Friday, November 30, 2007

To my Kansas City beer blogger crew:

I just sampled the Boulevard Double-Wide IPA.

Oh. Damn.

That's about as good as some of the double IPAs I tried in Portland. Yum.

P.S. And I just picked up three six-packs of Nutcracker. Yeah, baby.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Could be worse, I guess

I'm in Kansas City. The downside: I'm here for my father-in-law's funeral. That pretty much speaks for itself. It's a sad occasion, although it's tempered a bit by the fact that M'Lady's dad was in ill health for several years, so it's not like this snuck up and surprised us. Everyone is holding up well.

The upside: I'm in Kansas City. That means I get to enjoy a nice helping of Boulevard Beer, which I've loved ever since my first trip to KC 13 years ago and I can't get in Texas. My kind mother-in-law had a sampler 12-pack of Boulevard waiting for me, which I've been enjoying tonight – I've already had a nice, warming (it's 35 degrees outside!)
Bully Porter, which I then followed with a Bob's '47, a Munich-style lager that I wasn't too impressed with when I first tried it last year, but I'm now giving it a major upgrade. I'm not sure why I didn't get it last year, but I certainly do now. That wonderful, honeyed taste that I love in the best of Oktoberfest beers is really coming through tonight. I'm glad I gave this a second chance.

And in that spirit, I'm also giving the
Lunar Ale a second shot, as well. Maybe it's just because I already have some alcohol in me, but I'm liking this a little better as well. It reminds me of Shiner Dunkelweizen.

Up next, maybe tomorrow: Boulevard's
Smokestack Series, which my KC beer blogger friends (click on Beer Girl, Muddy Mo, or KC Beer Blog in my "other beer bloggers section) have been raving over. It was supposed to be my Christmas present, but since I'm here a little early, I might as well try one of those. Maybe one now, and then the others three weeks from now when we're back for the holidays.

It's not the usual festive atmosphere for enjoying good brew, but what the heck – if life gives you lemons, squeeze a slice into your hefeweizen.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No more posts from me this month

Looks like I can't fill out my NaBloPoMo goals. My wife's father passed away tonight, so I think I'll be dealing with more important stuff than beer and blogging. See y'all in a few days.

Handy information to have

Thanks to Bookhart for pointing out this useful website (click on the graphic to get your own calculation):
It would take 28 bottles of Shiner Bock to kill me

The death threshold corresponds to a three-hour drinking period. I think their calculations may be a bit off on some beers, though — it said it would take 13 Sierra Nevada Bigfoots to kill me. As strong as Bigfoot is, I can guarantee you I'd be unconscious long before I ever got to 13. Perhaps if someone forced the rest down my throat. Hell, just two of those will send me down for a nap.

EDIT: Dammit, within just a couple of hours of posting this, the link no longer seems to work.

NXNW Cask Conditioned night

I shouldn't tell y'all this, because it will just mean less for me, but duty compels me: Tonight is cask-conditioned ale night at North by Northwest (it's always last Wednesday of the month – and if anybody from NXNW is reading this, you really need to keep your calendar up to date). I have no idea what style it will be, and sadly, I might not even be able to make it because of a work conflict. I'm in serious debate as to just how important this other event really is.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Portland, part 3 of 3

I don't think this NaBloPoMo exercise is having the intended effect. Gawd, I'm sick of blogging now. But dammit, except for Thanksgiving Day, I've made it this far, so I might as well slog on. Plus, it will finally force me to finish my Portland stories. Long, long after I should have. I'll touch on just three highlights: A non-brewpub, and some cool places I found outside of Portland.

The non-brewpub was a really weird little place. It was called La Bodega, not far from Todd's house – walking distance, almost – and not to be confused with the Austin La Bodega, a salsa-dance bar. This place was ostensibly a bar, but yet it wasn't. It was more like a beer boutique. The waiter/bartender gave very personal service, bringing out whichever bottle of fancy-pants beer you desired – and they had the fanciest – and people relaxed around couches in the dimly lit place. No loud music, no big crowds. It almost had the feel of a coffeehouse. I expected a poetry reading to break out. Perhaps a wine tasting room is a good analogy. Good beer, but I wasn't quite certain what to make of the place.

On another day, we drove up Mt. Hood. Yes, there was snow up on the mountain, even in mid-summer. We wanted to take the kids on a ride up the ski lift, but alas! – the lift closed about 30 minutes before we arrived. I wasn't sure how to console the kids – predictably, the older girl started going into meltdown mode (she is only in the last few weeks learning how to cope with disappointment, and still hasn't perfected the skill) – but I darn sure knew how to console myself. With a beer. And yes, Oregon even has brewpubs on its mountains. About halfway back down, we pulled into the Ice Axe Grill in Government Camp. They call themselves "the brewery with altitude," har, har. Once again, my procrastination is making it hard for me to remember what I had, but I remember liking it. Problem is, one beer was just okay, and the other was great, and I can't remember which was which. But I'm pretty sure I had the Hogsback Oatmeal Stout and the Ice Axe India Pale Ale. One of them was cask-conditioned – I want to say the IPA. Definitely stop in if you visit Mount Hood, which you should.

But possibly the most magnificent day of our trip – even edging out Bill's bicycling tour of Portland's brewpubs and the Oregon Brewers Festival, but only barely – was our trip to the coast. The Pacific coast is just godawful beautiful, mountains just shooting straight up out of the ocean. At Pacific City, the big girl and I climbed the biggest sand dune I've ever seen, I jumped in frigid water that made Barton Springs seem toasty, and we all marveled over a multitude of sea life stuck to the rocks, various anemones and starfish that were just fascinating.

