BROOKLYN BREWING has this BLACK CHOCOLATE STOUT that complements their mind-blowing BLACK OPS stout very well. It’s like a little brother beer, if said little brother was an over 10% alcohol, easy-sippin’ stout that tasted like it was about half that. In fact I had to check multiple sources to corroborate that high-ABV – looks like unless everyone’s lying, that’s what it is. Wow. I enjoyed a big glass of this in New York two weeks ago as I cavorted with the coat-n-tie crowd at THE GINGER MAN – Wall Street was obviously hanging out in midtown on this night.
BLACK CHOCOLATE STOUT pours with a lovely puffy head of foam, and predictably, has a predominant aroma of chocolate. It’s a medium-bodied ale with a slightly “nutty” taste, like you might find in an English brown ale. The taste is quite bittersweet – as opposed to sweet. That chocolate gets even more pronounced as it warms, and as I said, it goes down really easily for a scary-high-ABV Russian Imperial Stout. I want another one, right about now. 7.5/10.
While in New York a couple of weeks ago I had about 20 minutes to kill while visiting some friends in Brooklyn – and as luck would have it I was a mere four blocks from the famed SPUYTEN DUYVIL bar in Williamsburg, a place HBJ visited last year and wrote about here. I knew where it was, and I knew their reputation as being a bit on the know-it-all, brusque & dismissive side. Not a-holes like the douchy tattooed warriors at THE TORONADO, but the sort that throw off a we-know-best attitude when it comes to beer, and who let it show as often as possible. So I guess it was no surprise when I ordered the highly-touted NECTAR ALES “BLACK XANTUS” from the hirsute fella behind the bar and got some immediate ‘tude. I pronounced it “Black ZAN-TUHSS”. He gave me a quizzical, jeez-I-never-heard-of-it look, and told me that nope, they didn’t serve a beer called that here. I’m serious. I pointed at the tap handle to help sharpen his thinking a bit, and he gave me a big, “Ohhhh, ohhhh, you mean Black Zan-TOOS”. Zantoos. Not Zantuhss. WTF.
Here’s a terrible picture of the beer in question. It goes for double figures in bottles out in San Francisco, and I’m sure everywhere else - $16.99 is a typical price. It’s made by FIRESTONE WALKER, under their confusing NECTAR ALES brand – the same folks who make that hemp beer that I actually like. It’s a super-dark, very strong black ale. It’s a succulent Russian Imperial stout, with light carbonation. The dominant flavors are vanilla and bourbon – whoa, lots of bourbon. Truly, it’s almost cocktail-like, and it’s lacks a lot of the richness and “meaty” quality I like it beers of this ilk. I’d call it a true beer lover’s beer, but as a beer lover I found it just a tiny disappointing. In conversation with others, reactions are all over the map – some think it’s the second coming, others think it’s a whole lot of nothing. Me, I call it a 7/10.
Going to New York City for work in the olden days – i.e. my many, many trips there 2004-2006 – always meant good meals & excellent streetwalking/impulse buying, but rarely did it mean good beer. Sure, I went out for drinks with co-workers from time to time, but going to New York now means going to a city utterly transformed when it comes to your & my favorite adult beverage. This place is just loaded with amazing bars, and incredible restaurants with incredible beer selections. I was introduced to a site called BEER MENUS that the New Yorkers all seem to use to find their way around town, drink-wise, and – well – just look at it. There’s no shortage of wild Belgians, high-ABV one-offs and fresh local pints to consume across at least two of the five boroughs (I'll try Staten Island and the Bronx next time).
