Archive for January, 2011

Tap Takeover at Prime 16

Photo Courtesy of CraftCans.com

Last night after my friend Mike Fraser found his Irish Setter, Aubrey James, who’d been lost for a day. After his ordeal, we decided after Aubrey was bathed, fed, and settled to meet up and drive to New Haven to check out Prime 16 and the New England Brewery’s Tap Takeover. Mike was relieved, because as anyone who knows what it’s like to be friends with a dog, he was nerve-shot the entire time his dog was out, especially considering the mass of snow that fell.

I was relieved because I also like dogs very much, and didn’t have to drive. Also, Mike is obsessive compulsive with music—which is a good thing when you’re on a decent length drive, and I was going to get into some really hoppy beer.

The sidewalks in New Haven, covered in snow, presented a slight challenge to us sober, and more of a challenge later on. That kind of muck slush with marbled swirls of sand, mud, and pigeon shit so natural to the concrete of wintertime city sidewalks.

Prime 16 was packed, and we were late for our table so we had to kill some time squeezed tight in the bar side—which was nice. I’d like to say more about the bar, but it was hard to get a visual grip on because there were so many people. In the bar and restaurant soft lighting burned from square, off-white wall mounts, and the classic rum-orange glass votive holders on each table. And in the restaurant there were pictures stylized after old advertisements, or perhaps they really were old.

We started with the Gandhi Bot, a pint each, and Mike declared the drink “heaven in a glass.” I didn’t check my jacket—an old gray, black and red CB from the eighties that I earned since my dad put on American comfort rolls and can’t fit into it anymore—but that didn’t matter much because our table came up right quick and we were seated and deciding between the selection of Prime’s burgers.

The appetizer’s that aroused our foodlust were the pretzel with IPA infused mustard and chicken tenders—both fine choices. The pretzel looked more like a breadstick, but had bits of burnt sea salt on it that seared a new taste into my brain, one that I hope never to forget for it’s flavor. The mustard, and this will probably be my only complaint of the food, had enough heat to it that it was impossible to get an impression of the IPA supposedly infused in it. But I did still like the mustard, which stayed on my end of the table because Mike has no palette for that kind of heat.

Our waitress told us that Prime 16 will be doing another Tap Takeover in March with Allagash brewery. And we discussed possibly going to that while drinking The Citra Sea Hag. The Hag, made with citra hops, had the characteristics of a hoppy IPA but with grapefruit and orange flavors and scents as well. The Gandhi Bot, a double-IPA—which is an IPA after a serious overindulgence of hops and malts—was our favorite on tap of the night.

We originally had the Gandhi Bot on tap at My Place Restaurant in Newtown. Mike did a bit of research on the beer and found out about the Prime 16 event.

The service at Prime was great. Despite all the tables and the crowd, we didn’t wait for anything except our initial seats. The burgers came quick: Mike ordered the Cowboy Burger: smoked Canadian bacon, Vermont cheddar, Romaine, salsa, and topped with a fried egg that ruptured and drooled over the sides of the burger when he mashed on the bun.

The Maui Burger.

 

I ordered the Maui Burger: Maui onion, smoked applewood bacon, a kind of tropical mayo (I couldn’t tell what was in it), pepper jack cheese, and topped with a ring of pineapple. Both burgers completely Angus beef. And they were both impressive. A solid thirty-napkin dinner. Messy and delicious.

The second round of beers were the Loose Canon, from the Clipper City Brewery, and the Citra hop Sea Hag, which I described above. The Loose Canon I’d had before. It’s a solid IPA that recently became a little more popular when Dogfish Head brewery wasn’t able to supply Connecticut, and other states, with full deliveries of beer since their recent popularity and success with their show on the Discovery Channel. Loose Canon was a replacement choice in many stores according to the Northeast Beverage beer rep that comes to the store I work at.

The bar stayed packed until we left, and there were rumors that cherry vanilla and coffee versions of New England Brewery’s Imperial Stout Trooper were on cask, but when I went to order them, they were tapped. Res ipsa loquitor.

The food and service at Prime were phenomenal, and it seemed like they have done and plan to do many specialty beer nights. If you’re in New Haven, they have an awesome Happy Hour—drafts are half price.

-Josh

The Trader Joes Mystery Six


5:50 pm

I am going to tempt to push the envelope of modest beer reviewing by attemping to review six beers tonight. The first section of this post will be up before heading out tonight, and after the Danbury Mercurial writer’s meeting, I will placing my fate in the hands of the handsome sharpie-drawn man pictured above.  I will give updates throughout the night, and will create a (hopefully) coherent mini-review of the beers.

