With the cold weather, the end of year typically brings with it a warm nostalgia as we take inventory of the last twelve months and look towards the next twelve with naïve and stupid optimism. The nostalgia for me has nothing to do with sweet memories of childhood Christmases or anything like that, but instead with year-end social and pop culture best-of lists. Top 10 albums, Spotify Wrapped and the Untappd Year in Beer. That’s my jam.
Untappd is kinda like Instagram, in that the beer you’re drinking or the thing you’re taking a photo of is only part of the equation. The other part is our needy human ego which makes us want to brag about being at a cool place and drinking a beer that’s way better than your less cool friends are drinking at their boring homes. And if I can’t sit in a perfectly lit taproom, staging a portrait mode photo of a beer for 10 minutes before I even take a sip, then what the hell’s the point of logging it?
I crossed the New Mexico state border only twice in 2020, funnily (or sadly) enough both times to Texas. That’s it. Last year was photos of beer in Barcelona and pints in Paris. Needless to say, pics of hard-to-find beers geotagged in exotic locations were just not a thing this year.
Back in 2018, I logged an embarrassing 341 unique beers across 6 states and 75 different venues on Untappd. This year it was a sad 19 unique beers from 8 different venues, led by my #1 drinking hole, Untappd at Home.
Yet somehow, I bet I drank more beer in 2020 than 2018 (and maybe 2019 combined). Instead of exploring new venues and tasting exciting beers by the bottle, we bought cases of our favorite beers to-go at the taprooms, brought them home and, well, we drank them. That was the miserably sad formula, supporting the local economy one 16-ounce can at a time.
I was recently asked what lessons I learned in 2020. I should have said “resilience” or some shit, but my answer was that sometimes it’s OK to drink 3 beers on a Wednesday night and, for me, every night in 2020 felt like a lonely Wednesday night. The world’s a hellhole, gimme another beer. #selfcare
And maybe that’s the rub. Pandemics aren’t the time to satiate our thirsty egos by padding our beer stats or sharing well-curated insta shots (unless they’re in mountains and you’re surrounded by trees and no humans). We hopefully help keep our favorite places chugging along with our to-go orders and make this little sacrifice until we’re back in that taproom again soon, amongst friends and strangers, taking heavily filtered photos of pint glasses and once again drinking beer in public.
Here’s a perfect 2020 song off my favorite album of the year, Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud. The song, “Can’t Do Much” is a love song, but feeling isolated and questioning your sanity over something you love and miss, well, I figure that could be any one of us this year. Until we’re in that taproom again, stay home, practice social distancing, wear the damn mask and support local beer.
We live in a time of fake news, alternative facts and a nation so bisected that as we hurtle helplessly through the autumn and a hostile election season, the only topic more divisive than “who do you want to be president?” is most likely “do you like pumpkin stuff?”
Maybe it started with the latte, who knows. But the seasonal pumpkin invasion soon infiltrated supermarket borders, claiming for its own once solidly chocolate dessert territories like cookies, ice cream and pudding. As tyrants are seldom content to stand pat, the great pumpkin oppressive would march on to claim key alcohol enclaves, with stalwarts schnapps, rum and vodka the next to fall.
Would beer be conquered by the pumpkin, as well? Or is pumpkin flavor actually invigorating our fatigued taste buds and should be treated as liberators instead of invaders?
BeerAdvocate.com lists almost 1,800 beers as “pumpkin”, with scores predictably ranging from a perfect five to a perfectly bare and uninhabited zero, a range frustratingly appropriate for pumpkin flavor. I don’t know that I would go so far as to equate pumpkin beer with prison wine, as my intrepid colleague did recently in this piece for Barley Prose, but I generally put up a spirited defense against the three-flank holiday pumpkin spice attack of nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger.
Biases are learned behaviors, and to tear them down, it often takes an experience that hits close to home to shake foundational beliefs and make you see something with new eyes and a different clarity.
Meet the Pumpkin Noir Spiced Ale by Marble Brewery in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The description on the can reads “Our lady of darkness always chooses the burnt slice of pumpkin pie. Heads have been known to roll around here until we achieve the perfect balance of carbonized fruit, delicate spice and velvet viscosity.”
A lot to chew on there.
The Pumpkin Noir is an annual seasonal and this year’s version checks in at 8% ABV on the nose, and pours a deep, spooky black with a creamy and frothy head. As we saw in the supermarket usurpation, pumpkin spices invade in the fall and with the dessert territories already conquered, it was wise to attack the cold-weather beers, typically dark and malty stouts and ales.