I decided to set my first-night-in-town sights on RATTLE N HUM in midtown Manhattan, and booked my hotel room accordingly. (“Why are you staying all the way at Park & 39th, Jay?”. “Hmm, no real reason, that’s just what came up as being in our travel policy when I tried to book a room”.). I was wary of this place initially, when I saw their name – yeah, named after the U2 album. Ouch. Yet I walked by there right when they opened last year, took a gander inside, and decided that it would be a fine place to drink some of the strangest & most unique east coast beers – what a tap list! So I shot an email to Aaron from THE VICE BLOG, whom we’ve never actually met but whom you may remember from the interview we did with him here, and he informed me that only an hour before my email another similar email had some in from The Captain, as in THE CAPTAIN’S CHAIR beer blog. He was coming to town as well, same night, and they’d already planned to meet here. Beer dork city all the way. So we made the plan, rendezvoused at Rattle & Hum at the anointed hour, and threw down a few big ones.
This was definitely a night where socializing, not note-taking, was the primary objective. So my descriptions & accounts of the beers I consumed are taken from memory & the “scrawled” digital notes I pecked into my phone. That said, I’ve rarely had a night where my shot-in-the-dark picks were more spot-on. 4 beers, 4 big winners, none of which I’ve ever had before, and only two of which were recommended to me. The others I was just wingin’ it. Here goes:
KUHNHENN “PLAY IN THE HAY” – I don’t think it’s possible to get the real story on this beer online – we had trouble even getting it at the bar itself. This weird-ass Michigan brewer, who apparently were a hardware store at one point who changed to craft brewing when Home Depot moved across the street, have a number of fruit beers, several of the cherry persuasion like this one. When Aaron G had this one a week ago, they called it HAIRY CHERRY; now it’s apparently PLAY IN THE HAY. Whatever, it’s not a lambic, as is claimed on Beer Advocate. It’s a low-ABV fruit beer that’s out of this world. Sweet, smooth and not tart in the least – just a beautiful fruit ale, with sediment at the end just to remind you that this ain’t no fruit juice. 8/10.
ALLAGASH ODYSSEY – This is the first Allagash Brewing that’s absolutely knocked my friggin’ socks off. I’m pretty sure this dark photo to your right is a picture I took of it. It’s a 10% Belgian strong dark ale; I remember thinking it tasted incredibly smooth and like something you’d have out of a snifter – oaked and mysterious and so good. Conversation and yuks kept me from doing anything but going wow-wow-wow under my breath and typing a 8.5/10 into my phone.
LONG TRAIL BREWMASTER SERIES DOUBLE IPA – Expecting a simple hoppy beer, I got this delicious double IPA with balance to die for. Never had anything from these guys before but you can bet I’ll be going back to the well next time I’m in Vermont – or here. 7.5/10.
CAPTAIN LAWRENCE FRESH CHESTER PALE ALE – I wanted to take it down a notch, have something really easy to send me back to the hotel, but with Captain Lawrence Brewing, nothing’s quite what you think it’s gonna be, and it’s usually 10 times better than anything else. This is a terrific pale ale, really creamy and piney and quite hoppier than expected. Really tasty and totally recommended. 8/10.
There’s one or two every year. Holiday beers that exist simply to round out the portfolio of a mediocre or less-than-heralded brewer, to maybe grab some shelf space they might not otherwise get. I guess my feeling is if you’re going to make a “winter warmer”, please make it a good one. Do something that makes it special, befitting what is supposed to be a special time of year. Don’t make something as boring and bland as BRIDGEPORT BREWING’s “EBENEZER”.
Seldom do we use this platform for anything but our own joie de vivre over beer, but there have been exceptions. There were the baseball picks for ’09 this past April. How’d that Boston over St. Louis World Series pick work out for us? Hey, at least they both made the playoffs. My top films of the last ten years? Well, there’s no argument there – probably not even from you once you see my picks. Yeah yeah, I got the idea from Aaron over at The Vice Blog – he did his own Top 25 last week, and challenged me, you and others to do the same. Me, I’m a listmaker – love ‘em. I went as far as 40 great films and stopped there, because after about 40 things ran a little more thin. And of course I’d have put this list on my film blog, but I don’t have one anymore.
