Howard Stern Meets Craft Brewing. Enter The Era of Shock Brews

A few weeks ago I was reading about that Finnish brewery that’s recreating a beer salvaged from a 200 year old shipwreck.  Dogfish Head has been doing that kind of thing with much, much older historical brews – the Ancient Ales Series  – for years, so the Finn’s brew concept seemed downright tame.  Move on.  So I did, soon landing on the description of an upcoming brew from a nanobrewery in Iceland.  I figured this would be good.  Any country that produced Björk could probably turn out an avant guard brew.

The brewery was Egill Skallagrimsson (probably not on ABInBev’s acquisition list) and the beer, to my only slight amazement, was Björk Stork Special Lager.  Seriously? First of all, she’s a first class loon.  A modern day Yoko Ono but without the politically-laced soft porn with John Lennon side project.  Makes Lady Gaga look like Taylor Swift during the infatuation phase with a new boyfriend.  Her fans are certified wackadoos and if the country that celebrates her as a national hero wasn’t already physically detached from every other country in the world, we’d figure out how to make it so.  Anyway, here’s what Egill Skallagrimsson said about their upcoming brew:

Magnús Per Magnússon moving an entire brewery

Magnús Ver Magnússon moving an entire brewery

Brewed in honor of our beloved Björk with all of the essence and wonder of her angelic thunder.  Aged 18 weeks atop shavings of footwear worn during her 2011 Biophilia World Tour for a unique flavor experience.  The clarity of this finest lager comes from the waters of revered Vatnajökull Glacier.  A grand lager to quench the thirst of a thousand Magnús Ver Magnússons.  In the shadow of Eyjafjallajökull we bring you Iceland’s most prideful premium lagers.

Her idea of Dress Down Goose Day duds

Her idea of Dress Down Goose Day duds

I won’t be pestering my local craft beer shops to stock this stuff and won’t try to track down those 2 art students down the hall in our dorm who I was convinced were from Iceland due to the mannequins in their….never mind.  Actually, I won’t be trying to get this beer because nobody can.  Harder to get than Westy XII because it doesn’t exist.  But one day it might.  It might because there are already some outrageous brews out there.  The goose-wrapped freak up there would probably pair Icelandic Hákarl (cured shark) with one of them.  So? What would Björk drink?

In other words, what tremendously stupid craft beers are actually being brewed, bought, poured, and…*clears throat…enjoyed right now?  Two ridiculous examples immediately come to mind (excuse the horrific pun – you’ll understand in a minute unless you save yourself and stop reading right now).  Both turned out by otherwise legitimate, respected, award winning craft breweries who apparently thought it might be fun to put on the idiot caps and design the following brews:

Exibit 1:  Wynkoop Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout

Trust me, it bothered me to post it too

Trust me, it bothered me to post it too

To make matters worse, they recently started canning and packaging it in two packs.  I wish I was kidding.  Brilliant marketing or idiocy on a grand scale? You know the Bud Light Lime crowd is howling at this one.

Exhibit 2:  Rogue Beard Beer

a,k,a, Shark Jump Beer

a.k.a. Shark Jump Beer

I didn’t believe this one either until I had no choice.  Well, I have a choice not to go anywhere near it.  I don’t know what they were thinking aside from the fact that they weren’t.  Perhaps a cry for attention from Rogue Nation.  Maybe they felt as though they were being left in the dust by more adventurous craft brewers.  This is their way of saying “Hey! Look at us now! We can be morons too!” Meanwhile, fully aware of my own opinions on this beer, I bought a bottle of their new VooDoo Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Ale earlier today AND I DON’T EVEN LIKE THE COMBINATION OF PEANUT BUTTER AND BANANA! So who’s the moron?

There are others.  These are just the two that annoyed me the most.  I assume this trend of shock brews is just in its infancy.  The gauntlet’s been brewed and bottled.  What’s your take? Should I just chill out with a sedate Ruination or am I somewhat justified?  Let me know what you think.

Cheers!