The aroma of the Pumpkin Noir is a strong amalgam of the pumpkin spices, but the taste is more subtle. It starts like a porter but with a nice spice on the tongue (from the ginger?). It’s a full beer, warm and comfortingly boozy, but not heavy-handed with unnecessary pumpkinry.
The verdict? This beer is damn good. It’s delicious.
So what’s the lesson here? That the pumpkin faction were right all along? Maybe not. Pumpkin for the sake of pumpkin, you know, pumpkin spice Pringles, chicken sausage and PSL pasta sauce (!?) is a marketing cash-grab directly targeting the nostalgic, autumn-loving Starbucks drinkers.
But a pumpkin-flavored beer made thoughtfully by a brewer whose creations you love and trust can maybe be a different story altogether. We can still hate with all our guts and vitriol one another’s stances on things as polarizing as pumpkin flavor, but maybe we should just shut up, try a pumpkin beer and remember the lesson Edwin Starr tried to impart on us: “War, what is it good for?”.
“1234” by Feist currently has in excess of 101 million plays on Spotify (generating fistfuls of Canadian bucks in royalties, too, I hope). It’s a simple song about an innocent love in the rear-view mirror, but it’s hard-coated in the sweetest of pop candy shells. The song caramelized itself onto the brains of millions of listeners after it appeared in this eminently danceable iPod Nano commercial, and even if you maybe started to hit ‘skip’ on your brand new Nano after about the 40th time hearing it, there was still plenty of nourishing sustenance remaining on the rest of Leslie Feist’s acclaimed 2007 album The Reminder.
Take “The Park”. Set in an outdoor space in snow-covered London (complete with chirping birds filling the arrangement), this is a crushingly sad song about a relationship that couldn’t endure the harsh darkness of winter and it withered and died. A thematic line could be drawn from “1234” to the “The Park” but the emotions dripping from each song couldn’t be more disparate.
The album is chock-full of gems, including another fav of mine, “The Limit to Your Love”, a tender piano ballad about unrequited love with an emotionally unavailable partner that got ripped into this dark, soulful jam by James Blake (I love when he sings “like a wat-uh-fall in slow motion!”). So many good songs! Anyway, it’s no wonder the New York Times’ Kalefa Sanneh named The Reminder the number uno album for all of 2k9.
So when Feist teamed up with my favorite band in the whole goddamn universe, Wilco, on 2009’s “You and I” off of Wilco [the album], well I was beyond ecstatic that two of my beloveds were joining forces, even if it was for just three minutes and twenty-five perfect seconds, to create something that bottled each of their best in one collaborative mini-miracle.
Surf days back at Bolsa Chica State Beach used to conclude with lunch at the OG Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach, and when they opened the larger Beachwood BBQ and Brewing spot in downtown Long Beach, well the best brewery (and fried green tomato sandwich) in town was now just a bicycle ride away from my Belmont Shore apartment. Countless evenings having pints of Amalgamator IPA, Udder Love Milk Stout, and the James Brown Ale are some of my fondest memories of gritty and gorgeous Long Beach.
So as a native New Mexican who called the LBC home for 16 years but is once again a Burqueño, a collaboration featuring Beachwood Brewing from Long Beach and Albuquerque’s own La Cumbre was, for me, like Wilco and Feist getting together one more time, but to make beer. I would have let TicketMaster gouge me for $65 bucks plus applicable ‘convenience’ fees to watch these guys brew live and in person.
For me, when I hear “tropical”, it evokes images of palm trees and maybe even Long Beach’s vocal, wild parrots, but a tropical stout is still the dark, roasty stout we know and love, but with a subtle charge of sweet and sometimes fruity esters. The Endless Horizon tropical stout (to this shitty, novice palate anyway) is mostly the former – shadowy, rich and roasty with coffee on the nose, but I do get a slight nectar on the back end, which triggers “tropical” and evokes memories of those beautiful green parrots making all that racket above the Vons on Ocean Boulevard.
The Endless Horizon poured slow and thick like all the crude (what up, Belmont Brewing) being sucked from the ground by the steady, synchronized Long beach oil derricks bobbing for unrefined black gold. The head was frothy and thick and conjures a crumbly wave on a blown-out Bolsa Chica afternoon. This beer is a very drinkable late summer stout but also says to the now arriving autumn, “Hey, where ya been? We’ve been waiting for you.”
Endless Horizon is still available in 4-packs at La Cumbre. Get it before the sun dips and the horizon is no more.
You and I, we might be strangers
However close we get sometimes
It’s like we never met
But you and I, I think we can take it
All the good with the bad
Make something that no one else has
Post-script: I got to see Feist perform “You and I” live with Wilco in LA in June, 2009. I couldn’t find a video of that particular show online, but it was probably something like this minus dear ol’ Dave.
