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.

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.]