I’m not usually a dark beer drinker – I like my beer hoppy – but on The Longest Night for the winter solstice, well, you have to put old feelings aside and try something new.
Rising Storm is a fantastic new brewery just off Exit 9 on Route 390 in Avon, NY. It’s a quick half hour ride from downtown Rochester, and only a few minutes from Mortalis, another new local place that’s quickly developing a rabid following.
The brainchild of Bill Blake and Jeff Reidl, fraternity brothers from our college days at Geneseo (although I’ve got a good eight or so years on them), Rising Storm simply brews good beer. They’re not trying to reinvent the wheel; no crazy flavors, no gimmicks. Just a good variety of styles done right. (Their first NEIPA, called The What, earned my first 5 on Untappd.)
The rest of the Barley Prose team challenged me to blog a dark beer, though, so I figured this was the way to go. Nocturnal Storm is a vanilla porter that tastes pretty much exactly what I expected a vanilla porter to taste like: a little tinge of vanilla and coffee, but very smooth and very drinkable. I’ve downed an entire crowler this evening and I’ve enjoyed every sip. It’s only 5.8% ABV, so it’s not overwhelming either, but has enough kick to count.
Bill and Jeff are adding live music in the next couple of weeks, and they’ve worked hard to develop a strong local following. Keep an eye on this little place in Livingston County that’s going to make some noise in 2019. (Tell Sully or Doupe at the bar that Chris sent you.)
Why shouldn’t the Winter Solstice be a beer holiday for drinking DARK beers?
The winter solstice. Not typically a beer holiday, if any day can truly be said to NOT be a beer holiday. The darkest day of the year. If we’re going to make it a holiday, we shall make it a holiday where you drink the darkest beer you can find. The most common, at least in America, way to measure beer color is SRM. Standard Reference Method is officially calculated by shining light through beer, though most breweries are using approximations based on ingredients. It’s maybe not the best way to measure color or really describe a beer, but it’s a fine measure to talk about the DARKEST BEER.
Official style guides, even for the darkest stouts and porters, don’t go beyond about 39-40, but if you add more color-adding malts, you’ll raise the SRM. Officially there’s a top bounds–once light stops penetrating, you can’t measure it anymore. That doesn’t stop breweries from listing it though.
Uinta used to make a big black ale called Labyrinth, that was listed at 184 SRM. The Dutch brewery De Molen make a few really dark imperial stouts, Hel & Verdoemenis, and Hemel & Aarde that come in at ~150 and ~174 respectively. These beers translate to Hell and Damnation, and Heaven and Earth–great names. The bottles say ‘Enjoy within 25 years’ which is longer than most US breweries have even existed. I’d love to try them one day. I did spent two and a half days in Amsterdam back in 2012, but De Molen wasn’t one of the places I hit.
Carton Brewing in New Jersey seems to aim for 42 as the SRM on their dark beers. A nice Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy nod is always appreciated. Perhaps the ultimate question to life, the universe, and everything is ‘How many beers are you going to have tonight?”
De Molen went all hellfire and damnation with their naming schema, and certainly extremely dark beers lend themselves to some fun and creative names. I appreciate a good hop pun as much as the next guy, but you can’t beat the imagery some of these dark beer names describe.
Brooklyn Brewery absolutely doesn’t make a beer called Black Ops, which is definitely not a bourbon barrel aged stout. There is no intel on this, especially not SRM, as it doesn’t officially exist. Shh. This is actually one I’ve had before, and definitely enjoyed immensely. It’s in a bomber, and is somewhat expensive, but I can’t help but notice that a bomber seems to be the perfect size for a christmas stocking. Someone forward this to my wife Santa Claus.
Gun Hill Brewery in the Bronx makes a beer with the name, Void of Light, which is practically an SRM measurement right there in the name.
Kane Brewery in New Jersey has a seasonal release, with many variants, called A Night To End All Dawns. This might be my favorite beer name ever and my only regret is this is extremely hard to get. I’ve had a few of them on tap at events around this time of year, and was really digging a cocoa variant I had a few years ago. To double down on the awesome name, they make a small beer from the second runnings of ANTEAD called Civil Twilight. You can think of second runnings much like running a second cup of coffee through the coffee grinds, if you used an extreme amount of coffee grinds for the first cup. Civil Twilight comes in at a respectable 37 SRM, which certainly suggests the original is much, much darker.
There’s Great Lakes Blackout Stout.