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The Idiot’s Guide to Holy Ales

Alaskan IPA with a hoppy halo

Sure sign of a Holy Ale

Lots of ominous signs in the news these days.  North Korea is preparing to immolate Manhattan or launch a cyber attack against the online reservations systems of Nobu and Daniel to send New York’s well-healed foodies into a tizzy (not sure why they’d need to go to any of that trouble after simply sending Dennis Rodman back).  Assad may be using chemical weapons against Syrian rebels.  A Kardashian is apparently pregnant (with a reality fetus), Lindsay Lohan is still Lindsay Lohan, and the Virgin Mary appeared on a taco shell.  I’d be truly impressed if she showed up in the gelatinous coating surrounding Spam.  To each his own when it comes to Holy signs.

Mother Mary & The Stone Gargoyle have been said to appear .  Commence the pilrgimage!

Commence the pilgimage!

That got me thinking about craft beer (you wondered – me too – if I was going make that connection somehow).  Specifically, I started thinking about my term for the rare, the mythical, the “ungettable” craft beers: Holy Ales.  I wrote about one of my Quests for a Holy Ale last week but realized that I’d never given the topic of Holy Ales all that much thought.  Why are some Holy and others just spectacularly pious (really good)? Is it all about the beer itself or is there something more? A matter of faith or a matter of taste?

I figured the best way to understand how a beer achieves Holy Ale status would be to take a look at the ones already on my altar:

3 Floyds Dark Lord

3 Floyds Dark Lord

  • Russian River Pliny The Younger
  • Three Floyds Dark Lord
  • Deschutes The Abyss
  • Surly Darkness
  • Bell’s Hopslam
  • Founders KBS and CBS
  • Alchemist Heady Topper
  • Ballast Point Sculpin
  • Rogue Voodoo Doughnut (since defrocked)
  • Stone/Maui Coconut Macadamia Porter

That’s not the whole list but it was enough to get me started in trying to identify common traits implying Holiness (aside from the fact that darkness and evil seem to be tickets to my craft beer heaven.  Probably won’t be sharing this list with my Rabbi over a pint of He’Brew Glorious Jewbelation during Hanukkah).

First of all, there’s virtually no chance that any two craft beer fans will have identical lists of Holy Ales – just too many choices and too many varied tastes out there.  Regional availability plays a huge role as well.  In simplest terms, it’s all about basic economics but on a very personal scale: Supply vs. Personal Demand.  Milton Friedman had it figured out a long time ago and probably tweaked his theories at the Map Room Pub.

So now that I have the basics down (sort of), here are my Rules for attaining Holy Ale status.  Thine craft beer mayest be worshipped as Holy upon satisfactory passage of the following (and I’m not calling these commandments because I’m already in enough trouble and don’t want to be pummeled by frogs – I’m wearing red today and would end up looking like a Jewish Christmas Tree – like I said: enough trouble already):

  1. AVAILABILITY (or lack thereof).  Goes without saying that scarcity is a huge factor.  If you can your hands on a particular brew almost anytime you want , it just doesn’t feel “special”, though it may still be spectacularly pious.
  1. GEOGRAPHY.  Relates to availability.  What’s rare and difficult to get in one area may be a snap to obtain somewhere else. I don’t have Troegs Nugget Nectar on my list primarily because I can get plenty of it out here when its available – I love it.  It’s a special IPA.  I know many people think it belongs in the conversation with Hopslam, Pliny & Jai Alai.  If I lived in Fon Du Lac it would be Holy but I don’t, so it’s just a really fine sinner.

    Brewed every 50 years

    Brewed every 50 years

  1. REGULARLY (even if sparingly and only occasionally) BREWED.  That’s my way of saying one-offs don’t count.  I’m primarily talking about firkins.  Some of them are fantastic and highly prized but if we allowed them to attain Holiness the craft beer scene would resemble Pete Townshend’s  prescient lyrics of Exquisitely Bored in California: “pray TV looks like pay TV to me.”  In other words, there’d be too many Holy Ales preaching from the tap handles and we’d have a hard time finding our true prophets over profits.

