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!

Advertisements

The Crafting of a Craft Beer Geek

Oak Creek Brewpub in Sedona, AZ

Oak Creek Brewpub in Sedona, AZ

Ask me almost anything about beer and there’s a pretty good chance I’ll know the answer.  “What’s the difference between dry hopping and continuous hopping?”  I know that. “Does chocolate malt really contain chocolate?”  I know that too, and – no, it doesn’t.  “What’s Fritz Maytag’s claim to brewing fame?”  Yeah, I know that and it doesn’t have anything to do with inventing a combination Maytag dishwasher/brew kettle.   “Who brews Pliny the Elder Ale and what styles of beer pair well with Thai food or Texas BBQ?  Yes, I can tackle those as well.  The list goes on and has gone on at beer tastings and other events for a while now.  I’ve been a proud bearer of the beer geek tag for a good 8 years.  I’ve hosted countless beer tastings, reviewed hundreds of beers, sampled hundreds more, brewed my own beer, given purchasing advice to a handful of owners, buyers and beer managers at local liquor stores and designed flights for some local craft beer bars but one question has evaded even a poor answer despite many attempts:  “when did you become a beer geek (or beer nut as the question is usually posed)?”  For far too long, the best and most honest answer I could come up with has been, “I don’t really know.”  Absurd, how could I not even know enough to take a weak stab at such a basic and obvious question?  Well, never one to be comfortable with not knowing the answer (especially to something so seemingly simple), I sat down with a contemplative pint or two of Great Divide Yeti Oak Aged Imperial Stout and determined to come up with something better than “I don’t really know.”

When it came to beer in the first place I was late to the tap handle, not having my first one until midway through my second semester of sophomore year at Syracuse University.  A self-imposed goodie two shoes I can honestly say that I never had a drink at a high school party and I didn’t even thought about sneaking a little something from my parents bar.  Throughout Freshman Year I never uncapped one of the Haffenreffer’s my future roommate, John Chawner, and his future wife, Cathy, were so quizzically partial to.  When I did start to accompany my college buddies to the bars adjacent to campus I tended to stay away from beer completely – just hated the taste of it and couldn’t understand why anyone would drink it.  Embarrassingly, I would usually be caught with a vodka Collins in those days but that’s another story.

Continue reading