Monday, December 31, 2007

Sisyphus 2007

Real Ale, a brewery in Blanco, Texas (about 50 miles west of Austin) has risen in my estimation over the past couple of years, especially with the success of their Fireman's 4 blond ale. That rise continued at the Bobnoxious Christmas Beer tasting this year when I tried the 2007 version of Sisyphus, their seasonal barleywine. This stuff is just great, and I got a full bottle of my own today from Central Market.

I've really gotten to be a fan of barleywines in the past year. There's something about that strong alcohol taste that I just love, epecially if it's done well. And this is. There are some wonderful, complex flavors going on here. A good dose of malt, of course, but also rich, ripe fruit — especially bananas, with a touch of dark plums.

If you want some, they have a whole bunch of it at Central Market. (And, I noticed, a case or two of Anchor Old Foghorn, the first barleywine I ever tried many, many moons ago.) This isn't nearly on the level of North Coast Old Stock, and is perhaps even half a step behind Criminally Bad Elf, but it's still well worth your time and money and a beer of which Texas can be proud.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Vegas: Not a beer town

Kansas City, where I've spent most of my holidays, is emerging as a good beer town (see post below). I can't say the same for Las Vegas, where I spent three days last week celebrating my best friend Todd's 40th birthday.

Yes, I know — there are other, overriding reasons that one goes to Vegas. And I indulged myself mightily in those reasons. Well okay, there were no naked chicks involved, but I hit the gambling end of things pretty hard. Even got fourth place in a 40-person poker tournament (good for $100)! For a fuller accounting, read M'Lady's write-up.

But if you're hunting good beer, well, I hope you had better luck than I. For the most part, the casinos make only token efforts at appeasing beer snobs. Most places had only one tap of anything good, and it generally seemed to be either Sam Adams Boston Lager or Newcastle.

Now perhaps I just wasn't looking in the right places. Maybe there are good brewpubs hiding off the strip. We found one such place that was at least trying, Ellis Island Casino & Brewery. I had a respectable, albeit unspectacular stout there. The real reason to visit is the atmosphere, just dripping with 1970s cheesiness — red vinyl booths, bad karaoke, and a $6.99 steak dinner! (See the photo above: l-r, that's Todd's friend Mikail, Todd, and me.) This was old-school Vegas, baby.

The only real beer bar we found was a nameless island bar inside the New York New York
casino at which we stayed. If you go up on the second floor, across the casino floor from the registration desk, it's right at the top of the escalators next door to Coyote Ugly. It has a beautiful bartop made of glass and bright blue geode stones. Their selection almost made up for the lack thereof at the other places: Just off the top of my head, I remember taps of Sierra Nevada Celebration, Arrogant Bastard, Stone IPA, and some kind of coffee porter. I finally tried Alaskan Amber, which my dad has been hounding me to try since he went to Alaska last summer; ambers aren't usually at the top of my list, but it was quite good for the style. If I'd had time, I'd have also sampled the Alaskan ESB.

Maybe some other readers out there know of a good Vegas brew scene that I missed? Please let me know. As for casinos, I think they're making a mistake not offering more variety in their beer selections. After all, love of great beer is just another form of hedonism — and c'mon, Vegas is the nation's capital of that.

The Great Kansas City Beer Bloggers Summit …

… actually happened this time! In a monumental, unprecedented meeting of the minds and livers, M'Lady, Bad Ben, Bull E. Vard, and Muddy Mo finally got our acts together and managed to share brews at one of their (and now my) favorite places, the 75th Street Brewery in the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City. And I'm happy to say: what a great group of guys. It was a real pleasure to lift a glass with them. Meeting people with whom you've only chatted on the Internet is always an uncertainty, but they were fun, witty, and turned me on to some good beer.

And I'm so glad it actually happened; my attempt to arrange such a meeting met with failure in the summer, and with everyone's scattered holiday plans, we were lucky to pull this off.

Sadly absent from the festivities: Beergirl (a tragic irony, as we were in her neighborhood, but she is off in Mexico), Bull's blogging partner Wes Port, and Chris (who like me has family in KC suburb Parkville, but he'd already headed back to Orlando – too bad, we could have met up at the Power Plant).

75th Street is a mighty fine establishment. Good food, and some outstanding beers, in what appears to be a really nice neighborhood. I doubt we'll ever satisfy the wishes of M'Lady's mother-in-law and move to KC, but if we did, this would be a 'hood we'd look at.

But you want to know about the beer. I had a sampler flight: wheat, raspberry wheat, IPA, a mixture of the IPA and wheat, abbey ale, and imperial stout. The brewers are clearly shooting for a British feel: served a little warmer than is typical of most American bars, and with a nitro pull instead of carbonation. There was only one failure in the bunch: the wheat is completely lacking in flavor. Now, I'll qualify that — as I've admitted many times, I generally don't care for wheats. But even my wheat-loving wife agreed. In fact, she actually thought it tasted bad. Not a good thing in a town that boasts Boulevard Wheat, which I'm told is outstanding.