I actually had a few other factors but then recognized that they all related to personal taste and that’s really where every craft beer geek’s list is going to go their separate ways.  I’ll never worship a Barley Wine, Belgian Tripel, or Doppelbock but others may brand me a blasphemous heretic for my beatification of IPAs or Double IPAs.

At the end of the day we all see the Holy Ale signs we want to see in the lacing.  I’m still waiting for the Stone Gargoyle to appear in mine.

What about your Holy Ales? Agree or disagree with my rules?  File an appeal with a comment…

Cheers!

Beer Review (Quest) – Ballast Point Indra Kunindra

I don’t remember where I was or what I was doing when I read about a beer brewed with coconuts, kaffir lime leaves, cayenne pepper, and madras curry but I know I was intrigued.  And pissed.  I also know that I was most likely minding my own business while possibly working up my design for Bose Fool Cancelling Headphones™ (more on that another time).  Then I read what had to be a preview of this very limited release by Ballast Point in San Diego and all bets were off.  So much for minding my own business.  Now I had to make it my business to get a hold of that beer when it was released.  That’s where the pissed comes in (I’m pretty sure nobody else typed those words in that exact order anywhere else in the world today – or yesterday – and I should probably apologize for it but I’m in a bit of a mischievous mood so I won’t).

Indra Kunindra Label - Its All In There

Indra Kunindra Label – Its All In There

Ballast Point is a pretty small operation in the first place.  They pulled distribution of their regular lineup from NJ (and I believe the rest of the Least Coast) for a couple of years around 2010/2011 because they couldn’t consistently meet demand.  Fortunately, Philadelphia is their top distribution market outside of San Diego and Southern California so if I needed a fix of Sculpin or Sea Monster it was occasionally available across the bridge (although you’re really crossing the river and since the river and the bridge are, by necessity, perpendicular, you can’t cross both at the same time.  Geometrically impossible.  Maybe the people with bridge phobias simply figured that out a long time ago).

So anyway, the words “very limited release” really meant “no f’n way you’re getting your hands on this one out in New Jersey.”  Very well.  The coconut shells and imaginary horse are next to the craft beer fridge for a reason.  The next Quest for the Holy Ale is on! Soon enough, some reviews are popping up about Indra Kunindra.  I managed to ignore the details (didn’t want to be influenced and they’d probably be wrong anyway) and focused on the location of the reviewers:  all San Diego/SoCal.  Appeared to be no distribution outside of that region.  Not one to be easily turned into a newt I started practicing my coconut shell clip-clops.

Most of the reviews were from people lucky enough to sample it at the source – the brewery at Scripps Ranch.  Thanks to my newfound fear of bridges I didn’t see myself driving out to San Diego anytime soon.  Especially not with that huge river bisecting the country – pretty sure I’d need to use a bridge to get across it.  Hope of a successful quest was beginning to fade when an opportunity presented itself to actually go to San Diego on an airplane.  No need to confront a bridge.  I hadn’t been to San Diego in over 10 years and the closest I came then to craft beer was craftily throwing back insults at Dick’s Last Resort in the Gaslamp Quarter.  The timing was perfect – or so I thought.  Indra was still pouring in the tasting room based upon the website and Twitter feed.  The day before I left they let me know that they thought I’d arrive before it kicked.  Panic.

No time to pack the coconut shells or invisible horse.  Not sure how the TSA luminaries would handle them anyway.  The Quest was going old school:  Planes, Trains & Automobiles (moving walkways replacing the trains).  I arrived mid afternoon and headed straight for the prize.  Finding the brewery proved a bit challenging.  I passed it twice before realizing that it’s a stealth brewery.  Completely unassuming space in a small section of a large corporate park facility.  No glitz, glamor, or stools in the tasting room either.  No matter,  I’d been seated in a D14 next to a custom chicken coup designer for the past six hours so I didn’t need a stool – I needed an Indra Kunindra.