Overall verdict? Great, great decade for film. Arguably the third best ever, after the 1970s and the 1960s, in that order. Many of the films listed here are commonly recognized as masterpieces, but I encourage you if you see something on here you’ve never heard of (my bets are on “Nobody Knows”, a sparse Japanese film about children abandoned in their apartment by their wayward mother, and “Reprise”, an excellent Danish film about what happens to two young writers & best friends when one drifts into mental illness), give it a try on Netflix or however you consume the films of the past.
Here are 40 excellent reasons why this decade was a fantastic one for film, ranked in order of how much I enjoyed them:
1. MEMENTO (2000) – I’ve seen it a half-dozen times, and it blows me away each time as much as it did the first time in 2000. Saw it two successive weeks in the theater, and spent an hour-plus each time afterward arguing it through and piecing it together with friends. Amazingly inventive, reverse-narrative thriller that’s one of my favorite films of any era. #1 with a big fat bullet for these past ten years.
2. UNITED 93 (2006) – I shed real tears after this one, probably because I’ve never seen such a hyper-real film that wasn’t a documentary. I was more caught up in and emotionally devastated by it than I was 9/11 itself. The story of United Airlines flight 93, told just as it happened in near-real time on September 11th, 2001, and starring some of the same air traffic control personnel who actually lived through the horror of that plane’s fate on the real day itself.
3. CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS (2003) – A harrowing documentary that plays like a whodunit, all within the confines of a single messed-up Long Island family in the 1970s. Duly recognized by many as one of the great documentaries of all time and a standard-bearer for what the form is capable of.
4. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2008) – This was an instant film classic the moment it came out, an epic sweep of one man’s greed, ego and lust for redemption in oil-crazy California a century ago. Daniel Day-Lewis puts on the performance of his lifetime, which is saying something, but the script & the direction were just as much the stars of this newly-minted landmark.
5. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2008) – Only a hair’s breath behind “There Will Be Blood” in my book; I, like most others, saw both films within mere weeks of each other in 2008. That’s when I decided that the 2000s were a decade nearly as special as any other, cinema-wise. This film was terrifying for two entire hours, with foreboding & fear punctuating every slow scene, with every moment about ready to erupt. Javier Bardem is one of the all-time evil bad guys, and this is the best film the Coens have ever made as far as I’m concerned.
6. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004) – I remember walking out of the film and telling my wife that we’d just seen a masterpiece. A film with Jim Carrey (!), no less. This was all about Michael Gondry’s direction and his & Charlie Kaufman’s masterful script. A couple undergo a procedure to erase each other from their respective memories when their relationship goes bad, yet in their loss find ways to connect again. Totally original and a blast to watch unfold on screen.
7. THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU (2005) – Romanian film got a lot of very deserved attention this past decade, primarily thanks to this sad, strange film & only afterward to those that followed. The camera essentially follows a dying man through the morass of Romanian healthcare and personal indifference on one single night, as his lonely and (on the surface) meaningless life flickers out. Never seen anything quite like it. Not a feel-good film by any means, but one I can’t recommend highly enough.
8. MY SUMMER OF LOVE (2004) – This British film seems to have been passed over by a lot of folks, but it was one of the best films I saw in 2004. Two teenage girls spend a summer together in the Yorkshire countryside, and the film “charts the emotional and physical hothouse effects that bloom one summer” between them. Just when you think you’ve figured out where it’s all headed, it heads in a very unexpected direction, and turns into some devastating mind games, the kind that are all the more painful when you’re young & infatuated. Ingmar Bergman would have been very proud.
9. BORAT – CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN (2006) – A trailblazing comedy that took the mockumentary/documentary form to new highs and lows. These are some of the best pranks (and the best editing) of all time, and I’d watch this film anytime, anywhere.
10. DOGVILLE (2003) – I almost wouldn’t go see this when I learned it was filmed completely on one stage, with a “set” like you’d see in a theater play (nonexistent doors that people “knock” on, etc.). But it was Lars Von Trier, and I totally dig (dug?) Lars – outside of “Breaking The Waves”, this is his best. It’s a three-hour transformation of Nicole Kidman from “poor girl on the run from the mob” to vengeful murderess, in a film that explores goodness and good intentions in that bizarre, off-kilter way that Von Trier has made his signature, and which is nearly impossible to describe.
