Run, Relax, Refresh: WT Brews

This is the first in what I expect to be a series of posts with a common motif.

That theme is to write about two things that are dear to me.  One of them, you might have guessed, is beer.

The other is a pursuit of mine that I feel goes hand in hand with beer, and, in the circles in which I travel, I think I’d be able to find a number of fine, sweaty folks who agree with me (no, the perspiring people I am referring to are not mob trial witnesses).

That second thing that is dear to me?  Running.

However, let’s not jump to any rash conclusions.  Not everyone who runs drinks beers.  Delicious, craft beers, with fruit flavors and subtle hints of things.  And, similarly, not everyone who drinks is a runner.  In fact, I know plenty of thirsty Americans who don’t run farther than their own basement fridges.

But, and here’s the thing, if you Venn diagram’d this sumbitch, well, you’d find quite the nice intersection of runners and beer drinkers.

Why do you think this is?

  1.  Surely, running will build up a thirst in a man.
  2.  The “runner’s high,” for those of us who feel a certain euphoric bliss at the end of a strenuous period of exercise, is strikingly reminiscent of the buzz that two flavorful malts/stouts/IPAs will give a man.
  3.  Running creates a calorie deficit.  If you don’t fill that hole, you could get weak and/or hurt yourself.
  4.  Beer is delicious (this is more of a universal truth)

The concept of this post, and likely subsequent ones, is to lay out a course and cover it at a brisk pace, near a local watering hole, and then follow said run with a cold brewski.  In other words, the “run,” the “relax,” and the “refresh.”  In that order.

Since we ramped up this little slice of bloggery, I’ve been meaning to stop at WT Brews, in Baldwinsville, New York.  Like the previously reviewed Buried Acorn, it’s a tap room, a place brewing a number of local beers that I’ve yet to try.

So prior to driving over there,  plotted out a very nice 3+ mile course that would start and end right at the brewery.  And I ran it.

The Run:

This course actually ran by two different cemeteries, both on Tappan Street.  It set me a wondering — how many people die in this little town?  Perhaps I should have altered the route to go past a third cemetery, on the basis of “good things come in threes” and “deaths come in threes,” either of which would be a suitable pattern to sustain.

It was, in other respects, a delightful, if not a bit warm, typical weekday run for me.  Most nights, after work, I try to get a 30 minute or so workout in at a pace that is comfortable but not taxing, and at the same time work up a good sweat.  This route surely qualified.

The Relax:

The run was followed by a pop in to the aforementioned WT Brews.  Forgive my piss poor photo taking skills here, but I was goofy with sweat and weakness and a lack of hoppy delights.

This tap room boasts both a number of in house products, as well as several guest taps.

Choices aplenty

This is a really enjoyable little place, hitting on a number of details that make it a sweet spot.  Complimentary pretzels, a dart board, and the A/C cranked up on an 80+ degree day, to name a few.

Not to mention chairs with an abundance of assfeel.

The Refresh:

Given my predilection for fruity, tart, not-so-beery tasting beers, I naturally went with the passion fruit gose.

I can’t tell you what their brewmaster might tell you about this beer — it’s so new, it’s not even mentioned on their list of beers on their web site (though they do identify 13 other home cooked products there).

This beer “gose” with pretzels

What I can tell you, though, is that this gose comes in a close second to the Brown’s Brewing Guava Gose written up here as my all time favorite beer of this style.  Tons of tartness and flavor.  It has “hints of yumminess” in it!

I would come back and slurp down more of these, without question.

It ended up being quite the nice capper to a weekday jaunt.  I shall be back, probably to sample their blonde ale and IPA, on subsequent visits.

 

Death, Drinking and a review of a fine IPA from Estonia called Põhjala Virmalised

“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.

Weezin’ the juice

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.

That’s the, um, flavor swimming around.

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.

Two Beers, One Lunch: Back to the Hops Spot (or, Good Things Come in Threes)

They say “good things come in threes.”

Three little pigs, for example.

Stooges.

Blind mice.

We Bare Bears.

Less than four bears and more than 2

And so on.

The reality is, I think, that good things come in quantities of X, and that the human brain is preconditioned to notice a pattern upon the third of three related events or outcomes.

In other words, one is an accident, two is a coincidence, but three is a PATTERN.