Ballast Point Brewery Tasting Room (Scripps Ranch)

Ballast Point Brewery Tasting Room (Scripps Ranch)

Just in time! If I’d gotten there a few hours later I’d have been out of luck (though they still had some Indra bombers in the fridge to take home as stowaways – which I took advantage of).  The pint glass at the lower right corner above is the beer I’d flown 3,000 miles for (well, not exactly but we’ll go with that for now).  More often than not I find that beers brewed with unusual ingredients are actually quite tame.  The exotic additions used so sparingly as to require focused dedication just so that you can say, with absolute confidence, that you’re pretty sure you taste them.  Not so with this brew.

Indra Kunindra is everything the name implies – whatever that is.  It’s nothing short of astounding in terms of huge, aggressive, diverse, and completely unexpected flavors – despite the fact the label tells you exactly what flavors to expect. It’s that different.  Pours a clear onyx with faint ruby highlights with a very thin disk of a medium brown head.  The aromas more than hint at what’s to come.  Lime, toasted coconut, cocoa, and anise fill the nose.  The first sip is borderline stunning.  If you didn’t pay attention to the aroma or to the label you’d probably think you were having a sensory seizure – signals crisscrossing and colliding at frightful velocity.  The tart kaffir lime smacks the front of your tongue followed by heavily roasted barley, coconut, dark chocolate, curry, and burnt toast.  Three or four sips later I’m wondering if I missed the lit matches I must have unwittingly swallowed before realizing the the letters on the label spelling out “cayenne pepper” meant that cayenne pepper was in here too – and a healthy dose at that.  The mouthfeel was silky with prickly carbonation and the finish extremely dry.

I love Thai food but hate Thai beer (the real Singha Thai beer that is).  Ballast Point’s Indra Kunindra is Thai Coconut Curry in a pint glass.  That said, I wouldn’t necessarily pair it with Thai Drunken Noodles or Evil Jungle Prince Curry – the flavors are too similar.  I loved this beer but couldn’t drink two of them.  Probably couldn’t drink two in a week.  It’s just that intense.  Certainly not for everyone.  A polarizing brew to be sure.  I was able to bring a bottle home to share with G-Lo of the Booze Dancing Crew and his impressions were similar to mine.

 Turns out that if I’d been more patient I wouldn’t have had to endure airport security lines or a TSA fondling because this past winter Ballast Point ramped up production of Indra and it’s been freaking out lesser brews on craft beer shelves all around here.  I even had a chance to share a one-off Sculpin at Philadelphia’s Good Dog Bar  with the brewer who created Indra’s recipe and earned the chance to brew it at Ballast Point (later to be hired there) during Philly Beer Week last year.

Like I said, Indra Kunindra is not for everyone, not by a long shot, but I really enjoyed it.  Then again, I really enjoyed One Crazy Summer and Fog Of War too but don’t hold that against me.

This guy really liked it too:

Elf on a Craft Beer (be thankful its not an animated GIF)

Elf on a Craft Beer (be thankful its not an animated GIF)

Let me know how much you loved, hated, fear, or need to find this brew…

Cheers!

Beer Review – 21st Amendment Lower De Boom

I’ve learned a great deal from my children – especially my daughters.  At 6 and 8 they are virtuosos at the finer art art of changing their minds.  At my age (which will be the subject of a separate post in the not too distant future) the simple inertia of decades of synaptic struggles doesn’t allow for lightning quick shifts in the direction of thought or decisions already made.  During those 4+ years when I wasn’t writing because I was being Natty Lightboarded I decided that I wasn’t going to write craft beer reviews if and when I started writing again.  My enabler and craft beer wingman G-Lo of Its Just The Booze Dancing kept urging me to post reviews – to copy some from my archives on RateBeer – but I’d made up my mind.  No beer reviews.  Not interested.  Plenty of great reviewers out there and some of them even know what wet horse blankets and freshly filed Indian Ocean cuttlebone taste like.  At least they say they do.  I don’t know.  I’ve always had a very hard time distinguishing between Indian Ocean and Bellighausen Sea cuttlebones.  That’s why I leave the serious reviews to the experts.  Then I read a review of Coronado Idiot IPA that left me wondering if it was written by the brew’s namesake.  One line in particular caught my attention: “…with serpentine and velvety layers of rich, dark fruits that ascend to vinousness.” Um, OK…. What the f*ck does that even mean!?