*

I was in the mood for a caper, so I picked up a Mystery Six Pack at Trader Joe’s. The brown bag came with a photocopied pen-and-ink myster man attached. It reminded me of the various sharpie-based hardcore punk fliers of my youth. These flyers were literally copy and pasted to create high-contrast images advertising the noisest outfits on the outskirts of society. Color me interested.

As I carried it out of the store, I couldn’t wait to see what laid inside. Trader Joes often carries a variety of mid-size “craftier” brews, and I was hoping for some of the less mainstream varieties. What hoppy, bubbly surprises were inside for me?

I couldn’t wait. I tore the package open on the trunk of my car in the parking lot. Here’s what I pulled out:

Bass (Ok…)

Negro Modelo (Curious…)

Kennebunkport Porter (Mmm, darkness rears it’s chocolate head…)

Harpoon Winter Warmer (Hopping for joy)

Red Tail Ale (No idea.)

Corona Light (Blast!)

 

I’ll be updating this post after each beer tonight.

Let’s see if I make Mystery Man proud.

 

A Large, Thick-Skinned Animal’s Beer – The Tripel

The brew line River Horse, out of Lambertville, NJ, impressed me with every selection I tried when I first became aware of them—except for their winter selection last year—and gave me the idea that they know what they’re doing.

The Tripel Horse, their Belgian-style ale with spices is no exception.

At 10% alcohol by volume (abv), the Tripel Horse lives up to the style it mimics. Tripels, otherwise known as strong pale ales, were made popular by Trappist monks. This is why many tripels feature monks on their labeling—for instance Weyerbacher’s Merry Monks. The old label for the River Horse Tripel featured a monk. And of note, the most famous Trappist selection of a tripel is made in Westmalle, Belgium.

According to the website of beer reviewer, Michael Jackson, “tripel” is a “Dutch-language term usually applied to the strongest beer of the house.”

The beer has a complex blend of flavors, each time I drink it I tend to taste something different in it, and tonight is no difference: I’m reminded of honey and malt. I checked a few other reviews on beer sites and people were coming up with all sorts of ridiculous foods to compare it too—someone wrote that it tastes like “orange peel and watermelon rind”—it is a little heavy, but easy and entirely refreshing to drink.

This beer has the same problem as Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, it’s a sly beer that serves to dupe your senses so that if you purchase a six-pack and drink through a few without looking at the bottle, you might not notice that the beer is 10% abv until it’s too late. Another way to look at it, if you think of it in those terms: it’s a cheap twelve-pack in six bottles.

I also like good, creative labels on beer, but after River Horse changed their label from their old style—which looked like covers to a badass western film—to the new style, I can’t be sure if I like it, and that leads me to believe there’s something off, or lacking in the label, because I can’t make up my mind. A small gripe, sure, that has nothing to do with how the beer literally tastes, but it does effect how I enjoy it in some way. Take, for instance, the Flying Dog brand that features artwork from Ralph Steadman. Those labels are interesting enough that if the beer sucks, all you have to do is hold the bottle up and ignore the beer.

What I do enjoy about this beer is that it has no fierce characteristics—no face wrinkling aromas—that some great hoppier beers will have. And it bodes calmness—as if being at the end of a long weekend and in need of serious rest. A simple, and nice beer to drink.

Overall: 8 out of 10.

Availability: Widespread, I would imagine, but you’ll find it in a well-stocked American Belgian-style section.

Appearance: Golden, a little darker than the average pilsner.

Aroma: Sweet and faint enough that it’s hard to pick out specific smells from the blend.

Taste: Malty, sweet, and there’s honey and citrus flavors flowing around in the drink. And I wonder what spices are brewed in it, because I don’t pick up anything in particular. Rather, it all seems well blended.

-Joshua L Durkin

The American High Life

My first instinct was to open this review with an angry diatribe at Jared L. Loughner, and to try and make a point while talking about beer. Him and his Glock—his sickness, and unnervingly creepy smile swirl around in my head, and for the first time this new year I feel the primal revulsion towards humans of his kind.

Not a great way to start a beer review, I know, but beer being the social lubricant, it should be no surprise that issues of humanity come up in these reviews.

The Pima County Sheriff used the word “vitriol” in a press conference to describe the current state of political rhetoric in Arizona, and the press have latched onto that world as if it were the only thing they understood to come from Tucson on Saturday. I remember the first time I read that word—it was in George Orwell’s “1984”. Vitriol means sulfuric acid, or cruel and bitter criticism. The word means more to me, but in subtle ways. I don’t mean to be funny, but when I read the word vitriol, and had already decided that I’d write a beer review tonight, I thought of High Life.

I want to write about Loughner. But I’ll let him go here. We’ll talk about beer, the thing that for better or worse makes the news easier to understand, or at least more distant. I keep repeating on YouTube “When Under Ether” by PJ Harvey (I’m pretty sure it’s a cover, but her take is especially haunting).