Does that make sense?

Of course, they also say “deaths come in threes.”  So, maybe, that means deaths are good things?  That’s some grim business there, it is.

Where am I going with this?  Let’s do some arithmetic, my fine readers.

Beer + lunch + beer = 3 things I stuffed in my face

So, that’s not a death.  That’s a good thing.

And when you know a good thing, you circle back to it.  We’ve been enamored of late with our newest local poutinery, the Hops Spot, on Walton Street in Syracuse.

Read my initial review here, and educate yourself on another fine triumverate, poutine!  (Ingredients: cheese curds, fries, gravy).

We returned to the Hops Spot recently, and, despite the confirmed and re-confirmed greatness of the poutine, I decided to veer off to another part of the menu for my lunch and beer choices.

First, the warm up beer, a beautiful hazy sumbitch (read “sumbitch” in your best internal Jackie Gleason as Buford T. Justice voice).

This, my friends, is an Industrial Arts Wrench New England IPA, or NEIPA as they are sometimes abbreviated.  I know from Ceetar’s instagram posts that he’s had at least one of these in his fridge.

Hazy shade of delicious

This yummy thing, ITBMCBB*, is “A pithy explosion of aroma and flavor, beyond hazy, and loaded with Mosaic and Citra to the point of stickiness.”  So, for the record, I did not spill any of it on myself, so I will not venture a guess beyond assuming it’s not any stickier than any other beer that isn’t congealing on Ceetar’s floor.

It is, however, tart and fruity and delightful.  Much like the sours and goses I’ve been enjoying of late, it’s just got a nice bite to it.

Served in a 10 oz. glass, but with a 6.8% ABV, it’s got a decent amount of punch and I would partake of it again.

(I’ve decided, of late, that when having two beers and lunch all in one shot, to try and reach out into more of the 10 ounce portions, just because it makes for a long afternoon otherwise.  Life strategy, courtesy of the Barley Prose).

And now, a hiatus, from the beer talk, to turn Barley Prose into Burger Prose.  This is the Hops Spot’s Smokehouse Turkey Burger, served with bacon, provolone, aioli mayo and a side salad of mixed greens and grapeseed oil vinagrette dressing.  You’ll note that the tiny red puply objects in the lower right of my tray, banished there due to their being disgusting and vulgar.

If you had this right now you’d be eating it

New glossary term alert!  In the “Two Beers, One Lunch” theme, the two beers will be referred to as the ____ and the ____.    Readers, please, I need input in the comments section on a good duo to use as aliases for these bookends.

Back to our review!

The second beer of the meal was the Carton Brewing Company East Coast Double IPA (7.8% ABV, 80 IBU).So, to my chagrin, a double IPA is not an IPA twice as large as a regular IPA.  That would be the shit, were it so.  But it ain’t.

Carton of (liquid) smoke!

What is a double IPA?

A double IPA, loyal reader, is an American style of beer where double the hops are used, and then additional malts are added to balance out the flavor.

And now you know!

This was my first double IPA, and, so, I was surprised that it was not hoppy in the way that a normal IPA is.  Still delicious, but more of a balanced flavor, to be sure.  Again, ITBMCBB*, this drink will take the imbiber on a journey, where they shall “find dank green resinous hops popping over orange, mango and papaya aromas, with just enough sweetness of body to make the long finish a pleasure to have around.”

Um, yep!  Abso-damn-lutely!  I know, from my own end, that’s more “barely prose” than “barley prose,” but that’s my style.  I appreciate you’re continued reading, clicking, commenting and co-beveraging.

There’s more goodness still to come.  The Hops Spot routinely has 40+ beers on tap, plus tons of other menu choices (though, to be honest, I yearned and still yearn for more of the classique poutine).  We will be back.

Bottle Shares: Finally Tasting Those Cellared Beers

Tasting and sharing JW Lees Harvest 2001, weed beer, German sessions and more

Many people save beer. Some people intentionally age things, with various degrees of care, to see how they’ll taste. Age is a factor on many beers, and while it’s generally a negative, some beers exhibit some interesting and tasty characteristics as they get old. It’s especially interesting to see how beers taste fresh versus aged, especially yearly releases that you can compare glass to glass at the same time. Doing a vertical tasting of vintages is a great experience.