“Turn off the lights and turn on the flavor, because Blackout Stout is back and as dark as ever”
Inspired by the big 2003 blackout in the Northeast, this is a really solid stout year after year. Nothing fancy, just rich dark and roasty malts. I just purchased one of these myself, though I didn’t experience much of that blackout myself. Oddly enough, I was in Amish Country in Pennsylvania, a place not particularly known for electricity. It wasn’t until we started driving home that night that we crossed into cell range and got all the messages from family telling us to extend our vacation, which we did. We stayed in a hotel in Allentown, PA just outside the edge of the blackout, played mini golf, and went to bed with the air conditioning blasting.
Those Dutch beers are probably the darkest beers in the world, but to the human eye there’s probably not a perceivable difference between any of these black as night beers we so enjoy this time of year. It’s the darkest day of the year, crack open a beer to match.
As the sun fades this evening, I sit here drinking the remarkable winter edition Project Dank by La Cumbre while listening to the boygenius EP, a superb six-song collaboration by Julien Baker, Pheobe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. The beer and EP pair surprisingly well, as they’re both phenomenal creations and neither are really a regular thing. The Dank is a rotating experiment, and even though the recipe changes with each release, the quality of each differing batch is as wonderfully reliable as any of the solo records released upon the world by the three women who comprise boygenius. In short, excellent.
Kinda similar to La Cumbre’s gold-medal winning core lineup of beers, the aforementioned artists have pretty firmly established themselves in the indie circles of the music biz as solo powerhouses. Baker’s Turn out the Lights was on the New York Times‘ Best Albums of 2017.AV Club called Phoebe Bridger’s haunting Stranger in the Alps one of 2017’s best debut records, and Lucy Dacus’ Historian was only Paste magazine’s numero uno album of this whole year. All these talented elements that stand so well on their own somehow swirled together magickally, and like a comet, we get boygenius (and Project Dank winter edition!) hurtling through our universe for this short, sublime window of time before the women all go back to gigging solo and we return to drinking La Cumbre’s flagship Elevated IPA. No losers here, to be clear. The staples are fantastic but the experiments can be rewarding in different ways, too.
On the wider topic of beer and music and how perfectly they go together…
I do very much like to drink an alcoholic beverage, be it beer, bourbon or wine (the Holy Trinity is really all there is for me), but I like the booze even more when there is great music to taste along with it. To that end, I’ve created “The Barley Prose Companion” playlist on Spotify for you to shuffle on your hi-fi while you enjoy that adult bevvy. It varies from the overt (Tom T. Hall’s “I Like Beer”) to the subtle (Tom Waits’ perfect “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You”), where the hero is stuck with a last-call stout when the girl he’s been eyeing all night has snuck out of the bar at closing time. Man, what a song.
While this playlist is still a work in progress, I invite you (yes, YOU!) to contribute. It’s a collaborative playlist, so anyone can add anything they like (I will only delete the decidedly crappy additions). I’ve skipped some obvious choices (“One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”) and some annoying ones (“Beer for My Horses” – adore Willie, but Toby Keith ruins anything). Needless to say, I’m sure there are kegs full of wondrous drinking songs I haven’t yet added. If you’d like to, please do:
Seasons change and so did I, you need not wonder why.
- The Guess Who, "No Time" (1969)
Living in the Northeastern United States, I am privileged to get a full on experience of all four seasons of the calendar. Unlike some other parts of our fair nation, which oscillate between “extreme summer” and “moderately extreme summer,” or “rainy” and “fuck off, so rainy,” we get clearly demarcated spring, summer, autumn and winter seasons here.
Sure, sure, I’m the first to admit, that in Syracuse, winter comes on stronger than a Bill Cosby date and lingers far longer into spring than I’d care for. This is a small price to pay, in my opinion, for a chance to live and enjoy the range of climate-related emotions.
It’s tough, for example, to find a place more scenic than upstate New York in autumn, when the colors are at the peak of change, and the foliage snaps in bright and forceful reds, oranges, and yellows.
Unless that critical eye is turned to the same place in January, after a fresh coat of pure white snow has blanketed the landscape, covering the world in serenity and beauty. It’s just like a postcard, I find myself telling others.
Spring, once it’s finished taking it’s sweet ass time arriving, is truly a time of rebirth, of newness, where we can rub the winter’s sleep out of our eyes, dust off our bikes from a winter of indoor-trainer/non-use, plant our gardens, and put the Eskimo layers away for a well deserved hiatus.