And once it was over, we walked over to the Pelican Pub & Brewery (pictured above) for their wonderful beer and magnificent, very fresh seafood. I had some fried oysters that were as big as my head and tasted divine. I've never seen oysters like this. I didn't even know nature made them that big. Jeez, I have no idea what I drank now – either the IPA or the Scottish ale, or maybe both. And I took home a bottle of the 2005 Bridal Ale, a "French country ale," I guess a take on the Belgian saison. Bill and I killed it off the next night back at his house. I left the coast with a warm glow (despite the chilly Northwestern air), filled with good beer, hot seafood, and a great memory of time well spent with my kids. Watching the sun go down into the Pacific is a rare treat.

There is more I could tell of Portland – I can think now of at several worthy places and beers I haven't mentioned: Roots, or the Lucky Labrador (a bar where you can take your dog, and man, their IPAs – they had more than one – and barleywine were stunning), or John's Marketplace, the most magnificent beer store I've seen in my life in one place (more than 800 beers!). Seriously, John's made Grape Vine Market and Spec's look like chumps. But I'm just getting too removed from it all now. The memory's getting foggy, and I'm moving on to new adventures. If you want tales of Portland, you should buy some plane tickets and go create your own. I hope you had as much fun as I did. Thanks to my good friends who made what would have been a good trip anyway into a magnificent one.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Is it just me, or does this look weird to you too?

Even if it's non-alcoholic, this still just creeps me out on multiple levels. Maybe it's more because that woman clearly is way too skinny to actually be pregnant.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Don't Freeze My Mug!

Okay, I know I'm out of step with most people on this one. And I know that the poor bartenders and waitstaff of the world have enough to worry about — not enough pay, and too many drunken jerks. But I'm a beer snob, so it's my duty to be a picky ass.

A lot of bars lately have taken to automatically bringing the beer in a frozen mug. These are well-meaning people who think they are doing me a favor. And at times, it makes sense — down here in Texas, when it's @#$%ing hotter than hell in mid-summer (and where summer didn't end until mid-November this year), there are indeed times when I want my beer icy cold. And especially if most of your customers are drinking wimpy downstream brew where flavor really isn't the major issue, go right ahead.

But if your customer (i.e., me) orders something that clearly indicates they like a big wallop of flavor (pretty much anything that ends in "ale," has a Belgian name, or otherwise comes from the premium/import end of your beer menu), you really ought to ask them whether they want it frozen. Because they probably don't. The really good beers weren't meant to be drunk that cold. The cold numbs your tastebuds. No tastebuds = no flavor. A good IPA or stout in a frozen mug is pretty much a wasted IPA or stout. Well, maybe not wasted, but severely diminished.

If you usually drink quality beer from a frosty glass — which I used to do — try drinking it from a room-temperature mug, and maybe even let the beer warm up for about 15 minutes, so that it's merely cool rather than cold. Maybe you won't like it, but I suspect you'll discover flavors you didn't realize were there. This is especially true on days like today — when it's miserably cold outside, who wants a cold beer? (See my previous posts on the nice warming effect that a good winter seasonal is supposed to have.)

I thought of this because when I was out in El Paso, one of the bars brought me a frozen mug, and on subsequent visits I had to remember to specifically ask for a room temperature one. It made me kind of feel like a dick, but I finally decided that if I'm paying extra dollar or two (sometimes more) per bottle for the good stuff, I'm entitled to having it my way.

Thanks for reading my diatribe, and the next time I'm in your bar, I promise I'll tip extra for being a whiny little pussy.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Time for the Holiday Beers

Oh my god it's an ugly day outside. In the dictionary next to "ugly day," there is a picture of today. At least by Texas standards: Rain coming down in buckets, 42 degrees. I'd actually rather be in Kansas City today, where crazed Missouri and Kansas fans are working themselves into a blind fury over the football game outside of Arrowhead Stadium. Heck, at least there it's only snowing. Thankfully, we'll be watching the game tonight in the comfort of our home. If you're one of our Austin friends, head over to the casa at 7pm. And don't give me any crap about "I'm not a football fan." That's not the point. The point is to come drink beer and watch my KC-born-and-bred and die-hard Mizzou-loving wife bleed from the ears.

I need something heavy on the alcohol today, so I can feel that holiday glow. I was shocked to see
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale (which might be my favorite beer, period, regardless of style) already in the stores at least two weeks ago. I have most of a 12-pack in the fridge. And as I mentioned in the last post, I'm moderately well-stocked on St. Arnold Christmas Ale. I was mighty tempted to grab some Great Divide Hibernation Ale yesterday as well. Too bad I have no way to get Boulevard's Nutcracker Ale down here in Texas – that would be the appropriate beer for today's game. (Actually, I have a couple of bottles out in the fridge from last year, but I'm saving those for the annual, infamous Bobnoxious Christmas Beer Tasting. Hopefully Bob's Scottish friend Jimmy will make another appearance.

And in addition to the specifically holiday-themed brews, I'll also be scarfing some other beers that are either really rich or seasonal: I got a sixer of Shiner Dunkelweizen, one bottle of
North Coast Old Stock, and some North Coast Old Rasputin. Lord, I might not be awake by the game kickoff. I haven't seen St. Arnold's Winter Stout yet, but I look forward to with a watery mouth.