 

I sometimes will save a bottle or two intentionally, but most of the time it’s because I bought something that can keep, and always seem to have beer on hand that needs to be tasted fresh. I’ve got bottles in my basement that I’ve told myself “I’ll drink that this weekend” for years. The higher ABV of beers like this play in as well, as you’re not often to going to open a 22oz bomber of 12% beer to drink alone after dinner.

 

So you take advantage of the opportunity to open these bottles when you’re away for the weekend with a few friends. We all have young kids, so we kept it reasonable, choosing to try things rather than burn through imperial stout after imperial stout.

 

Plan Bee Kevbo

Farmhouse Ale with NY hops. This was really good. It was too hoppy for everyone else but I happily finished it off. Plan Bee makes amazing and beautiful beers and I need to get up to the Hudson Valley and visit them. Soon.

 

Smuttynose Rocky Road

Pastry stout. It was fine, enjoyable. Nothing particularly stood out. Faint whisps of marshmallow on the nose are fun though.

Dr. Fritz Briem Piwo Grodziski Grätzer Ale

Another one that didn’t quite hit the mark with everyone else, that I adored. It’s a sour smoked wheat ale. At 4% it’s a session ale and I really wish I had a dozen more.

 

Victory White Monkey

A Chardonnay barrel version of their Golden Monkey Belgian Tripel. I think I liked this one better, the flavors were calmer and more grapey.

 

New Belgium The Hemperor HPA

This was not good. I guess if you’re really into weed, and really enjoy that dank herbal aroma and taste, you might enjoy this, but not us. No. This is what I imagine bong water would taste like. It was an interesting try, and I’m definitely still interested in beers like this given the familiar relationship between hops and weed, in that they both belong to the Cannabinaceae family, but this beer was not drinkable.

Innis & Gunn Blood Red Sky

I don’t love regular Innis & Gunn, but this version with rum barrels and a Scottish red? Delicious. Lots of ripe red fruit and caramel sweetness. Candy apple almost, but less saccharine. Fun, though everyone else disagreed, so I took the last bottle home for myself.

 

JW Lees and Co Harvest Ale (2001)

Have you ever had a 17 year old beer? Try it. This was neat. Raisin syrup was my first thought, but that’s an understatement for the depth of flavors present in this beer. I don’t really drink sherry, but this was probably closer to a sherry than what you’d typically think of as beer. What a fun experience. I just randomly bought this bottle recently too, from a random beverage place. I also picked up a 2009, so stay tuned.

 

All in all, a fun weekend. I’ve got more though! When are we doing this again?

Cheers!

Trappist Westvleteren 12: The Holy Grail?

The decisions that lead us to determine what things we love in this life are (a lot them anyway) swimming in bias.  A book recommended by a good friend, or reliably tasteful media source? Yeah, I’ll buy it because I trust. A new Wilco record that I know I’ll love before it’s even released?  My own stupid (but correct!) bias.

But how do you taste and fairly evaluate a beer that many have asserted is the best beer in whole stupid world?  How do you tell your brain to not lend any credence to the beer’s assumed greatness simply because of its world-class rep?  Conversely, any beer that heralded is definitely not gonna live up to the hype, so how do you not dock points simply because it doesn’t taste otherworldly?  What if it just tastes like a good beer?

These are the dilemmas that come with drinking the Trappist Westvleteren 12.

The Westy 12 had all the OG hype that you’d now find swirling around a beer like Pliny the Younger. Similar to that out-of-print record I don’t give a shit about until I learn it’s out-of-print, the Westy 12, a Belgian quad, is not available at your liquor store or mine so that (artificially?) drives the demand.  It’s made by Trappist monks at the Saint Sixtus Abbey in, you guessed it, (West) Vleteren, Belgium. This is not a beer that gets pumped out to anything resembling mass production. They make enough to keep the monastery open and running and that’s it. You have to get it in person, or pay a criminal amount online ($150 + shipping for a 6-pack anyone?) and then hope it all shows up in one piece.  You also have to hope what you find online is not fake Westy like reported here or maybe here.  It’s less shopping for beer and more like collecting rare stamps.