Hoppy Gilmore is a lover of buzzbands and beers. Engage with him if pics of doggos and hot USL soccer takes are also your thing.
This post is my final project for an excellent class I took at Central New Mexico (CNM) Community College called Beer and Society. For the people in the class who have to read this post (sorry!), you can skip past this next part and rejoin after I describe the class for anyone else. For those not in the class, read on!
Class peeps, feel free to skip to END DETOUR below!
The name Beer and Society hints to exactly what the curriculum is. Each class is a series of two-pronged lessons where we first learn from history professor Dr. Brandon Morgan about the origin of a beer, its birthplace, which local ingredients were used and why those ingredients were chosen, as well as any social or political ramifications that helped shape why that beer was made at the time and place it was. Great stuff!
Then we taste!
(sorry for the amateurish vertical video)
The Advanced Cicerone, Dr. Asa Stone, then takes the helm and works with us to understand what we should be looking for in the beer we’re sampling, from its appearance to aroma, taste and mouthfeel, all the while looking for hints of the ingredients and backstory that we just learned about from Dr. Morgan.
Did I mention there are culturally appropriate food pairings? Cause there are.
Week 2 was a schnitzel (prepared by a CNM chef) that was paired with an array of German and Czech beers as the class explored the Early Modern Era and a handful of styles including the German Pils, the Festbier, the Dopplebock, Weissbier and others.
Needless to say, the Beer and Society class is super cool and I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone in the Albuquerque area.
Back to the matter at hand, my beer story. The previous week’s class, I think, was my favorite out of all the great classes, specifically the discussion on food and beer pairing that followed a scrumptious plate of Beef Wellington (which was accompanied by tasters of Stone IPA and New Belgium Fat Tire). Someone in class mentioned they would have paired the IPA with a green chile cheeseburger and it took me back to the 2018 New Mexico IPA Challenge, where I contemplated why New Mexicans love hop-forward IPAs so much, and pondered the synergistic intensites of New Mexico green chile and aggressive New Mexico IPAs.
I’m taking a kind of circuitous route to get to my point, but after thinking about spending the last few NMIPA challenges with friends, my brother and my girlfriend, I realized that my beer story is this: beer is no longer just a thing I drink while doing other things. It’s become, in many cases, the central focus for a lot of events I plan my life around.
It went from being just a lamp on a table at a party to the host of the damn thing.
Beer as a character in my life has grown in importance the more I got to appreciate it, same as my heart has grown fuller for people I’ve come to know more closely. Conversely, some lesser characters fade away in life, same as those (dirt cheap) 12-packs of Shaefer in college, but beer as a character in my life has gradually been basking under a larger and brighter spotlight.
For example, while we’ve all gone out to fill a growler, a friend and I turned a simple growler run into a capital “G”, capital “R”, Growler Run, a yearly motorcycle trip that’s taken us countless thousands of miles across 20 states in the US, up to and across Canada and down to the tip of Baja, Mexico in search of a local growler fill to take back to our campsite. The motorcycle trips would have happened regardless, but they’re built and centered around a thing we love in our lives – beer – but with a desire to experience a slightly different version of it made by different hands in a different place altogether.
Aside from running to another country with one of my best friends to fill a growler, my brother, Dan, and our good friend and neighbor, Jeff, have graduated from having beers while hanging out, to hanging out while trying to make our own beers. We’ve only finished three different batches to date, but as our appreciation for beer has increased over the years, so, too, has our desire to understand it (and make it taste a little better, while we’re at it).
It’s like I casually swiped right on beer years ago, and now realize beer has a toothbrush in the glass on the bathroom sink.
So what then, now that I’m shacking up with beer for good, it seems?
Well, beer school, naturally.
I bounced around a good many colleges after high school, getting (part of) an education so I could play some baseball, but I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Now, I’m 44, a Unix engineer for a massive telecom company, and I still don’t necessarily know what I want to be when I grow up. But instead of taking classes in this scripting language or that cloud computing technology, I’m taking classes at CNM to learn how to make freaking beer.
Alas, the thing I did at college has become thing I now go to college for.
For those not familiar or wanting more info, the Brewing and Beverage Management program at CNM offers industry certifications as well as an associates degree program. Info can be found here.
We have settled comfortably into July, and sizzling days giving way to warm summer nights has become the norm here in New Mexico. In my hand, I hold a can of the Enter Night Pilsner by Stone, which I suspect might be a nice, crisp pilsner perfect to combat the current searing temps. Let me tell you a little about this one…
/holds up can
It’s on. It’s time to get started. To crank things up. To get loud.