Okay, dear drunken readers, let me have it: What is/are your favorite holiday/winter beers? I'd especially like to hear from my readers outside of Texas — give me some examples I might not be able to get here, so I can try to hunt them down.

EDIT: Somewhat to my surprise, Old Stock goes very well with a steaming bowl of chili. I suppose it makes sense: Cold day, hearty meal, hearty beer. It's a match.

Friday, November 23, 2007

AAAUUUGGHHH!!! I blew it!

Forgot to post yesterday. An entire day of Thanksgiving partying will do that to you. So I fell short on NaBloPoMo, but I don't feel too bad — I was turning my dad on to St. Arnold's Christmas Ale, so I clearly was too busy doing good deeds and spreading joy.

On tap for today: It's a big weekend of college football rivalries at the I Love Beer household. Today is my
Texas Longhorns against the hated Texas A&M Aggies; if we win, there is an outside shot we could end up in the Big 12 Championship game. Tomorrow is M'Lady's Mizzou Tigers vs. her big hatred, the evil Kansas Jayhawks – and for the first time, well, ever since I've been watching this game, it will actually mean something. Hell has frozen over, and this is a battle between the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the nation. The Jayhawks are undefeated, so they're feeling pretty confident, but I think by the end of the evening, they'll realize that they are just the beneficiaries of a ridiculously easy schedule (sorry Beergirl!). And when Mizzou wins, they are definitely going to the Big 12 title game, so we could be headed down to San Antonio on Dec. 1 for an I Love Beer family feud.

But this blog is about beer, not football (although I'm not sure they can be thought of as separate entities). So what will be keeping me warm while I plant myself in front of the TV and shelter myself from these horrid 45 degree temperatures? (Hey, quit laughing, that's frickin'
cold here in Texas!) Well, Bobnoxious gave me a four-pack of North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout Tuesday, in exchange for watching his and my kids while he drove Mrs. Noxious and M'Lady down to San Antonio so they could get wet panties over the Police. (He punished their infidelity by making them drink Bud Light tallboys.)

Also, still on the North Coast theme, I have one bottle left of the 2007 Old Stock Ale. But you know, if I get to guzzling Old Rasputin and Old Stock, I'll be asleep before the fourth quarter. I think in the proper spirit of the Lone Star State's biggest football rivalry, I should stick to Texas beers. I think I still have two or three of those St. Arnold Christmas Ales (which at 7% is plenty strong enough), and I also have a few Shiner 98s out in the beer fridge. That ought to see me through the Longhorns' glorious victory.

Oh yeah, in the highly unlikely event that my cousin Robbie is reading, I have a special message for him (as well as for the Beer Anti-Snob): A&M sucks!

EDIT: As I'm watching the game, I just remembered a great drinking game thought up by Nosregref: One of our very talented linebackers is named Robert Killebrew, and every time the announcers say his name (which is often), you are required to … wait for it … KILL A BREW! Nosregref is brilliant like that.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I'm pretty sure I need this T-shirt

Even though it's not true. I'm such a pathetic lightweight. But it can be purchased here.

Thanksgiving suggestions

To hell with the Thanksgiving wine – the Brewers Association has some suggestions for which beer to serve with your holiday meal. Heed their advice.

Oh, the Humanity

I still couldn't kill the keg last night. Apparently, I never even got close. As I write this, a steady stream of unconsumed Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is draining out onto my back lawn as I prepare to return the keg. It's one of the saddest things I've ever seen. Not quite on the level of horror of, say, if I dropped a pricey bottle of Belgian beer and smashed it in my driveway, but it nonetheless seems sad.

For future reference, I think I'll have to note that my friends have dropped down to a pony keg level of drinking.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Killing the Keg: Attempt No. 3

Okay, now I'm really starting to feel old and lame: I had three of my best beer drinking buddies over last night for Monday Night Football (tip for Tennessee's receivers: when Vince Young hits you in the hands, you're supposed to catch the ball) and we still couldn't kill off the keg (see previous posts)! So tonight, Portland Bill and some of his friends are coming over to help me try again. Seriously, there is still a lot of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in that damned thing!

And it still tastes pretty good, too. Something I probably should have known years ago, but didn't: If you untap the keg when your party's over, it can stay pretty fresh for a good long while, even sitting un-iced in my garage. (Then again, why should I have known that? For all the kegs I encountered in college, I didn't have a whole lot of experience with
unfinished ones.) It's not quite as carbonated as two days ago, but it's no flatter than your typical beer in a London pub.

Either I'm gonna kill this keg, or it's gonna kill me.

(And no, that's
still not a picture from my party.)

(LIVE UPDATE: The keg is dead. Long live the keg. Time of death: 8:50pm)

(UPDATE #2: Oops, I was wrong. We must have been having some pressure problems. There is still a ton of beer in this keg. I feel like such a failure — albeit a drunk, happy failure.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

I want a kegerator

So after failing to live up to the legendary beer drinking days of my youth last night, I still have about a third of a keg of Sierra Nevada last night. Which is pretty cool. There is something sinfully decadent about just stepping out into my garage and filling up my mug from my personal keg.

Does beer really taste better on draft than from the bottle? I've always wondered if it's just my imagination, or for real. Even if it's bullshit, it's still just cool to have a keg in the house. I successfully convinced a few friends to skip the bars tonight and come watch Monday Night Football over here — hopefully we can kill it off tonight.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Damn we're sad and old

So Portland Bill came to town with his family, wanting to reunite with all their old Austin friends. And when I told him that their day of arrival was also M'Lady's birthday, the light bulb went off over his head: "Hey, if I paid for a keg, do you think we could throw your wife a birthday party that all my friends could come to?" Bill's brilliant like that.