I didn’t have to drop a bunch of Bitcoin buying bottles on the dark web or take out a second on the house to put a few in the fridge.  I got mine from my little brother who was living in Germany while working for the US Air Force. He’d successfully mailed two bottles my way in 2016, and when he and the wife and fam moved home to the US this year, they brought a few more back with them (at about 20 for a 6-pack at the Abbey, btw).  Fortunately, a couple of those bottles found their way to my home.

You wanna talk hype?  Dig this bottle. Paired with the proper Westy glassware, it looks like something the grail knights from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade should be protecting.

“You chose… wisely.”

No label.  Just a dark, chocolate-colored bottle with “TRAPPISTEN BIER” worked into the neck of the glass.

The cap is gold, features the logo, identifies the beer as 10.2%  and lists a stamped-on “best before” date. The Westy I’m about to drink was bottled on 27 Oct, 2016 and is “best before” the same date, 2019.  Today will do just fine.

Descriptions of the beer online read like letters to the editor in the back pages of Thanksgiving Food Porn magazine (which probably exists).  A sampling:

Aroma of fresh bread, raisins, hints of clove and allspice.”

“…flavors of brown sugar, dates, figs, caramel, chocolate, and spice.”

“Rich aroma with dark fruit, nutty malts, mild caramel/toffee, light Belgian yeast and a light herbal spice.”

Makes you wanna #GravyBoatAndChill no?

The internet and the hype machine have informed me that this beer is wonderful and I love it.  If I’d paid $150 for a 6-pack, I’d likely force my brain to only accept that it was great, maybe for no other reason than to justify the financial drop.  

A quick aside – I once had a chance to drink Pliny the Younger. I was in San Diego county and a friend who worked at a brewery told me a place in town had a keg.  We called and they confirmed they did have it. $14 for a 6-ounce pour, and there was already a 45-minute line out the door. How do you properly appreciate that? How do you not make up your mind that it’s the best thing ever, or it’s totally overblown? 

Back to the present.  This Westy poured beautifully and looks like a thing you want to brag to all your friends about (me, right now).  Without going full beer-nerd, I fully back the deep fruit notes described by the thanksgiving food porn guys. And while a decent comp, in my opinion, is the St. Bernardus 12, this particular Westy 12 is way boozier.  Hype or no, this beer, with all its dark, bursting fruit is phenomenal. A richer, fuller-bodied beer would be hard to find on any continent.

If you’ve got a trip to Belgium coming up, then definitely go to this place (duh).  If it tastes this good in my living room, I can only imagine how much better it would be in the monastery with all the vibes set to “Optimal”.  If Belgium’s not in the immediate future, but you can find the beer and the price is whatever “fair” is to you, then I still highly recommend it.  Otherwise, get that St. Bernardus 12 at the liquor store and enjoy a different delicious beer instead. 

Proost!

One final note – It’s advisable to not search electronic bay dot com for rare and/or out-of print vinyl after drinking rare and/or out-of-print 10% beers.  Your Chase card (and maybe your significant other) will likely hate you for it. 

I mean, just because no one else has a thing, does it make that thing any better?

Review: The Hops Spot

There two kinds of people in the world.  There are those who eat poutine, and those who do not.

(Author’s note: there are actually several other kinds of people in the world.)

What’s poutine, you say?  I’ll pretend you’re asking me that, semi-imaginary reader, strictly for purposes of moving this write up along, and not out of ignorance.

Poutine is a dish of french fries, mixed with cheese curds (known in some parts as “squeaky cheese”), and then topped with gravy.  The same kind of gravy you’d normally be ladling over stuffing and mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, that is to say.

It looks like this, in its simplest and most delightful form.

Poutine!

Now, you might think that a person would have to travel to the great white north, AKA Canada (sometimes affectionately known as “America’s Hat” or “America Jr.”) to find a proper plate of poutine.

But if you thought that, you’d be wrong, and, possibly, oblivious.  I can forgive you.  Let’s not let it ruin this fantastic thing that we have going here.

No, the dish of poutine pictured above was served up right here in one of Syracuse’s newest eateries, The HopsSpot.

I visited this place with a few buddies recently and had me a big ol plate of poutine.  I washed it down with a couple of delightful beers from their excellent beer list, in another installment of my running “two beers, one lunch” motif.