That thumping you feel in your chest isn’t your imagination. It’s your heart. It’s life. It’s the rockin’ tunes. It’s your inspiration wanting to break out. It ain’t gonna sit there waiting, so mutherf**king grab it.
Is this the intro to an MLM seminar? Or a lost Fyre Festival ad?? What is happening?
This is a Collaboration in the truest sense between two entities that were born on the fringes. We’ve navigated life from a different perspective. We imagined things differently from what they were, and set about using our art to change the world according to our vision. We started being misunderstood by many, and loved by few. Today that’s the same…but that ‘few’ has become ‘more.’ A LOT more. That’s you, my friend, and we’re stoked you’re with us on this journey.
The day is winding down. It’s time to get started. No more waiting. It’s time to get LOUD. It’s time to Enter Night.
I still have zero idea what I’m about to drink, but that is one hell of an ITBMCBB*.
Let me check the ol’ Stone website:
In collaboration with Metallica, this beer represents the cataclysmic collision of two uncompromising supernatural forces. It’ s a crisp and refreshing Pilsner that, much like the band, transcends genres, shatters preconceptions and challenges convention.
Ah, I get it now. First opinion: Much like Metallica in 2k19, that description is trying way too hard to be bad-ass.
If I were to describe the beer, not with all the Hit Parader platitudes, but as if I were simply evaluating, you know, the beer, I’d characterize it as a safe and conventional pils, with a straw-colored appearance, a soft, floral aroma, and a muted and gentle bitterness. Which is to say there’s nothing edgy or genre-bending or perception-shattering about it. In fact, it’s eminently accessible, flirting with prosaic.
TL:DR: it’s fine. The beer is fine.
A more apropos band tie-in would have been Coldplay, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily. A lot of people like Coldplay because, like this beer, they’re easy enough to drink down and completely inoffensive, if not a bit unimaginative. I own no Coldplay records, but shit, I can get with “Clocks”.
So, I say try it or don’t. You may like it, you definitely won’t hate it, and a small few of you will curiously, ravenously love it.
One of my favorite things about Spotify is their year-end “Spotify Wrapped”, a select summary of a user’s listening habits, the number of hours spent under the headphones and a breakdown of which styles and genres and buzzbands hooked us the deepest and hardest. So apparently I listened to Wilco in 2018 for the equivalent of 2 straight days. Your bet your ass, I did! We spend (read: waste) so much time online and give so much personal information away on the internet, that it’s truly gross and weird how much I love such a tidy review of an entire year of my detailed activity with one company’s product. I had no idea that Untappd used the data we freely allow them to mine to create a similar year-end summation until I read Ceetar’s My 2018 Beers in Review piece based on his Untapped “Year in Beer”. So inspired by that, I cribbed his idea and decided to whip up a post detailing my own beer drinking in 2k18 and here’s what I learned, everybody:
I should drink less beer!
Ceets had said he reliably checks in about 98% of his beers and I do not, friends. I check in only new beers and try to avoid repeats altogether, with a few exceptions. Special or rare treats I’m lucky enough to get more than once (Modern Times offerings, for example) get the re-run treatment. Same with Project Dank by La Cumbre, which is an ever-changing experimental IPA, but the name always remains the same. Beyond those special ones, if it’s a beer that’s clocked a previous check-in, this time it will be swallowed down in quiet anonymity. So while Ceetar reported 397 beers in 2018, this asshole over here counted 354 in new brews alone, with the memories of countless unreported repeat favorites relegated to history’s septic tank by way of the bottom of a stained and yellowed urinal. Beer-drinking is glamorous!
Now to the numbers for the advanced beer-alytics amongst us:
341 unique beers enjoyed over 85 distinct styles at 112 different breweries. If you adjust for park factor (a technical calculation based on how many of these beers were enjoyed under a tree in a park), my Value Over Replacement Drunkard (VORD) is a career best for me, and challenges some of the best beer-drinking seasons on record. And if I continue at this pace, I could be a first-ballot (if insurance approves) liver replacement recipient!
Now back to the minutiae. The repeat beer I checked in the most (all of 4 check-ins) was the Sucker Punch Double IPA, brewed by local heavyweights Boxing Bear Brewing Co., an outfit that collects medals like Michael Phelps.
While I drank American IPAs more than any other varietal (86 check-ins), the style I rated the most highly was the Imperial Stout – the average overall rating for this type of dark and boozy dream was rewarded with a handsome 4.17 rating by yours truly.