A keg. Seriously, people. We're not in college anymore. But nonetheless, I bought a keg of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. No, we didn't kill it. We're too old and lame for that. I mean, c'mon — we have to get up at 6am to get our kids off to school and get to work, as do half of our friends. But we tried — Lance, Bobnoxious, and Nosregref brought over their NXNW Growlers and filled them up to take some beer back home. I confiscated the bottles of people who brought over six-packs of their own – there would be no beer drunk at this party unless it came out of the keg, by god! Nonetheless, I still have beer waiting to be drunk, and everyone has gone home. Portland Bill is bringing the family back over tomorrow night to see if we can knock off a bit more, but it feels like there is still quite a lot of beer left in there.

Amazing discovery: While I was looking up Spec's keg prices, I discovered that you can buy a
full-size keg of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale. If you aren't familiar, that's an ungodly tasty 9.6% barleywine that works better than Ambien for inducing sleep. I asked the beer guy at Spec's, "Holy shit, you can really get a keg of Bigfoot?!?" He replied, "Yes, and you and everyone at your party will be in horrible pain the next day." It'll set you back about $210, or about $230 after tax.

Oh, and no: That picture is not from our party. But I do have picture of me somewhere from many, many years ago doing stupid shit like that.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Another Schwarzbier: Köstritzer

I stumbled across this at Spec's – a rather timely discovery since Texan beer lovers are buzzing about the version of schwarzbier ("black beer") that Shiner just released. This one obviously has a bit more history – we're pretty proud of the fact that Shiner goes back to 1909, but when you see that Köstritzer was established in 1543, that puts a bit of perspective on it. I definitely give this a bit of an edge over my homeboys — whereas I'd rate the Texas version a "B," this is definitely an A-minus, not too far behind Xingu, a Brazilian black.

It's a fascinating style. It has the warmth you expect from a rich, dark beer, yet with a lighter feel than most beers of this color — you could drink several of these and not feel bloated. I went into Spec's looking for an Oktoberfest, but I like black lager on these fall days, too, and we're finally having some cool ones after a couple of weeks of unseasonably warmth weather (even for Texas). I love the roasted malts, which come out more as the beer warms.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Black Star Co-op Event Saturday

I'll try to do something more lame than a copy-and-paste of a press release for my official post of the day, but I thought y'all needed to know about this. Unfortunately, I can't make it, but I'll be busy having fun with M'Lady celebrating her birthday all day.

Dear Friends and Members,

We hope you can join us on Saturday night for music by The Story Of and The Ugly Beats, co-operation, and of course great beer! Our November Beer Social will return to The Compound (1300 E 4th St) this Saturday, November 17th from 7-10 PM.

As you know, we hold these events to build the Co-op's membership, and to reach our goal for Saturday's Beer Social, we need just 2% of the more than 1,000 non-members reading this email to join the Co-op!

New Charter Members will receive a free Black Star Co-op pint glass or t-shirt, as will Joining Members who make a payment and fulfill their investment. If you can't make it out to the Beer Social, we are extending the offer of a free pint glass or t-shirt to all new Charter Members who join on the website between now and the end of the Beer Social Saturday night. Join the Co-op at:

We also need your help to spread the word about the Co-op and the Beer Social. We've created a flier for this event, which can be found on the website, and have also listed the event on facebook and Do512. Show your support at:


What: November Beer Social
When: Saturday, 11/17 from 7-10PM
Where: The Compound, 1300 E 4th St

See you on Saturday!

Black Star Co-op

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Redhook and Widmer to Merge

That's right, two of the Northwest's best craft brewers are merging to form a company that will put them on equal footing with Sierra Nevada and behind Samuel Adams.

Thanks to Portland Bill for sending me something to post. I've somehow managed to not miss any days of NaBloPoMo, although for the next few days you might have to settle for mini-posts like this. I've been ungodly busy covering an important trail here in Austin and making daily posts about on my newspaper's news blog, so my time for personal blogging has been limited. Plus, tomorrow begins M'Lady's big birthday blowout weekend, which will crunch my time just as badly.

For the moment, however, I'm relaxing over dinner and a Lagunitas IPA. However, I'm noticing that spending all day in a courtroom and then a long bus ride home in the evening is bringing back my old cravings for whiskey. It must be from hanging around bigshot lawyers all day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Another Austin Beer Blogger

Hey everyone, say hello to a fellow Austinite who has jumped aboard the beer-blogging bandwagon: Humulone Red. I like his twist on the concept: writing about beer travels. I've done that too, but it seems to be the focus of his blog.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New Brewpub in Town

I don't have high hopes for it since it's a big-ass megachain, but I promise to keep an open mind and go try it soon. Who wants to come with me? It's called BJ's (stop snickering) Restaurant and Brewhouse, and there are a zillion of them. They're based in California, apparently. The Austin location is at 5207 Brodie Lane, which is hell and gone from my house, although MoPac will make getting there a bit quicker. They have seven regular brews, but what really interests me is that they offer some seasonals and specialties IPAs and Belgians. The menu looks all right, too. Ah what the heck – maybe it'll be like Chili's with good beer. I loved the press release I saw; it said something like "We're excited to be introducing the BJ's concept to Austin." Actually, dude, I'm pretty sure BJs were already here, but we'll take more.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Independence Jasperilla Old Ale

Did you ever have a beer that you just couldn't decide whether you liked it? I know, maybe that sounds kind of weird – either you like it or not, right? But I can't really decide on this one.