The beer list can be found on their web site and when dining there in person, on paper menus (they run 4+ pages long), with over 40 choices of draft and can/bottle beer to choose from.

I started my day with a Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale.

Hair of the dog, ayuk nyuk

Those who’ve read this blog before will know that I have a penchant for a brown ale.  They speak to me, in fact, I can think of very few brown ales that I have not enjoyed.

There’s something comforting about them, smooth and inviting, like wearing my granddad’s sweater.  Except, in this case, I’m stuffing that sweater into a pint glass and then wrapping it around some poutine that’s landed in my gut.

This particular brown ale (6.5% ABV, 29.5 IBU) is particularly tasty.  The web site doesn’t provide the usual floral descriptions, or mention hints of any particular flavors, so I will describe it as being the resultant product of a love affair between a Canadian lumberjack and an Egyptian belly dancer, sprinkled liberally with pixie dust and magic brown slurpiness.

I moved on from the Dog to an IPA, this time going with the Troegs Independent Perpetual IPA (7.5% ABV, 85 IBU).  I do pick my drinks out often based on the “maximum punch” process, preferring higher ABV choices to lower ones and 16 oz. servings to the 10 oz “specialty” sizes.  So this bad boy fit the bill on both counts.

This IPA, ITBMCBB*, “emerges rife with sticky citrus rind, pine balm and tropical fruit.”  Now, pine balm would be a hard flavor to identify on my best days.  I have pine trees growing behind my house, though I’ve never balmed them or sought balm from them.

Nor can I claim to taste tropical fruit, or sticky citrus rind.

That doesn’t mean that it’s not still a fine, fine choice.  It’s hoppy, sure, but in a fun, delightful way, like when the neighbor’s kid gets too many pixie sticks in him and starts hopping up and down the street like he’s on a pogo.  You don’t care, it’s someone else’s child, let him get all hopped up.

The Hops Spot has a menu full of good looking choices – burgers, salads, and several other varieties of poutine, all of which I hope to sample in the upcoming weeks and months.   Not to mention another 38 or so beers, most of which are new to me (though I was pleased to see them carrying choices from the Buried Acorn on their list, among others).

For those not local to Syracuse, go out and find yourself some equivalent poutinerie (yes, that’s a real word, it’s on the Hops Spot web site after all) and dig in to this northern delicacy.

Review: Boulevard Brewing Company Jam Band Berry Ale

It’s back for another go at one of Syracuse’s finest lunch spots, to sit down and have a meal and a cold libation.

That place being the Dinosaur Bar-b-que.

As a regular diner at this establishment, I can tell you that you can’t really go wrong on the lunch ordering.  On my most recent visit I partook of a cheeseburger and fries, pretty standard fare, but I can tell you that their brisket and pulled pork sandwiches are also top drawer.   I’m not much of a wings or ribs guy but those are also well spoken of.

And what do all of these things have in common?  Savory barbecue flavoring?  The ability to make the middle of your body look like a bean bag chair?  Yes, that too.  But that’s not what I’m going for here.

They all go down delightfully with a pint of ale.

This is the Barley Prose blog, after all, not an ode to bean bags.

On to the beer.

This beautiful reddish concoction, pictured above, is one of the regular beers served on tap at the Dino.

It is the Jam Band Berry Ale, made by Boulevard Brewing.  Sold nationally but based out of Kansas City, MO.  I have a friend who goes way back on this beer, her being from Kansas, and I saw her slurping one down as we tailgated before a concert this past summer at the Lakeview Amphitheater and made a mental note to go try one.

I am also partial to the fruity beers, having reviewed a delightful guava gose, among others.

So, on to this one (IBU 6, ABV 5.9%).  For the record, ITBMCBB*, this beer is marketed as featuring  “…blueberry, raspberry and tart cherry play in perfect harmony to create a slightly tart ale that sings with ripe, bursting fruit flavor. Aromas of dark berries, citrus and melon open the show, bridging to zippy fruit flavors that meld into an easy-drinking summer beer worthy of an encore.”

And doesn’t that sound nice?  I personally missed the comedic duo of Cirtus and Melon, and their stylings, but, you know what?  I have the palate of a barely evolved chimp.

I happened to drink one of these with my burger and fries just the other day, served up by one of the Dino’s very lovely servers.  She brought me a beer, so, of course, I love her!