Gun to my head, I think I would pick La Cumbre Brewing Company as my favorite beer maker in my home state of New Mexico, but the brewery I frequented the most was Bosque Brewing Company (37 check-ins!). It’s our neighborhood watering hole and the clear favorite establishment of my girlfriend, who is basically like a made guy there. Back in the day, we’d walk in and be carded like all the other Janes and Joes, but now they shake our hands and greet us with reverence like we’re mobsters who invested in their joint to clean all our dirty money. It’s awesome.
Back to the thing. Maybe the coolest part of the Untappd Year in Beer, though, is the map:
A cross-country motorsickle trip last fall afforded me the opportunity to taste beers in a few locations in the south and southeast that I wouldn’t otherwise buy. I’m talking to you, Lonestar.
I found a few decent offerings up in Colorado, and Washington state was solid, but now I’m just getting super excited to drop pins all over my 2k19 map.
I’m hoping for another stop at SoCal suds mecca San Diego, but at the very top of the list is a summer vacation to France and Spain, and while we’re that close, we’re gonna shoot very had to jump the straight and visit Morocco. The idea of setting foot on African soil is this huge, bucketlist-y goal fueled by curiosity, adventure and a desire to meet other people and experience their culture.
BUT ALSO to buy a beer I’ve never heard of somewhere in Tangier, post a picture of it to brag that I’m at a cool place that you’re not, and then check-in that beer on another stupid app to share with a bunch of far-away strangers on my goddamn cell phone. A sadly authentic human experience in 2019!
Thank you for reading this post. Please consider connecting with us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Untapped, Snapchat, Tumblr, Tinder, Reddit, MySpace, Grindr, Friendster, Google+, and/or Christian Mingle (dot) com. Real-life conversations with real-life human beings are so completely overrated.
A belated Happy New Year to the tens of people who loyally read the Barley Prose Blog and follow our various social media accounts! And Happy New Year to my fellow BP blogger homies! Grateful for you dudes (and our intrepid Instagram dudette who needs to post more, btw), and our friendship forged over our challenging and occasionally rewarding love of the stupid and beautiful New York Metropolitans Baseball Club™! To bigger and brighter things for all of us in 2k19!
The festive period for me was a real slog. A mixture of family, friends, too much food, lots of seasonal beverages, slothy days off of work, and slothy days ‘working’ while not accomplishing anything work-related at all.
The mundanity of those normal work days leads us to enjoy our everyday, go-to alcoholic bevvies the majority of the year, but hoard our rarities for occasions we deem ‘special’, a line of demarcation that likely means something different to all of us.
If I’d been saving any of my special bottles for a New York Mets championship, for example, I would likely die thirsty with those dusty-topped bottles sitting lonely and craving precious oxygen. So while ‘the weekend’ may not be a special occasion necessarily, the capital N, capital Y New Year definitely is. My girlfriend’s birthday is also December 31, so the reasons to celebrate uniquely and in a grand fashion were especially fertile.
We first cracked the out-of-production Trip in the Woods: Barrel Aged Narwhal (with currants!) by Sierra Nevada. It’s a dark beer whose puckery profile (the tartiest stout I’ve ever tasted) did not taste like what the beer hinted at by its color. Enjoyable, but a bit summery with the slightly acidic currants. But it’s the New Year and it’s beer, so it was still better than good.
Not my photo, but the holiday tie-in is perfectly apropos. (photo cred –> http://www.betterondraft.com/beer-reviews/sierra-nevada-trip-woods-narwhal-review)
We also had a bomber of the Double Sunshine Stout by Bosque Brewing from here in Albuquerque. An outrageously tasty golden stout powered by cacao nibs! It’s as contradictory as Trip in the Woods, as the color in no way matches the flavor profile which made me grateful for 1) the risk taken by the brewers, and 2) a wonderful outcome that doesn’t always accompany a great risk.
Sometimes overcoming fear and just taking the leap is rightly more important than the result for us thick-skulled humans, so it’s nice to celebrate both the risk and end result instead of searching for growth and value in a worthy, but ultimately unsuccessful chance taken. So good on ya, Bosque.
Enjoyable as both these beers were, we bought them at the liquor store a block away, the undisputed local champ, Jubilation Wine & Spirits. But special occasions tend to call for that rarity that you can’t get at even the best liquor store, and that’s where our good friends and next-door neighbors came into play. The sweet gift of booze!