Jasperilla is an "old ale," a high-alcohol, full-bodied style. This particular variety is produced by Independence Brewing, an Austin beermaker that I reluctantly confess has never really impressed me. I had high hopes that they were going to prove me wrong with this bold brew, which they debuted last year in bars and just started putting in 22 oz. bombers this year.

Now, I'm not one to be afraid of high-alcohol beers, nor am I afraid of bitterness. But every sip of this has a flavor that kind of makes me screw up my face and wince. Notes of too-ripe fruit, heavy on the raisins. Way back in high school – admittedly, before I had developed a palate for good beers – I tried an English brew named Bombardier's Ale that had the same effect, and this reminds me very much of that.

That said, the flavor is growing on me – but only a little. It's like I'm getting multiple flavor notes, some that agree with me, some that don't. Ultimately, I just don't know if I can learn to love a beer that has me alternating between licking my lips and shuddering. I'd rather just lick my lips, period. If Independence is shooting for the same style as North Coast's Old Stock Ale or the stuff from the Saint Arnold Divine Reserve series, I'll take the latter two instead.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Good beer in El Paso

A couple of weekends ago I went out to visit my buddy Bret, a sportswriter for the El Paso Times and the very first friend I made in college way back in Stone Age. Although I'd driven through Texas' westernmost city a long time ago, this was the first time I'd ever truly visited it, so other than knowing that the Franklin Mountains run right through the center of the city, I honestly couldn't say I was any more familiar with it than Timbuktu. While some of you non-Texans might hold a certain stereotype of Lone Star State geography (i.e., all one big desert), the truth is that it has several distinct geographic regions ranging from plains to mountains to piney forests to sandy beaches, and Austin and El Paso are as different as night and day, both in terms of landscape and culture.

Bret showed me a good weekend, mostly revolving around sports, natch, since he had to work. We took in a high school football game, the Conference USA cross country championships (he and I were teammates on the Texas Longhorns' cross country team, and we're still big fans of running even though we're both now too decrepit to do it ourselves), an exciting college football shootout between the UTEP Miners and the Houston Cougars, and all-day NFL-watching at the neighborhood sports bar.

Now, knowing that El Paso isn't quite the snooty place that Austin is, I didn't have real high expectations for quality beer. I'm happy to report that I was proven wrong.

But I'll get to that in a second – first, the bar experience that you must have if you're ever in that neck of the woods is to cross the border into
Juarez, Mexico, and hit the world-famous Kentucky Club. The best you'll do on beer there is Tecate or Dos Equis, but that's not really the point (I recommend you go for the margarita instead). What's more important is to say you grabbed a drink and a good plate of enchiladas at kick-ass old bar that has been in business since 1920 and that supposedly has counted Bob Dylan, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan and Marilyn Monroe among its patrons. When you cross the main international bridge, just keep walking directly down the street, ignore the cab drivers offering to take you to a whorehouse, and the Kentucky will be on your right after a few blocks. Keep a sharp eye – it's not a flashy place, so you might miss it.

Back on this side of the border, unfortunately, we never made it over to EP's brewpub, Jaxon's. Bret tells me the beer there is good. However, we hit the UTEP party strip on Cincinnati Street, and found some fine brews at Hemingway's. It's a little hole in the wall with a big beer selection. I suspect I'd be there a
lot if I lived out there. Any time I spot Arrogant Bastard in the bottled beer case, I know I'm home. We hit it twice, and enjoyed Broken Halo IPA on draft. The next day, we spent the afternoon watching NFL football at a place called Brew. Atmosphere-wise, it's a pretty standard sports bar, but the beer selection was first-class. I resisted the urge to order the Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (!) because I didn't want to be ridiculed as a fruit-beer drinking pussy by Bret – I already catch enough shit from him for liking beans in my chili – but I did enjoy some Fireman's 4, Samuel Adam's Winter Lager, and Dogfish Head 60 Minute, among others. And they had some good fried bar snacks, a surprisingly good cheesesteak, and really cute waitresses. (Not that I was interested in that sort of thing, honey – I just went there to humor my single friend. And hey, I stayed away from the hookers like you told me to.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Damn young whippersnappers

Man, what is up with this MySpace and Friendster crap? I must be getting old, because every time someone brings up those things, I just dig in my heels and stubbornly refuse to join up. "You young punks! In my day, all we had were blogs, and we liked it!"

I just bring it up because I've been anxiously awaiting information about
Boulevard Brewing Company's Smokestack Series, which I'll hopefully be lucky enough to get some of when I visit the in-laws in Kansas City at Christmastime. But I couldn't find anything in the place you would most expect it, on their web page. Instead, it's hiding over here on their MySpace page. Now how in the hell am I supposed to know that? Why would I even think a company would have a MySpace page? Is the company looking for a date? (Which is what I thought the point of social networking sites were, but I may just be showing how out of touch I am.)

I suspect I'm not alone. Go here to see a hilarious video of my old college pal Siva Vaidhyanathan from when he appeared on
The Daily Show. He played the stodgy old college professor decrying the ill effects such sites have on actual interactions with real people, while the young reporter snickered at him.