Summer? Well, summer takes me to the joys of my childhood, long days riding bikes in the neighborhood, swimming at the Rec Center pool, ice cream, baseball games. Laying out in the sun, eyes closed, on my desk and soaking up all of that vitamin D just there for the taking.
BUT WHAT ABOUT BEER?
Oh, for certain, every season brings its own delightful seasonal beers to be enjoyed. Like I needed another reason to look forward to summer or fall!
Well, not every season. I can’t really figure out if there’s such a thing as spring beers. I think we maybe should be drinking dandelion wine or just wringing out our mittens and hoping that something has fermented in them over the course of the winter. But aside from that, hell yeah! Seasonal beers!
Summer, to me, is the time to drink light, fruity beers, beers that go well with being outdoors and enjoying the warmest of days.
Fall? Well, that’s a good time for those delicious Oktoberfest lagers, brewed up for mid September and available for a good chunk of the autumn.
Winter is stout season, to me. Thick, high alcohol content, dark and delicious and filled with complex flavors.
However, there’s another trend I’ve noted in winter beers and from the title of this post I think you see where I’m going with this.
What the fuck is the deal with winter lagers?
You’ll notice that over the course of this post, none of these beers are shown in my home, or in a pint glass, or a frosty mug, or, really, even unleashed from the bottles. That is intentional.
When I started drinking beers a couple of years ago, with an eye for new flavors and textures, I sampled a number of winter ales, Christmas beers, and seasonal lagers.
I noticed, very quickly, that they all share a common characteristic.
They are nasty.
I’m also not alone in thinking this. I’ve heard these quotes offered up by Ceetar, my co-blogger here.
“There are times the Sly Fox feels like I’m eating a jar of allspice.”
” I’m not saying winter warmers necessarily taste like rotted pumpkins, but I’m not not saying it either.”
I personally will go one step further, and break out the all new negative prose-inator.
That’s right! For the specific sole purpose of capturing the sheer grossness of drinking, in beer form, the first three random spices that fall out of my spice rack, I’ve come up with an all new random negative praise generator. Let’s give it a spin, shall we?
“This beer tastes like the embodiment of the disappointment that I would imagine the parents of uber-celebrity
would feel if they knew that their child was consorting and cavorting with the likes of a totally unknown
instead of another celebrity of equal fame, value and prestige.”
Hey there, it’s the new guy here at Barley Prose, coming to you from the third-largest city in the greatest state in the union, Rochester, New York. Rochester, like many cities, is in the middle of a pretty significant beer resurgence right now, and I’m happy to lend my drinking and writing talents to this fantastic team of Mets fans from around the country.
I’m a relatively recent beer drinker, having only really taken up the habit in the last several years. That means I missed the drink-crappy-beer-in-college phase, which I’m quite happy about. But what that *does* mean is that I’ve gone straight from zero to beer snob.
And I’m *that* kind of beer snob, too – an IPA drinker. Thankfully, we have lots of fantastic options here in the ROC, so I’m in good shape. (Providing that “round” counts as a shape.)
I’m going to spend the first couple of posts here introducing you to some of my favorites locally, and then I’ll work on stretching beyond the 585 area code.
Look for reviews and thoughts in the next few days about Rising Storm and Stoneyard, two of my local favorites. And if you’ve got feedback, drop me a line in the comments and let me know, or find me on Twitter, where I wax poetic in 280 characters on baseball and the Mets, hair metal music, higher education, game shows, and like all good tweeters, general silliness and snark.
December 5th is the drinking holiday known as Repeal Day, to celebrate the end of Prohibition in America.
As good a reason to drink as any I’d say. Beer in particular has come a long way in the last 85 years. We recently surpassed the record for number of breweries open in America, and obviously there are a lot more people now than in the 19th century, so we’ve got a ways to go to match those numbers.
So open up something yummy, maybe like this carrot cake inspired beer collaboration from Bolero Snort and Carton Brewing, and toast to the legality of booze.
That carrot cake beer, btw, is pretty nifty. It’s called Primoodonna, and the description includes this line: For starters, let’s invent a fermentable carrot sugar by dehydrating carrots and stirring them through liquid nitrogen. I love it. The beer itself is pretty tasty, none of the crazy things they added to the beer dominate the flavor, it’s still very much a milk porter, but they all add some interesting complexity and depth. I think I’ll open up another one tonight and delve into it again.
Follow BarleyProse on Twitter and Instagram and me on Untappd. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m trying to get through some of the extra big heavy stouts I keep acquiring faster than I can drink. It’s hard work, but someone has to do it.