After that, things looked up – in a couple of cases, way up. The addition of raspberry improved the wheat considerably. I'm lukewarm on fruit beers, but I have a weakness for raspberry as long as it's not overdone. The IPA was solid, too — I wish I'd had time for a full glass. But I saved my full-glass drinking for the abbey and the imperial stout. The abbey was a wonderful rendition of a style for which I'm already a sucker — a rich, clean flavor that brought my tastebuds to attention. I'd compare it favorably to New Belgium's version, which I love.

But the unquestioned star — and I think everyone at the table would agree, as they all got a glass — was the imperial stout. It had a powerful, earthy flavor with a very balanced coffee note that gave it just the right depth without being overpowering, as can sometimes happen with coffeeish stouts. It was served in 8-0z. servings in a brandy snifter, and it truly deserved such an elegant presentation. Even the wife, for whom stouts are rarely the first choice, said, "Yeah, you need to get all up in that." It even had a great nose — like the best of whiskeys, I almost could have just smelled it all afternoon without even taking a sip.

75th Street is a pretty far distance south from my mother-in-law's house in the North KC suburbs, but I can nonetheless tell that this will be a fixture on future visits. It's well worth the trip.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Good News for Craft Brewers

There's an interesting article in the Kansas City Star today about how the craft brewing industry is enjoying a healthy growth. You should probably read the article today, because I don't think the Star archives its articles. The thrust of the article is that beer sales are outpacing liquor, but I think the more interesting point is that craft brewers increased their sales 17.4% over this time last year. Needless to say, that's happy news. (The photo of Boulevard beers shown here was taken by the Star.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Now This Could Be Handy

Somehow, my friends never seem to have too much trouble sniffing out where to find good beer when they travel, but maybe the rest of you aren't raging drunks who have beer-sensing radar like they do. So here's something to help you track down where to drink after your plane touches down: The Beer Mapping Project. I just discovered it about five minutes ago, so I haven't really had a chance to test it out yet (and I really need to get to work), but I'll give it a spin soon. Unfortunately, they don't have a Kansas City map, which is where I'll be spending the holidays. Maybe all you KC beer bloggers could get to work creating one?

The Austin map, which I took a quick glance at, seems pretty well taken care of, but Jeffrey, I noticed the Fredericksburg Brewery isn't on there.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Happy Minutes Make Me Happy

I got reacquainted with an old friend today. No, not Bret – I saw him only a month ago. But he was the reason I caught back up with the other old friend: Happy Minutes. Every bar has a happy hour, but the Texas Showdown Saloon is the only one I know of that has happy minutes: From 3pm to 3:15pm every day, Showdown sells 10oz. glasses of domestic beers (I usually go for Shiner Bock) for just 40 cents. It's a beautiful thing. Today was even more beautiful, because the guy behind the bar (the owner? the manager? just a bartender?) decided everyone's beer was on his tab! The only thing better than 40 cent beers is free beers. Amazingly enough, this is only five cents more expensive than Happy Minutes was back when I was in college 20 years ago.

Of course it only made sense that I was with Bret. He's always thought Happy Minutes was the greatest idea ever. Back we when worked at The Daily Texan together, every afternoon at three he organized what was known as the Happy Minutes Brigade, which would march two blocks down the street from the Texan office, get likkered up, and then march back to put out the newspaper. It's pretty impressive that we ever published an issue.

There's a skill to Happy Minutes – you don't get your beer and sit down. You get it, go to the back of the line, and drink it down before you get to the front, and then refill.

This Happy Minutes was one of the more satisfying I've had. The weather was incredible (about 65-70 degrees with not a cloud in the sky, perfect for sitting in the beer garden once the 15 minutes was up), and for some reason, the Shiner Bock was tasting really good today. I've looked down my nose at Shiner Bock recently, because I swear it just doesn't taste as good as it did when I was in college, and it isn't nearly as good as some of the other brews they've come out with in the past five years. But it was hitting me just right today. Once Happy Minutes was up, Bret, Nosregref and I settled in with a pitcher of Live Oak Big Bark.

But what really got me excited was something new (at least, new since the last time I was there): an import Happy Minutes. From 5pm to 5:15, import drafts are only $1. That's a pretty good deal for the good stuff. Especially I think "import" really means "anything that's not Budweiser, Miller, or Shiner." I'm going to have to hit that soon.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cask-conditioned competition tonight

Actually, not completely in competition – you could possibly do both if you were motivated enough, but I'm not.

At 6pm, Zax Pints and Plates (Barton Springs & Riverside) will tap a cask of Saint Arnold Christmas Ale, which has my mouth watering just thinking about it. This has become one of my very favorite holiday beers, so the thought of getting a cask-conditioned version makes my mind explode. But the thought of driving or even taking the bus downtown during rush hour is unappealing. Perhaps if I worked downtown.