In any case, I can't wait to get bottles of this stuff. I tried the IPA and the Saison at the brewery back in the summer, and they were pretty damn good, especially the IPA.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Fuller's 2007 Vintage Ale

I'm a sucker for a fancy-looking bottle, so when I saw this special-edition Fuller's brew — which comes in a box, a la scotch — I had to jump on it. Apparently Fuller's puts out one of these limited-run brews every year; the bottle I got is #120,153 of 150,000. I think I should have let it sit out long enough to warm up to almost room temp, but it's still pretty tasty. Not as good as I expected, though — I think my expectations were on the level of North Coast Old Stock Ale, and it's not quite that rich. Actually, what I'd really compare it to is Sierra Nevada's Harvest fresh hop ale — a really clean taste, with neither the malts nor the hops overwhelming each other. A light, toasty flavor. I'm really enjoying it, although I'm not sure it was quite worth the $6 or whatever it was I paid for the single bottle. Still, I might get another one if any are left at Spec's just because I'm intrigued by the idea of aging it, which the brewer recommends. Overall rating: very well done, but just a hair shy of what I expect from these special-edition seasonals.

UPDATE: It's now February 2012, and I just opened that extra bottle I said I'd buy. The brewer was right. More than four years of aging brought out a strong cherry tone. This is absolutely wonderful now.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Green bottles: Spaten, you ought to know better

Given that by now the effect of putting beer in green bottles is pretty well known, I can't imagine why any brewery still does it. In short, in case you're not aware of it: that "skunky" smell that many Americans have come to associate with imported beer is actually the effect of light altering the beer. If you want to avoid that smell, put your beer in brown bottles, not green or clear bottles. I bring this up because, when this cool weather hit yesterday, I absolutely had to replenish my Oktoberfest stocks, and so I grabbed some Spaten Oktoberfest at Spec's on the way home. I didn't notice the bottles were green, and sure enough, when I had one at lunch, the experience was marred a bit by that nasty smell. Which is a shame, because Spaten is good beer. Later that night I had the same beer on tap at Scholz Garten, and it was significantly better. Spaten, why are you messing up your beer this way? Get with the program. Master brewers should know better. (And as you can see from the photo, they don't always do this.)

Speaking of my evening at Scholz's, they just added Shiner Black to their taps, so I had to try it. Oddly, I found it disappointing. I'm not sure why, but it didn't taste right to me. Maybe I just had Oktoberest-ish beers on the brain and should have followed my instincts, but I think maybe I prefer this beer poured from the bottle (an anomaly for me). I'll have to try it again sometime and compare — perhaps I just got an off batch.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

My job kicks butt

It kicks butt for many reasons. I work for a fun, if somewhat dysfunctional company, a weekly newspaper that many in this city look to as "the real paper" in Austin. I think we've been a force for positive change in this city, and I'm glad to be one of the people making that happen now as one of our staff writers.

So here's the reason that's relevant to this blog — I cover politics, and one of the focal points for the political scene in Austin has long been Scholz Garten, a 140-year-old restaurant and beer garden in the shadow of the Capitol. Political events are frequently held there, and so I'm "forced" to go cover them. (And being that the Capitol and the University of Texas are just blocks apart, it also doubles as a major pre-game meeting place for Longhorns fans.) Under the guise of "working," I get to sit under those beautiful pecan trees and down pint after pint of Shiner, Spaten, Live Oak, and lots of other great beers. It's a rough job, but somebody has to do it. There is so much history behind this place, and it's even worth putting up with smarmy politicians to enjoy and be a part of it.

In fact, the late Billy Lee Brammer did a nice description of the place and summation of this history in his classic 1961 political novel The Gay Place. He never explicitly said that the state about which he wrote was Texas or that the city was Austin or that the central character was his former boss LBJ or that it really was Scholz's (his fictional name for it is the Dearly Beloved Beer and Garden Party), but it's unmistakable. I'm not exactly certain how much is accurate history and how much he made up, but I think it's mostly spot-on:

The two young men sat out under the trees in straw-bottomed chairs, barking their shins against the wooden tables. They sat waiting, looking glum. Record music came from a speaker overhead, somewhere in the trees. The music was turned loud so it could be heard above the noise from a next-door bowling alley. There were periods of relative quiet when the bowling slacked off and the records changed, during which they could hear half-hearted cheers from a lighted intramural field a block away, near the college, but the record music predominated. The sounds from the bowling alley ruined only the ballads.

The beer garden was shielded on three sides by the low yellow frame structure, a U-shaped Gothicism, scalloped and jigsawed and wonderfully grotesque. The bar, the kitchen and dining spaces were at the front; the one side and the back were clubrooms for the Germans who came to town once or twice a week to bowl and play cards. There Germans had bought half the block years before and built the bar and clubrooms. During the hard times of the 1930's they had begun leasing out the front part as a public bar, an arrangement that had proved so profitable that it was continued through the war years and was now apparently destined for the ever-after.

Just prior to the war there had been rumors of German-American Bund meetings in the back rooms. People in town talked about seeing goosestepping farmers through the windows, their arms raised in fascist salute. But nothing was ever proved; no one ever came forward to substantiate the claims and after Pearl Harbor it was nearly forgotten. There was even a little plaque got up to honor certain of the clientele gone off to war; there were waitresses who boasted of being Gold Star Sweethearts. Business — and the beer — had always been good, before, during, and after the war, and even in recent years when some of Roy's and Willie's friends had petitioned for a change in names: when they wanted to call it the Weltschmertz.