The next 30, all of which are must-sees:
11. BLOODY SUNDAY
12. Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN
13. MARIA FULL OF GRACE
14. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
16. REQUIEM FOR A DREAM
17. 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS
19. NOBODY KNOWS
20. GHOST WORLD
21. CHILDREN OF MEN
22. GRIZZLY MAN
24. THE DARK KNIGHT
25. DANCER IN THE DARK
27. 21 GRAMS
28. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
29. TRAINING DAY
31. TOUCHING THE VOID
33. MATCH POINT
35. AFTER THE WEDDING
36. THE HURT LOCKER
37. UNDER THE SAND
38. CHUCK & BUCK
Nothing burnishes a brewer’s reputation more quickly these days than the introduction of a limited-edition, one-time-only series of 22-ounce bottles. It’s all the rage. It’s rescuing the stale reputations of brewers from WIDMER to RED HOOK to SAMUEL ADAMS/BOSTON BEER. Luckily, TERRAPIN BREWING from Athens, Georgia needed no such rescuing. Their core series of beers, anchored by the RYE PALE ALE, were excellent already, and their “Side Project” series is only additive to their fairly exalted standing among beer dorks at large. I tried the 90 SHELLING SCOTCH ALE earlier in the year and loved it; now it’s time to tackle MAGGIE’S FARMHOUSE ALE, a 22-oz. saison that’s got “limited edition” stamped all over the bottle.
In truth, I was a little bummed I’d picked this up in Atlanta after seeing this review afterward from the always-reliable DRUNKEN POLACK. He don’t lie. Except for this time. TERRAPIN MAGGIE’S FARMHOUSE ALE is a fantastic saison, quite a far sight sweeter than your average farmhouse brew and bursting with fruit and butterscotch flavors. It’s not a sticky beer, but a smooth, tangy beer with a nice bit of zest to it. They say they even threw some oats into the mix, and the general graininess of this leads me to believe ‘em. Again, the real surprise here is how sweet & smooth the beer is, and yet still so saison-like. It’s a really delicious beer, and worth a pick-up since you’ll never see it again if you don’t grab it now. 8/10.
Golden. Sour. Strong. Different. These are words one might use to describe ITHACA BRUTE, another one of those 100-best-beers on the Beer Advocate list that Hedonist Beer Jive got a chance to try recently. ITHACA BREWING, as I've come to find out, have a whole corral full of big beers in big bottles with big price tags; I saw a bunch of them on my trip to New York last week, and pulling five of them off the shelves would be roughly the financial equivalent of buying the Top 75 games in iTunes for your iPhone. Except you'd get to consume those for a couple years.
I'm really getting a lot of these Beer Advocate Top 100 beers tackled these days. In fact, Wednesday's post, today's post, and then next Monday's post collectively review 3/100s of the list. I just ran the numbers and my personal count on the Top 100 comes to.....well....a somewhat meek 39, at least compared to a lot of all y'all. I'll hit forty-one when I drink two beers currently sitting in my quote-unquote cellar, so let's call it 41. You know what? I'll take the Hedonist Beer Jive 75 any day over this glorified barrel-aged ultra-imperial stout list. Then again, of course I would.
Yet it was this list, and perhaps several reviews by folks who contribute to it, that got me to throw down $8.99 for a 12-oz. bottle of PANNEPOT OLD FISHERMAN'S ALE from DE STRUISE, currently clocking in at #56 on the big board. I want to thank you people, because this 2007 version is instantly one of my favorite beers I've ever had - yeah, better even than fifty-sixth. What a homewrecker this quadrupel ale is. 10% alcohol, and you don't know it nor care. Huge, foamy head of vanilla candy smell that never totally went away, even when I was nearing the end. Sweet, sure, but in a this-is-a-beer-of-the-godz sort of way, not like a dessert. Imagine a combination of dates (the overriding taste here), molasses and vanilla, all brewed up with a batch of eastern spices that play their role and stay well hidden before revealing themselves in the aftertaste. Incredible stuff. Unfiltered, bottle conditioned and with a medium body. I've only had one lone DE STRUISE beer before (and I didn't like it!), so shut my mouth, but wow o wow - this one's a 10/10.