And, boy oh boy, what a treat of a beer this is.  Tart, and sweet, and fruity, but, unmistakably still a beer.  Sweet, and delightful.  Goes with all kinds of things.  It’s like if an ice cold beer made love to a peanut butter sandwich, and birthed a 16 oz love baby into a pint glass and found a buxom Asian gal to bring it to me in a bar-b-cue joint.

I see from public web sites that these bad boys go for a very affordable $10.99 for a 12 pack of 12 oz cans.  That’s a solid price point.

I’ll be back to the Dino, of course, and this one now goes into my regular rotation, along with the similarly sweet and delicious Juicy Haze IPA also served on tap there.

Check out Boulevard Brewing Company on Twitter, and Instagram, and probably Facebook (I don’t roll with the Face.)

Four Silly Beer Pictures

Beer names get sillier and sillier, so why not take silly pictures to accompany them?

photo by Ceetar
For the Birds by Brix City Brewing

For The Birds was a hazy American Pale Ale. It was pretty typically fruity, with that hop burn from intense hopping. If hazy is your thing, you’ll like Brix City.

photo by Ceetar
Brain Dance by Nap Time Liquid Creation

Nap Time is a new label, basically a brewer’s label, put out by KUKA/Andean Brewing Company in Blauvelt. This was a tasty one, despite my bad pour. Sticky resiny/dank hops and plenty of flavor. It’s an aptly named brain dance.

photo by Ceetar
Money Mad Fat! Collaboration by Interboro and Barrier

Barrier and Interboro are both Long Island based (okay, Brooklyn and Long Island) breweries that have been making great IPAs. Mad Fat! is Interboro’s series, and Money is Barrier’s. Money is a little more traditional, and Mad Fat! is a little more New England, but they’re both great beers on their own as well.

photo by Ceetar
The Last Bovine by Bolero Snort

Bolero Snort is one of only three breweries in my giant county. (I’m available to help! Let’s get another one going here in Bergen County NJ! GoFundMe!) They’ve been skirting that Cease and Desist line for a while with topical pop culture themed, and cow pun, beers for a few years and will be opening a tap room in 2019. The beers are typically good, though I admit I don’t remember how this one tasted when I had it last Christmas.

Review: Buried Acorn Brewery

I’m a man with many ideas.  Some of them are more practical than others.

One idea I had recently was a line of greeting cards where every message, happy or sad, was followed by the phrase “ya jackass” or “ya big idiot.”  Because the juxtaposition of emotions is, of course, wildly funny.

“Happy 25th Wedding Anniversary, Ya Jackass!”

“Condolences on your Family’s Loss, Ya Big Idiot.”

I’ll let the reader judge the value inherent in that concept.

Another idea I had was for a brewery to open here in Syracuse where I live, only, instead of being downtown, where parking is at a premium, and requiring more driving time to get to, instead, that brewery would open in the northern suburbs, perhaps even adjacent to one of my regular running routes, and serve up all kinds of delicious local beers.

Well, lo and behold, this second idea has come to pass!  In the form of the brand new Buried Acorn Brewery and tap room.  The tap room features “16 draft lines pouring Barrel-Aged mixed-fermentation sour Ales, classic and long-forgotten Farmhouse styles, as well as some monogamous hopped up offerings.”

Sixteen draft lines.  That’s a respectable set of choices!

Open since July 13th, I meandered down to the new joint after work and after a humid four mile run, thirst buds locked and loaded for a sudsy replenishment.   The initial beers available at the time (a few more have since been added) is shown below.

I decided to start my de-thirsting by ordering a pint of the Oatmeal Stout.  They have both a regular and Nitro-charged version on tap; I went with the regular only because I failed to notice the Nitro until after my order was in.

The bartender was prompt and friendly and, of course, I love her!  She gave me this!  (Reasonably priced $5.50 pints, by the way, not too much of a crotch kick to the wallet…)

I have had a few other oatmeal stouts and they all speak to me.  I’m an oatmeal guy, it’s one of my go to breakfasts, and the mellow sweetness of the other oatmeal stouts I have had (Ommegang’s, for one, and also a cappuccino oatmeal stout by the Blue Moon folks) have all been a treat.