It's a heck of book, if you've never read it. I highly recommend it. So did the late David Halberstam: "There are two classic American political novels. One is All the King's Men. … the other is The Gay Place, a stunning, original, intensely human novel inspired by Lyndon Johnson. … It will be read a hundred years from now."

Hopefully, people will still be drinking beer under Scholz Garten's trees a hundred years from now, as well.

[UPDATE: Here's a little mini-history of Scholz Garten that we ran in The Austin Chronicle back in 2003.]

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Boulevard Coming to Texas?

I only have time for a short post tonight, but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality: A very reliable source tells me that Boulevard, a quality American brewery and just about the only beer I drink when I'm in Kansas City visiting the in-laws, may start distributing here in Texas soon. (I'm awaiting confirmation from the brewery itself.)

That's great news — the KC company makes some might nice stuff. Their pale ale may be the best in America, with a load of hops heavy enough that it almost tastes like an IPA. On our Christmas visits, I enjoy quaffing their Porter and Nutcracker Ale, and they've also begun experimenting with some Belgian-style stuff, and they may have an actual IPA out soon. Currently, Boulevard is distributed throughout the Midwest but not here, thanks to Texas' @#$%ed up alcohol laws. (One of my best friends disparagingly refers to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission as the Texas Association of Baptist Churches. Many of their rules are completely nonsensical, and appear designed solely to harass, rather than regulate, the alcohol industry.)

My across-the-street neighbors also have KC family, and between their trips and ours, I'm pretty sure we currently constitute Boulevard's largest Texas distributors. I bring back a case every time I'm up there.

Of course, if Boulevard becomes available in Texas, that completely kills off any incentive I have to go visit my in-laws. (Kidding! I'm kidding, honey!)

UPDATE: I've now had two different people tell me that they recently bought Boulevard in the Dallas area. Hey Boulevard: Plenty of beer snobs down here in Austin — send those trucks a little further down I-35!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Black Star Co-op Beer Appreciation Class

Perhaps this is the class Bobnoxious thinks I need:

Dear Black Star Co-op Community,

Have you ever wondered what makes a Stout so stout, or an IPA so aromatic? Why is a hefeweizen cloudy or what's so Extra Special about an ESB? Why do all Sierra Nevada ales have the same aftertaste? This is your chance to find out.

As part of our current membership drive, we are holding a special new member sign-up day with a complimentary tasting and tidbits of knowledge thrown in from our own head brewer, Jeff Young. If you're an Invested member bring a friend who wants to join but needs that extra push. If you're a Joining member, bring an interested friend and it will also be a good time to contribute toward your full investment. If you've been interested in joining this is the time to do it.

Two tastings will be held on Nov. 10 in NW Austin (183 & Anderson Mill area): one from 3:00 to 5:00 and another from 6:30 to 8:30. Space is limited to 12 people at each tasting and will be on a first-come, first-served basis. Definite commitments will be given priority over "maybes", so if you want to be part of this you need to act fast. E-mail if you'd like to come, and let me know the number of members and soon-to-be members attending.

Yours in Co-operation,
Steve Randall

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Avery's The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest Lager

So I was thinking tonight might be when I get around to reviewing the Rahr & Sons IPA, but then M'Lady whipped up a magnificent falltime dinner of roasted chicken, brussel sprouts, fall squash baked with apples, brown sugar, and raisins, and homemade cranberry sauce (the real thing, not the gelatinous stuff still in the shape of a can). So nothing but an Oktoberfest would be appropriate.

Quite naturally, I've been on an Oktoberfest kick lately, so I figured this would be a simple matter of going out to the beer fridge, but woe, despite a very full fridge, the Oktoberfest stocks had gotten low. I looked in this corner and that to no avail, and began to despair, but then hallelujah, I found a beer I had bought about a month ago and then forgotten about: Avery's The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest Lager.

It was a bit more intense than what I sought in a simple dinnertime beer, but nothing else would do. It will surprise no one who has tried Avery's products that it is fantastic. It's like an Oktoberfest on steroids: 9.37% alcohol — and you can really taste it — with a generous dose of malt and a little more bitterness than I expect from this style. And yet, it was also really sweet, as well. I think that's because of the alcohol. If you're into really strong beers, this is a winner from the first moment it hits your tongue, through the entry into the mouth, and on into the sweet aftertaste. It really helped complete the fall experience brought on by the meal and the fading golden light of the first daylight savings time evening, which is about to dissolve into a crisp, cool night.

This isn't a beer that lends itself to mass drinking (if you were served one of these at your local oompah music festival, you'd be in for an early end to your party), but you really must have at least one of these to make your autumn complete.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Damn I Love Wurstfest

Sadly, this year's Wurstfest wasn't all it should have been – the older daughter got quite sick, with a nasty rash and 103-degree fever, so she wasn't leaving the house. However, my wonderful wife decreed that I should go with the younger daughter, which turned out to be a great move for both of us — apparently, those two had a great bonding experience with each other at home, and me and the YG did at Wurstfest. Sometimes it's good for kids to get some one-on-one time with one of the parents, without that annoying other sibling getting in the way.

So YG and I went with the Noxious family, Nosregref family, and Up From Sloth family and had a great time. In fact, I see that Bookhart has already beaten me in posting a recount of the evening. God, what a great idea Wurstfest is. I get a continual flow of Paulaner Oktoberfest beer in my cup. My kids (in this year's case, just one kid) get continual carnival rides, and all of us get yummy food – corndogs for the girl, sausage and kraut for me, and we crowned the evening with fried Oreos, which as disgusting as they might sound, are incredible (see picture).