Suddenly the lessons of my daughters came to mind.  If they can change their minds at the drop of a Baby Alive curling iron, so can I.  So I’ll occasionally dabble in craft beer reviews (already posted a soft opening of sorts with reviews of Black Crown and New Albion Ale) but they won’t be quite as traditional as the ones you might find elsewhere.  I have to keep myself entertained after all.

No mirrors were harmed in the staging of this picture.  Honest

No mirrors were harmed in the staging of this picture. Honest

So I’m meticulously negotiating the ample grocery aisles at Wegmans sourcing ingredients for my Schlomo Kameamea’s Kamikaze Sliders when I lost my way.  Somewhere between the miniature King’s Hawaiian rolls and the Golden Frozen Latkes I found myself in the craft beer section.  Still not sure how I got there.  Never did find any bruises.  My handlers apparently don’t leave marks.  In any event, next thing I know I’m inspecting a previously unseen and unusually small cube of cans from 21st Amendment Brewery.

Full disclosure: I’m not a huge barleywine fan.  I often find them just a bit too intense and burdened.  Screaming for attention like the drama queens of craft beer.  Stone’s Old Guardian and Sierra Nevada Bigfoot are exceptions.  Lower De Boom intrigued me for a couple of reasons.  21st Amendment claims this to be an intensely hoppy brew – unique for a barleywine.  In fact, they’re description is decidedly anti-barleywine:

Lower De Boom is a powerfully balanced American-Style barleywine packed with citrusy Pacific Northwest hops. Chestnut brown in the glass with notes of toffee malt, fruitcake, toast, piney hops and more than a hint of alcohol. Our liquid gold is the first American craft beer in a can offered in the traditional barleywine “nip” size. Perfect to enjoy sipped at the end of a long day. More than that and you might feel like the boom has been lowered on you.

The second thing that intrigued me was the size of the cans.  Not sure what they mean by traditional “nip” size cans.  They’re far from traditional.  Look like they belong in the Wawa cooler next to Starbucks Double Shot cans – though they’d deliver a decidedly different buzz.  I know – I know – get on with the review.  Fine,  Sort of.

Here are a few things Lower De Boom didn’t remind me of:

  • Ton Loc
  • Reruns of either the first or second seasons of Miami Vice
  • Bobble head doll collections (especially dogs)
  • Barleywine

OK, so one of these things is not like the others but the list is still accurate.  Lower De Boom doesn’t taste like any barleywine I’ve had but looks like plenty of them once freed of the nifty little cylinders.  Clear walnut/chestnut brown with mild carbonation supporting a very thin dusky tan head which disappears as quickly as a Salman Rushdie impersonator rounding the corner towards a flash fatwa.  Bold citrusy, piney, grapefruit aromas along with caramel and a hint of white pepper.  Things get a little weird in he flavor – but not in a bad way.  Hops still there.  Chewy, resiny, piney hops take the first few swipes before getting steamrolled by a Mavericks-like breaker of rich, sweet  roasted barley.  Caramel, toffee, vanilla, bittersweet chocolate and some snack fruits (Turkish apricots or figs – take your pick – I couldn’t figure it out).  I thought the texture was a bit thin for a barleywine but that improved the overall drinkability.  Despite the 11.5% ABV I didn’t get a big, boozy punch of alcohol in the finish.  A hint of warming perhaps.  Otherwise the finish is smooth, satisfying, and far less sweet than expected.  No vinousness, vinousing, vinophilia, or Venus and Mars anywhere to be found (all due respect to Paul McCartney & Wings’ greatly underrated album).

Bottom line is that Lower De Boom is an interesting and well-crafted brew.  For me it’s more of an American Strong than a Barleywine but my name’s not on the svelt little can so 21st Amendment can call it whatever they like.  They’ve earned that and more.

Have you raised a Lower De Boom? If so chime in and let me know what you thought.

Cheers!