But at 8pm, North by Northwest will tap a cask of porter, so I think I'll be doing that instead. Note that this is a week earlier than their usual last-Wednesday-of-the-month cask-conditioned night, and it's an hour later than usual.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Egged on by beergirl, I was going to blog about the great winter/holiday beers I've had thus far this month. But then I had a bomber of Left Hand Brewery Snow Bound Winter Ale and TWO Great Divide Hibernation Ales, and I'm ready to … well … hibernate. I'll have to try this again when I'm more coherent. Maybe I'll just wait until after the great Bobnoxious Christmas Beer Tasting this weekend.

In the meantime, let this guy at give you his opinions on the Top 10 Holiday Beers. It's from last year, but most if not all of those beers are on the shelves again this year.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Bill joins the beer-blogging fray

Former roommate (and despite that, he still considers me a good friend) Bill has finally made good on his promise to start his own beer blog. And he has the beer-lover's ultimate vantage point, as he lives in Beervana, aka Portland, Oregon. In the photo, that's Bill in the red T-shirt with me (center) and another former roomie (and former Portlander) Todd at the Oregon Brewers Festival this summer. Bill's guest-blog series on fresh-hop beers for me was well received, so I expect you'll like his work on his site.

I struggled with whether to list Bill under "Drinking Buddies" or "Other Beer Blogs," because he's been the former for a long, long time, but I decided that since he apparently plans to focus on beer, I'll list him as the latter. But rest assured, he's not just another beer blogger to me.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Y'all Are Some Sick Fucks

So a few days ago, I made a post featuring a photo of an allegedly pregnant supermodel with a nonalcoholic beer. I thought it was innocuous enough, but it has made my hits explode through the roof! I made the posting on Nov. 26; it apparently got discovered by the world at large on Dec. 3, when I Love Beer reached what I believe is an all-time record of 233 hits (about double my previous record), followed by 128 the next day, 210 the day after that, and 190 so far today.

I assumed that some popular site had linked to me, but Sitemeter shows no links to such a page. I looked up the references (how people found the page) and every one of them apparently came off of a Google image search. I couldn't decipher what search terms people are using, but I did my own search on the words "pregnant chick beer" and saw my site came up as the top result. (Although I just did another search, and now I don't see my site at all.)

So WTF? Why are you freaks searching for pictures of pregnant chicks drinking beer? Sickos.

UPDATE on 12/14/07: Man, this is crazy. Breaking 100 hits in a day used to be a rarity, but I've topped 200 seven times since this began. The 112 I had yesterday is the lowest it has been in the past 11 days. Most crazy of all: My previous best month was 2,130 in October; I'm now at 2,294 for this month, and December isn't even half over! So I guess the moral of this story is: put pictures of naked or semi-naked chicks on your blog if you want to drive up traffic. Or post something about Keira Knightly's jaw.

Cask-conditioned beer rocks

I've been privileged to have cask-conditioned ales twice in the past week, and both attempts have been most successful. The first was Nov. 28 at North by Northwest, which offers a keg of cask-conditioned ale on the last Wednesday of every month. (Now forget I told you that, because I don't want you there — I get very sad when the keg runs out.) The other was Tuesday night at Uncle Billy's Brew & Que. Both were marvelously hoppy pale ales.

If you aren't familiar with the cask-conditioned ale, I'm not sure how to explain it, since I'm not a brewer. I think the way to explain it — and I'm probably wrong — is that after brewing, it continues to mature in the cask, and its carbonation occurs naturally instead of having CO2 artificially pumped in. And to get the beer out, pressure is not pumped into the keg — you either use a pump (common in a lot of English bars) or just use gravity (see the photo). It can taste a bit flat compared to regular bottled or keg beers, but once you get used to it, you realize the flavors can come out much better without all the extra gas. If you've had draft beer in a London pub, you have the idea. A better bet than trusting me is to read this article.

I think it's magnificent. And it's too rare of a treat here in Austin. When I was in Portland, it seemed like
every brewpub had a cask-conditioned on tap, and I think I tried every one. You've gotta love the beer snobbery of a city where cask-conditioned ales are expected. (Humulone Red, by the way — he was at both events — disagreed with me. He thought the rarity of it here made it more of a special treat. I also know the Draught House have sometimes featured cask-conditioned homebrews, and the last time I was at the Ginger Man (some time ago), they had a cask version of Saint Arnold's Elissa IPA.

The next time you see a cask-conditioned is being served somewhere, give it a shot. Unless you're in Austin. In that case, I don't want you there taking my beer.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Long Strange Tripel

I'm now sampling the Long Strange Tripel from Boulevard's Smokestack Series. Repeat what I said below about the IPA, but multiply by two. Tripel is my favorite style of Belgian-style beer, so Boulevard had a high bar to clear to impress me, and they easily succeeded.