Being the birthday/New Year double celebration as it were, our friends gifted us an incredibly rare, nearly 10-year old Scottish ale, which was peaking like 2000 Mike Piazza. Behold the Traquair 2020. From the label:
“An ale brewed to celebrate the first decade of the 21st century and to be consumed before the end of the second decade. Traquair Brewery – tiny, historic, and rooted with deep traditions – is situated in Scotland’s oldest inhabited house. Savour this authentic taste of Scotland.”
As stated, it was brewed in 2k10 and the bottle, in another corner of the label, encourages the drinker to “enjoy before 2020”. Exceptional timing, I’d say.
A single 10% ABV, 11.2-ounce bottle to share between the two of us. The sticklers on Beer Advocate were a little bullish (4.18 out of 5 in 145 ratings), but the less refined and more forgiving crowd on Untappd liked it a bit more, with one asshole in particular raving:
“Dark fruits abound, fig, raisins, plums.”
Nice words, bro. But his girlfriend liked the beer, too, and it was her birthday, so we’ll give him a pass for the lackluster review.
A beer from another continent, sitting patiently in a cooler for 8 full years, then sipped happily to celebrate the flipping of a calendar to a new year, and another trip around the sun for one birthday girl.
Capital S, capital O, Special Occasion.
Enjoy all of yours. And sometimes regular days are special ones, too.
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:
Note: If you haven’t yet read Ceetar’s wonderful new piece entitled “Thanksgiving is a Beer Holiday”, please go get your main course there first, then come back here for some dessert.
Turkey. Stuffing. Mashed potatoes and gravy. Green beans. Cranberry sauce. Fourteen kinds of pie (I hope, I hope, please please please let there be fourteen kinds of pie, pretty please).
While, in theory, a pumpkin ale sounds like it would be devoured in perfect harmony with the dishes that make up the classic Thanksgiving menu, I offer an alternative to you, gentle reader. I humbly posit that exchanging beer for bourbon might pair just as well with the food, and leave you not feeling so full that you wanna eject stomach gravy all over your granny’s shaggy living room carpet.
I’d be a damned liar if I told you that La Cumbre’s La Negra bourbon barrel aged stout or Marble’s Pumpkin Noir will not make an appearance at our Thanksgiving get-together. Like Ceets said, the day is long, start early. But when others zig for that IPA or another stout, I’m gonna zag my way on over to the bourbon shelf and do turkey day my way.
Since the drinking will begin closer to sunrise than sunset, it’s imperative to get out of gates slowly so I’ll start my Thanksgiving with the Basil Hayden’s Two-By-Two Rye. This is as close as you can come to a non-alcoholic beverage where bourbon is concerned (checks in at a measly 80 proof / 40% ABV). It’s as smooth as Sade, so you’ll still be able to talk to people without any slurring or mumbling (which will likely come later).
Ah, talking to people. A pitfall of Thanksgiving. We’ll all be happy to see our friends and most of our relatives, but sometime in the early afternoon, that vocal Trump-supporting in-law will show up (and in fairness, he’ll have to deal me, the “libtard craft beer blogger”), and that’s when Knob Creek is the best goddamn thing in the whole wide world.
This particular bottle I picked up last month on a motorcycle journey across the southern United States that culminated in a bourbon trail run through the beautiful state of Kentucky (with DD, I should add, the bikes were parked for this particular leg). I left home with an empty bag I planned to stuff with bourbon bottles and that bag came back full, gentle reader, same as my heart just now as I recall riding past mile after mile of cotton fields with a delicious liquid bounty tied down to my faithful iron colt. Sweet irresponsibility.
Anyway, Knob Creek, in my opinion, is always a little hotter than other bourbons, so this 115 proof / 57.5% ABV fire-breather (that was hand selected by none other than Jim Beam master distiller Fred Noe himself!) will drop me into a proper early afternoon buzz, and will allow me to torch a would-be political debater like I was Drogon flaming a bunch of digital extras in a Game of Thrones throwdown. That was a long sentence, I’m sorry. But it’s one of those bourbons that makes you shiver and shake a little after you swallow it. It’s distilled with the kind of attitude you need to shake off rivals, so it’s perfect for this time of day with disparate personalities arriving and cautiously intermingling.
Now it’s time for the big Thanksgiving meal. And with all the flavors competing for our taste buds’ affection and attention, a special bourbon will need to be summoned to meet the challenge. This is when I call on the Maker’s Mark Private Select Oak Stave by Bill Samuels, Jr. These Private Select offerings by Maker’s are pretty cool. Dig this from their website:
Beginning as fully matured Maker’s Mark® at cask strength, Private Select is created by adding 10 custom wood finishing staves to each barrel…
The finishing staves can be any combination of five flavor profiles chosen especially for this program.