Damn you should have seen the Noxious daughter in her lederhosen. It doesn't get much cuter than that. Everyone in the crowd was enraptured by watching her, the Nosregref daughter, and YG dancing on a table together to the polka band.

Hey NB Pete: Sorry we didn't hook up. Unfortunately, you New Braunfels residents can show up at Wurstfest at 10pm, whereas we out-of-towners have to make it more of a daytime thing. Since it doesn't end until next weekend, we might go back so that the OG doesn't feel cheated. If we do, I'll give you a call.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Back in Black

In a move that I know will please a lot of Texas beer drinkers, the Spoetzl Brewing Company has revived Shiner 97, which it has rechristened Shiner Bohemian Black Lager. Dig the new bottle. Perfect for Halloween.

In case you don't remember, Shiner has been doing a series of limited-edition brews to celebrate the approach of Spoetzl's 100th anniversary – Shiner 97 marked their 97th year. I kept hoping that they would make one of the beers from this series a permanent part of the lineup, but actually I was hoping more for a revival of the 96 (an Oktoberfest marzen) or that they'll keep the 98 that's currently out (a Bavarian amber, and the best thing Spoetzl has ever produced). However, the buzz I keep seeing on the Internet is that 97 is the one that's been the big hit, so I guess I'm out of step with my fellow Texans.

Don't get me wrong – this black lager is pretty good. But as I wrote when it first came out last year, my main problem is that there are other breweries who do this style better. New Belgium's 1554 was my first intro to the style and still my favorite. And Xingu, from Brazil (no, seriously) is also great, as is the one produced by the North by Northwest brewpub.

If you're not familiar with black lager, it's not a stout or a porter — it's lighter, despite the appearance. This is definitely best if you let it warm a bit. Right out of the fridge, and you get this sweet effect that's kind of nasty. After letting it get to the right temperature, the roasted malts really come out. Unfortunately, it finishes kind of thin.

Here's my assessment: If you can get one of the other brands I mentioned (the 1554 is most likely), go for it; but if not, Shiner Bohemian Black Lager will make a fine introduction to the style.

(UPDATE: Okay, I'm starting to warm up to this a little more … by letting the beer also warm up. I find if I let it get up to almost room temperature, it's much, much better.)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Breckenridge Small Batch 471 Double IPA

Okay, here's my first real posting of NaBloPoMo.

Bobnoxious brought the whole Noxious family over last night for trick or treating. It was kind of necessary, since his son was Harry Potter and my older daughter was Hermione. And of course, any time Bob and I get together, there will be beer.

Bob was kind enough to swing by Spec's on the way in and bring us some Breckenridge Small Batch 471, a double IPA. Now, I'm trying real hard to think if I've ever met a double IPA I didn't love, and I can't recall any. I have had some mediocre regular IPAs, but the doubles just don't let me down.

My father is an absolute nut for Breckenridge, especially their
Avalanche Ale. I'm a little lukewarm on that, but their Oatmeal Stout has done me fine in the past. But this 471 is doing me more than fine. This is great stuff. A good dose of bitterness, but not too overwhelming — only 70 IBUs — and the high alchohol (9.2%) is having a pleasantly warming effect that is perfect for cutting the mild chill coming in my window this fine fall evening. Most interesting is the definite fruit note coming through — considering that bitterness is the whole point of an IPA, this is oddly sweet, and not in a subtle way.

This beer is a winner. I highly recommend it. Thanks, Bob!

P.S. Bob and I should be doing some more drinking together real soon – the first night of Wurstfest is tomorrow!

Extreme Beer Fest in Boston!

Okay, since all I'm doing is cutting and pasting a press release, I am not going to count this as my first NaBloPoMo posting. [EDIT: Okay, maybe I will – a family emergency this evening will likely keep me from doing any real blogging tonight.]

Man, this sounds so cool. Hey, I have in-laws in Boston! Hmmm …

Extreme Beer Is Not Dead.

Nor is it a fad, a destructive term, or just about hoppy alcohol bombs. It's uniquely American, and this firestorm of creativity sparked by American craft brewers rages on during the original, and 5th annual, Extreme Beer Fest in Boston, MA this February 15 & 16, 2008!

Bring an open mind & palate. Join us!

Buy advance tickets now ...

4 Night of the Barrels
Friday, February 15, 2008
Special Session | 6-9:30pm; beer stops @ 9:30pm

A very special, exclusive, and all inclusive evening of wood-aged beers (from fresh oak to bourbon barrels to wine barrels), guest speaker panel, tasty snacks, complimentary hydration, chance to rub elbows with the industry. Not to be missed. Limited to 500 tickets. $50.

4 Sessions One & Two
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Session One | 1-4:30pm; beer stops @ 4:30pm
Session Two | 6-9:30pm; beer stops @ 9:30pm

Now in its fifth year, this is the original fest that helped define what "Extreme Beer" is all about. Expect a uniquely awesome and epic celebration of American brewers who push the boundaries of creative brewing. Quite possibly the best fest on planet Earth. Limited to 1,000 tickets per session. $40; includes beer tastings & education.

Held @ The Cyclorama / Boston Center for the Arts (539 Tremont Street, Boston).

For more info ...

Updated website to be posted end of November. Stay-tuned!

See you at the fest!


Respect Beer.

Jason & Todd Alström (The Alström Bros)
Founders & Chief Executive Advocates