I think of it as a “breakfast beer.”  Not that I’m drinking beer with my breakfast, I mean, I have things to do!  However, on nights where my family and I are having the ever popular “breakfast dinner,” scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon, etc., then the oatmeal stout is a winning choice.

This particular oatmeal stout (5.5% ABV, 23 IBU) is excellent.  Rich and creamy and cold and frothy.  It also contains, ITBMCBB*, “notes of chocolate and coffee,” though, I mostly just taste the deliciousness.   If it were any more oatmealy, I’d be topping this with maple syrup and a pat of butter.

I then moved on to the Alpha Bender IPA (7.3% ABV, 23 IBU).

It’s a golden, delightful treat, much like a Disney princess’ hair.  This particular IPA is described by the Buried Acorn site itself as being full of  “soft bitterness with ripe tropical fruit on the nose and a crisp dry finish. Crafted with NY State grown hops and barley while employing revolving hop editions from around the world.”  Doesn’t that sound pleasant?

To me, and perhaps this is why I’m not writing copy for breweries full time, the IPA tastes like “what it must taste like if a mythical dragon pee’d a rejuvenative cold mythical magic dragon pee drink into a pint glass.”

The bar is also hosting other local brewery products on some of their 16 taps.

I am likely to try the Critz Farms Pig City Porter on my next visit, as I’ve had that one in cans before but not in draft, and know it to be a treat as well.

The Buried Acorn is also now selling cans of some of their beers, to go, as well as growlers.  I’ve not ever purchased a growler of beer in my life but those branded ones are pretty slick.

The tap room itself is also a very pleasant joint in which to sit down and beer up.  They have bar and table seating, and board games, and the service was prompt despite there being a good sized weekday crowd present.

And the chairs have a delightful “assfeel” to them.

I’m looking forward to returning to the Buried Acorn and sampling some of their newer choices (the Ghoster Blanc and Hot Whip were not ready at the time of my initial visit, but now show on the company’s web site).

These folks also do have an active Facebook page and Instagram account, announcing specials and new offerings.

So, come bury your liver at the Buried Acorn.  I’ll meet you there.

Come for the Chile, Stay for the Beer

New Mexicans, it can be safely stated, are culinary innovators. The Frito pie*.  The sopapilla. The green chile cheeseburger.  Borne of hunger and New Mexican ingenuity, with local New Mexican chiles chopped by precise New Mexican hands, the green chile cheeseburger is the most famous example of the edible imagination of the people of the 47th state.  Take a thing that is good and make it our own – bigger, bolder, spicier.

The Spanish brought chiles to the Native Pueblo tribes in what would become northern New Mexico in the 1580s.  Being ancestors to future New Mexicans who will want to amplify every last flavor they encounter, the Puebloans gravitated to a particular style of pepper, and modified it to the long, fiery chile pod generations of New Mexicans would masochistically devour, setting fire to our mouths while sweating through our insanely delicious meals.  We’re a little loco like this.

The New Mexico-style IPA follows in this tradition. We were drawn toward classic hop-forward profiles like Bear Republic’s Racer 5 and Green Flash’s West Coast IPA. While we thought the style was great, just like the chiles our forebears fell for in the 1500s, we needed MORE. The west coast IPA is cleaner and lighter by comparison. The Colorado-style (whatever the hell that is) seems something of a hybrid of west coast and New England styles. To drink an IPA in New Mexico, though, is not to drink a crisp or light beer, no. To drink an IPA in New Mexico is to submit your palate to an aggressive, punch-you-in-the-mouth, full-on assault by hops. See? We’re kinda loco.

That brings us to the New Mexico IPA Challenge, the Royal Rumble of IPA elimination tournaments. Preliminary rounds in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos led up to the championship, which was held on Saturday at the gorgeous new Bosque Brewing Co. location in Bernalillo, New Mexico.

the new Bosque North in Bernalillo, NM

The premise of the competition is simple. For 20 bucks, you are handed a tray with a dozen or so clear, plastic cups, each filled with 3-ish ounces of beer. You are also given an (empty) souvenir pint glass. You don’t know what the beers are. Under each cup is a number. Drink the cups of beer. On a piece of paper, write down the number of the beer that was your favorite and give that piece of paper to the bar-keep. They will pour you a pint of beer that corresponds with the number you chose and record your written vote. Drink that pint in your now full souvenir glass. Be happy, because beer. At the end of the day, the votes are tallied and the names of the beers are revealed, and you find out which you voted for, and which you roundly mocked like an arrogant jerk.