The five profiles can be a combination of any of the following: Baked American Pure 2, Seared French Cuvée, Maker’s 46, Roasted French Mocha and Toasted French Spice.
This particular batch, Bill Samuels decided to ignore the four other flavor profiles entirely and devote all 10 staves in this batch to Maker’s 46, so we’re left with a bottle that has the subtle sweet of the 46, but in a 110.6 proof, 55.3% ABV monster. Any flavor on your beautiful Thanksgiving plate can represent the Yin, and this wonderfully complex bourbon will Yang it the hell back around. A truly resplendent spirit.
Dinner is done, the plates are cleared. Trump guy is in the other room watching football even though he hates football, and the vultures are in the kitchen picking at the leftovers. We have to pace ourselves here a little bit, so I’ll switch now to the Weller Special Reserve, my go-to everyday type bourbon. Weller replaced the rye in the mash with wheat, and for some reason, that makes it the easiest thing in the world to drink. I already used “smoother than Sade” (which was was a lie, nothing is smoother than Sade), so “smoother than Steph Curry’s release” seems like a full notch or two below Sade. I need a Prose-inator filled with sexy smooth similes to help me through this piece. Regardless, the Weller is smooth like Giant Steps Coltrane, as you can see by this nearly empty bottle.
People are hugging good-byes now, speaking on how we’ll all congregate again at the December holidays, only then everyone’s stress levels will be exponentially higher. No four-day weekend like glorious Thanksgiving, and many of us will feel overburdened because we spent way too much money buying gifts for everyone when bloated commerce seems completely out of the true spirit of the holidays. I already miss Thanksgiving, my comfy sweat pants and watching football with Trump guy who can be alright sometimes in his own ways.
At this point I’ll be slurring, all warm inside and telling everyone how much I’ll miss them, and at that moment, I’ll actually mean it. I’ll close with an offering from Washington state – the BSB (Brown Sugar Bourbon) by Heritage Distilling. The only difference between this thing and a Cinnabon at the airport is nothing, there is no difference at all. You will get a massive sugar buzz from the delicious airport Cinnabon and this easy 60 proof / 30% ABV warm, liquid treat will sneak up on you even though it tastes not like booze at all, but like that yummy $8 dollar, 900-calorie demon of an airport terminal delicacy that will leave you in a heap of sweaty regret. This particular bottle, however, was purchased as part of a fundraiser for Seattle’s homeless community during Pearl Jam’s 2018 epic summer “Home Shows”, so the slothy regret is tempered by its good intentions, if only slightly.
And with that, I bid you a Happy Thanksgiving, gentle reader. Be it bourbon or beer, Lions or Cowboys, Trump or anyone else, let your day be filled with hearty foods and spirits, and stellar company to match. And if you have any Pappy Van Winkle on your shelf, hit me up. I’ll bring by some leftover pie.
“That’s the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.”
—Charles Bukowski, Women
(This post was written in the wee hours of Tuesday, September 11th, 2018).
Say what you will about Bukowski, but the man was a expert on the subject of drinking. An earnest examination of the reasons we drink are central to the thoughts I’m trying to get out of my brain in this particular writing. We drink to be social (or antisocial), to help us relax or to be gregarious or to be any other thing we’re not when we’re sober. We drink to get a little buzzed or even a little drunk, or maybe just because we love how whatever we’re drinking tastes. It seems we drink to change our current plight from whatever it is to something… else. Same for you?
I write about beer on the internet (thanks for having me, dudes!). But this is a piece about not drinking beer and the funny hole it can leave in the life of someone who is accustomed to drinking beer. And then finding a suitable reason to drink a beer anyway. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ There is a beer review at the end of this, I promise. But it’s likely that review will have little to do with this post. Or maybe it will, who knows.
My girlfriend and I love our neighborhood brewery (and a few nowhere near our neighborhood). The modern craft beer culture has given birth to a new varietal of community hubs, these great taprooms we all love. Talented people making delicious beer that doesn’t taste like the beer in the next city over. It’s uniquely local in taste and culture and style. Neighbors, with their kids and dogs in tow, all congregating on patios in the sunshine, talking about things going on in our lives and our communities or on the block where we live. Over a beer. In some ways and for some people, the craft beer taprooms are the new piazzas, a 21st century place of congregation for neighbors.
I could count on one hand (or maybe two) the reasons I should probably drink a little less than I currently do. But this particular self-imposed beer hiatus is purely vanity and gut-related. Six weeks to lose a few pounds and the two biggest things I figured I could cut to help my progress were beer (duh) and olive oil (for real!).