At some point in any American’s drinking career, Miller High Life will make its presence known because it’s cheap and accessible. Undoubtedly, we all know people who drink High Life to excess, or have at some point—probably, there are more stories involving High Life with fucked up plot lines and unsolicited nudity than Homer could have ever conceived in his Odyssey.

High Life was The Champagne of Beers back when beer advertising tried to promote an American Dream, rather than the American Experience it promotes now—which is dreamlike, but puke-lined and awkwardly narcissistic like a young intelligent geek in class who gets embarrassed easily and laughs at the teacher’s jokes while a body of hatred large enough to crush his arrogant ego grows in the hearts of the class.

(If you’ve read John Updike’s “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and so Forth” and have seen the episode of Mad Men when the company Sterling and Cooper promotes Heineken, my point should be easier to understand.)

There are so many good beers out there that I decided I needed to pick out one that no one could argue was a great beer. The sweet, sultry glass of golden empty caloric content saw me through many times when I couldn’t remember seeing. The McIvor, the fifth in the picture, I tagged along in the absolute purist of spirits in this tasting adventure because I damn well know what High Life tastes like. Think of it this way: if you force a man to chew on cardboard, he’s not going to turn down a bottle of ketchup to go with it. I happened to have the whisky in my room anyway.

McIvor, a blended Scotch-Whisky (mind that the Scotch do not spell “whisky” with an “e”) is a perfect pairing with High Life. Although, apparently in the act of tasting a beer, you’re not supposed to combine drinks…this is odd to me. I’ve been doing that for a long time…not once can I remember finding a beer repulsive when drinking whiskey or whisky. A gin and tonic, maybe, would be repulsive if I was also drinking a stout—though I can’t remember trying that. The point is: when you want to fully enjoy the taste of the beer, the suggestion, the going wisdom is that you don’t drink anything alcoholic beforehand, nor do you scald your tongue or chew on pretzels for an extended period of time. The Japanese eat ginger slivers, I’m told, in between different selections of sushi—so, that might be a way to do it.

A bizzarity, the High Life and the McIvor are nearly the exact color, except that High Life has an empty reflection—probably the fault of the piss poor glass the beer gets thrown into—while the McIvor seems buttery at a glance, and delicious looking.

I don’t intend for my reviews to be anything other than experiences I have, as they come to me in reality or memory, of the drinks in front of me for inspection. I had hoped that there would be more beer drinkers up to the task of the sip and write, but so far it’s only Dan and I that seem to understand the extreme complexities of cut paste and copy and submit.

I certainly don’t feel that I’m particularly good at explaining to other people what a beer tastes like—and like all good journalism, the story of a beer must involve subjection, and cannot ever be considered truth. So, I hope that more authors get on this blog.

But back to the beer: High Life will never be my first pick out of the litter of shit beers, but it will always be close. I realize now that I’m not sure what High Life is. I guess that it’s a pilsner. I also just realized that the bottle I’m drinking from expired on Nov 08 2010, but that doesn’t matter and anyone who has had a bunch of High Lifes over a period of time would understand, the taste is not that important—beer is never more important that the people that you are around—the taste doesn’t eclipse the company.

Overall: 4 out of 10.

Availability: Nearly everywhere.

Appearance: Uric.

Taste: Not that great.

I feel as though I should cut out the top portion of this beer review, and remove any mention of the terrible event in Arizona, but I can’t, so it stays.

-Durkin

Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout

 

A new year, a new haircut, and a favorite of mine that I picked up last year:

Sam Smith Oatmeal Stout.

A gift from my sister, this stout poured like pitch with a two finger head of cream tan bubbles.

The scent of oatmeal and chocolate was present from the moment I cracked the bottle. The head reduced to a half centimeter within minutes, and I dove in.

The oatmeal is present but not overpowering; it reminds me of my morning breakfast with some chocolate chips thrown in. Meanwhile, the chocolate is present and not distracting. I found the finish to be sweeter than expected, and I like it- it’s a small surprise worth celebrating with another sip.  It’s not quite as heavy as the Guinness Extra Stout, but the carbonation is crisper. I would have liked to see the oatmeal take a stronger role, but it’s presence doesn’t go unnoticed.

Thick and syrupy, it fits the stout category very nicely. The oatmeal adds a nice variation on a classic style, and doesn’t take away from all the normal characteristics of a proper stout. Anyone looking for a stout with something a bit different (but not radical, as many microbrews do) should be aroused by the sweetness and oatmeal notes.

Oh, and for all you vegans: Drink up. No animal products in this brew.

 

Overall: 7.5/10

Cost: Four pack of 12oz bottles will run in the range of ten to eleven bones in New England.

Availability: Found at a larger beverage warehouse. Any place with a decent amount of microbrews should carry it.