15 delicious, anonymous beers

We attended the Albuquerque prelim and final rounds in 2017 (won for the second year in a row by the excellent Boxing Bear Brewing Company and their Bear Knuckle IPA). We went to the first elimination round in Albuquerque this year, where 44 breweries submitted entries for the best IPA in New Mexico. There were, to me, a surprisingly high amount of hazies as the state has been a relatively slow adopter of this trend. Would our hop-heavy palates allow for this softer, fruity invasion?

NMIPAC standings before the final round

The previous 3 rounds whittled the 44 breweries down to a tidy field of 15 deserving finalists. At approximately 3 ounces per cup times 15 entries, plus an additional 16 ounces from the souvenir pint glass, each of us would be “tasting” the equivalent of a Super Big Gulp of boozy suds that day. Pretzels would reset our taste buds between sips. Lyft would cart our drunk arses home.

Aside from straight-up guzzling, there’s really no wrong way to do the blind taste test. I started sequentially, would jot down a few observations, work my way through all 15, and then start again at #1, noting the changes in each as both the temperature outside and the beer got warmer under the hot New Mexico sun.

Like a Joco Pastorius bassline, a few of Albuquerque’s premier beer makers have unmistakable hop profiles. In the elimination round, I knew La Cumbre the second that danky IPA hit my tongue (and also realized I spend way too much time and money drinking La Cumbre). It was the same in the finals with my #6 beer (which I guessed correctly to be Bosque’s bitter Just Bearly IPA) and #10 (AlbuMurky, the New England-style entry by the aforementioned Boxing Bear). I also guessed the Red River Bad Medicine Honey DIPA, but only because of the reddish color and caramelly finish. (We met the brewer later at the event and he described his recipe as the same hops used in Pliny the Elder, plus a ton of local honey. It’s not Pliny at all, but it tasted… unique.)

I liked the hazy #10 on my tray, but leaned more heavily toward the classic, hoppier offerings, deciding ultimately on #5, which was in this reviewer’s humble know-nothing opinion, the most well-balanced IPA on my tray. My brother went #5, too, and my girlfriend went on her own with #11. The votes were tallied and we walked through to the back of the brewery to await the results.

Wandering through Bosque

The announcer, shooting for some dramatic flair, slowly and agonizingly announced the third place winner as AlbuMurky, the hazy brewed by two-time defending champ, Boxing Bear. Another Albuquerque heavy-hitter, Marble Brewery, was announced as the second place finisher (my beloved #5 beer, which would turn out to be their Safeword IPA). Steve Harvey actually got the order wrong as it was Boxing Bear second, Marble third, but that was a small detail. He had one more chance with the winner yet to be announced.

So which storied Albuquerque brewery won the championship? None! It was Blue Corn Brewery out of Santa Fe (#4 on our trays, but apparently #1 in our hearts), the first non-Albuquerque brewery to win the competition since none other than Blue Corn back in 2013.

My girlfriend, to her credit, described the eventual champ as “not bad/top contender/got malty.” I described #4 as “bitter/too skunky,” proving definitively that I know jack shit about this beer-tasting thing. We did make the trip to Santa Fe on Sunday and stopped in Blue Corn to try a pint of the champ (named Gatekeeper IPA), but they didn’t have it on yet. Presumably, it’s a special or one-off recipe, so we’ll have to wait til they make a bigger batch before we can get reacquainted with it.

As for the hop versus hazy debate, Boxing Bear did comment in a classy concession post on Instagram that their hazy was a “risky” move. I can’t disagree too much with that and credit them for trying something different with a three-peat on the line.

The votes at the end of the day did lean heavily toward sledgehammer heavy hops, but like chile peppers, west coast IPAs, and tourists’ stolen cars, maybe the New England-style beer will be the next thing that New Mexico takes and makes her own.

*  the late, great Anthony Bourdain disagrees with the greatness of the Frito Pie

PS – Come visit us in New Mexico and drink our awesome beers!  New Mexico Ale Trail