As I am a human and therefore flawed by design, I’ve not chosen a route of sobriety for these 6 weeks, but opted to substitute wine (and the occasional whiskey) for beer in the evenings, or with a meal. Carbs, man.
The first day was a Saturday that went like any other Saturday. But when the bright orange New Mexico sun started to wane, the brain’s default entertainment choice was to head to Bosque or La Cumbre or another one of our local favorite breweries for a tall, cold beer to extinguish the dying embers of the warm, late summer day.
But hold up, I’m not drinking beer.
What the shit am I supposed to do to entertain myself? Watching the Mets will only make me want to drink more. I am allowing myself wine, but how many craft beer taprooms near you serve wine? I don’t know either because I always have the beer.
I think we binge watched the new season of Ozark and a week went by. And when that week was up, like Bukowski, I had a beer to celebrate! To celebrate a week of not drinking beer! I’m currently drunk on irony.
Today is a day that again challenges one’s notion of “the why”. For a lot of my friends that I’ve met through our shared love of the the New York Mets – east coasters and New Yorkers mostly – September the 11th is truly not like any other day. The sadness of losing a family member or spouse or loved one is a guttural, haunting pain, but still somehow different than the hurt of thousands of your neighbors (and maybe friends and loved ones, too) being killed in an attack on the place you live. That morning of September 11th, 2001, I was on a Mets message board receiving news from a lot of those east coasters and New Yorkers I still communicate with today over all the same things we did back then – Mets baseball, politics and music, and yes, beer.
I lived in Long Beach, California in 2001 and call Albuquerque home now, so while I can lend my heart to any of those friends if they needed it, they touched an experience that day that I could never understand in the same way. Still, the gravity of the day makes me want to drink something, not to forget, but just to not feel everything quite so much. Or maybe to feel it all a little more, I’m not sure.
Today is also my father’s birthday. But before “9/11”, September the 11th was already a somber day for my dad, as his brother had died on his birthday. Can you imagine losing your brother on your birthday? And then years later, on your birthday, which is also the anniversary of your own brother’s death, fucking September 11th happens? As you’ll understand, my dad didn’t celebrate anything on his birthday and when he remarried, his new wife’s birthday was September the 9th, so he quietly shifted his back towards hers, and they’d celebrate both their birthdays together, a couple days before they each had to navigate their own sadness, I’m sure.
My dad died on February 27, 2015. That’s a sad day on its face for the obvious reasons. When the anniversary of that day comes, I remember where I was when I got the call that he had a stroke, I remember when we all met in San Antonio at the hospital to be with him, and I remember how I cried as we waited for him to leave this earth after his breathing tube was removed. His birthday should be something happier but it’s just not. There’s too much sadness in the nearest concentric circles of people in my life, but the sadness gets louder and heavier as the circles expand outward to people I don’t know and will never meet because of the pain of what this day represents. Happiness or conviviality is a feeling that just doesn’t fit with today, even if I’d desperately like to feel something like it.
So I wanted to celebrate something this evening. Or forget something. Or both, in my own peculiar way. Bukowski, where you at?
I type this now while drinking a red wine and trying to stay true to my stupid diet in a way that makes little sense, but my girlfriend and I did share a beer tonight. Like our neighbors at our favorite breweries, we congregated, talked about things in our lives that remind us that we’re, in fact, still alive, and we shared a moment over a beer as strange and unique as today is.
Warning: Actual beer review ahead.
In February, she went to Europe and somehow managed to bring a few unbroken bottles of beer back to America. I think one or two still remain, but tonight we cracked the Põhjala Virmalised, one of the finest IPAs in all of Estonia. Brendan Fraser approved, no doubt.
Reviewers online have things to say about it, like this:
“Samea, kuparin oranssi väri. Ei juuri vaahtoa. Tuoksussa raikas sitrus. Maku melko kepeä, raikas, vähän katkera.”
I cannot, with any integrity, say that I disagree.
We did drink it after the “best before” date of July 22, 2018, but today, for me, is about appreciating things that have expired anyway.
It was strangely sedimenty, a little bitter, a little floral and a little hoppy all at the same time. A bunch of components that might not work on their own, but they conspired to make this thing – an Estonia-made American IPA – a pretty good thing. Seek it out next time you’re, well, in Estonia.
We had one 12-ounce bottle. We shared it and raised a glass to my old man. And this strange little beer somehow fit in nicely on a day when nothing else seemed to.
Happy September 11th, everyone. Whatever happiness you can find, hold onto it. Maybe drink it up.
Note – at the time of this writing, the author, clean of beer and olive oil, has lost 4 pounds, but is questioning his sanity and his current dietary roadmap.