re holding at this father-daughter dance.

A helpful PSA from Just Add Beer: this Sunday is Father’s Day! It’s one of my favorite made-up holidays because 1) I’m very fond of my father, and 2) the holiday-creating entities of our capitalist oligarchy have decided beer should be a big part of Father’s Day. The beverage is featured in store displays of cards, ties, and books alongside the same items geared toward cars, sports, or meat. Because that’s what American dudes do. Never mind that NONE of the men in my life define themselves using any of these stereotypes. Except beer.

He may not know it, but my father, Boyd, gave me my first real drink of alcohol, a glass of wine when I was visiting from college for a holiday. I went to Ohio University, and by all rights I should have been a heavy drinker by then, but I wasn’t. That night SNL had never been funnier and I helped myself to another slosh before bed.

This was a Bad Hair Year for us both

This was a Bad Hair Year for us both

It’s only fitting then, that I helped him enter the world of craft beer. When I was growing up, Dad was a Busch man. I tried a can in college (having quickly embraced the drinking culture the next quarter) and wondered at my father’s fortitude. How had this man drank several of these a night for years and still maintained decent gastrointestinal health? Good God! When I was very young he referred to it as his “skunk juice,” which I took literally at first and later adopted as our code for beer in public, much to my mother’s chagrin.

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Challenges & Comforts: Preparing Your Fridge for a Snow Day

A rare beer angel

A rare beer angel. I highly recommend making one yourself using your own favorite brews!

This morning there is about five new inches of snow on the ground and a Level 2 Snow Emergency in effect, which means (and I’m paraphrasing): don’t go out on the snowy roads and get so badly stuck the city has to tow you out, you bung hole! So here I am at home today. I checked our supplies, starting with what’s in the fridge. Turns out I have twelve different kinds of beer in there. This pleases me to no end. (I tell Ben and we do a fist bump.) Here’s some of what’s in my fridge and why they’re the perfect beers to be in my snow day collection:

The Brand New

Careful! That branch could fall into the river at any moment!

Careful, lady! That branch could break at any moment!

The Ophelia Hoppy Wheat Ale is Breckenridge Brewery’s newest seasonal beer. It is supposed to be hoppy and wheat-y, although the brewery’s copy also describes it as “The quintessential good girl gone mad,” which I don’t really get. Maybe in the end it was a hops allergy that turned poor Ophelia loony. Or maybe she drank herself silly waiting for that whiny Hamlet. “Get thee to a nunnery” my ass, buddy. Anyway, snow days are an excellent time to try beers you haven’t experienced yet, especially those named after a crazy Dane who knew what a truly rough winter was.

Their slogan is "Normal Is Weird," which I appreciate

Their slogan is “Normal Is Weird,” which I appreciate.

Also new-to-me is Flying Monkey’s Smashbomb Atomic IPA from Ontario, Canada. This brewery has only recently started distributing in Ohio, whose citizens suck down over 30 gallons of beer a year, according to the Beer Institute (whatever that is — Fox News used it as “research,” too, and it appeared in an article next to one about the unhealthiest hot Starbucks drinks, because if it’s not running on a ticker beneath O’Reilly’s getting-longer nose we won’t know how bad hot chocolate is). I’m sure my household assures Ohio’s average is over the 30-gallon mark, especially with all this affordable pinko Canadian terrorist beer. 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

Fall Seasonals for the Sceptic

And you wonder why I shy away from pumpkin ales...

Fall and winter bring with them a plethora of seasonal beers: Oktoberfest, pumpkin ale, Christmas ale, and all the hybrids in between. Most of them I view sourly as marketing stunts to take up more shelf space to sell more of the brand. Rather than bitter prematurely, though, I tasted a sample of fall beers to try to prove myself wrong.

Oktoberfest, as a style, is synonymous with the Märzen style. Märzen is German for March, which is around when this style is typically brewed. Back in the days before refrigeration it was too difficult to brew in the summer, so this beer was brewed in early spring, stored in a cool spot over summer, and brought out in time to celebrate Oktoberfest. How better can one celebrate the approach of winter than by getting blitzed?

Oktoberfests are known for their full-bodied, roasty toasty-ness. I often find the American take on them too malty or sweet, but lucked out with two excellent examples recently. Fat Head’s Oktoberfest and Victory Brewing’s Fest Beer are both lagers and both a gorgeous shade of carmely brown. Both also have a quality the popular lagers in America fail to achieve, in that they both taste really good.

I don’t know how far afield Fat Head’s distributes, but if you ever have a chance to pick one up, do so. Their Oktoberfest had a serious hop finish that was in no way bitter, but rather cleansing. (Ben noted that the beer was quite nutty, opening wide the opportunity for me to explain that that’s how I like ‘em.) The nuttiness was balanced though, leaving a rich, almost marzipan-like fullness in the middle. The complex malt base was well-balanced by the hops, revealing a full, smooth character one doesn’t find in run-of-the-mill lagers. 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