When I started this blog in early 2006, let me tell you what the hot beers were at the time, what I remember beer dorks were spouting off about the most at the one time I was truly engaged in active listening with them. Dogfish Head -anything. They were the top dawg at the time, maybe still are in many respects. Russian River stuff - though nobody outside of the San Francisco Bay Area could find it with any regularity back then. Avery Brewing's "The Reverend". Alesmith "Speedway Stout" was big. This strange little chain brewery down in San Diego called Pizza Port. And of course, anything STONE related, especially Arrogant Bastard and their RUSSIAN IMPERIAL STOUT.
I've enjoyed most of the ales I've tried from New Hampshire's SMUTTYNOSE BREWING, some incredibly so - but it wasn't until The Vice Blog's knock-down, drag-out review of multiple Smuttynose Ales that I decided I needed to get on the stick & try a bunch more. As luck would have it, I was in Atlanta a couple weeks ago, and one door down from my favorite non-bottling brewery 5 SEASONS, is a beer store called Hop City. We've told you about them before; I'm just sayin'. They've got the SMUTTYNOSE stuff. I took some home in the suitcase, wrapping everything tightly with socks, running clothes and well-worn jeans. Wanna come over to my place and party with me?
I swear I wasn't going to drink on Wednesday afternoon. It's just that CITY BEER STORE in San Francisco had this beer I needed to pick up for an upcoming east coast/west coast beer trade throwdown where I'm representing the left coast. At least I thought they did. So there I was, stuck at maybe my favorite non-domestic longitude & latitude in the City, and I glanced up at the what's-on-draft board and saw that they had LIFE & LIMB, this winter's latest and most highly-hyped collaboration beer. The players are SIERRA NEVADA BREWING - who are on a killer win streak right about now - and DOGFISH HEAD, who've never stopped riding one. LIFE & LIMB is a limited beer, my friends. Like, you see it & you should probably start reaching for your wallet - before someone else does. Let's hear what they have to say about it:
Well, I finally found it, the much-slobbered-about PECHE MORTEL from Quebec’s DIEU DU CIEL! brewery. But this post’s not about that beer, which is still sitting “on deck” as we say, waiting to be consumed at the proper moment. The same afternoon I procured that one, I also bought EQUINOXE DU PRINTEMPS from the same brewer. If you missed the name of that brewer, allow me to please type it again for you: DIEU DU CIEL! That exclamation point is theirs, not mine, but I gotta say, I’m pretty friggin’ excited about this brewer. After this one, they’re a big 3 for 4 (one misfire, everyone has ‘em), with PECHE MORTEL waiting in the wings. Here’s what I’ve tried from them so far, and each respective score:
ROSEE D’HIBISCUS – “Hibiscus flower wit” (7/10)
CORNE DU DIABLE – IPA (8/10)
RIGOR MORTIS ABT – Quadrupel (5.5/10)
EQUINOXE DU PRINTEMPS is an 8% ABV scotch ale brewed with maple syrup. Very Canadian, you might say. Maple syrup is hot hot hot in the brewing world this year, sort of like wood-aging was in 2008. Speaking of wood, this fantastic beer tastes of it in spades. A real woody, boozy taste right from the start, but the funny thing is, you don’t mind. You like it. You revel in it. That’s some real Quebec maple syrup in there, yessiree (hic!). The beer provides a very “full” mouthfeel, and the beer is almost meal-like. Sweet, with a heavy dose a caramel and maltiness. It’s absolutely delicious, and a real credit to the Canadian people. As always, it has one of the most art-tastic labels in the business. These guys don’t mess around. 8/10.
There I was, at an amazing San Francisco restaurant called BAR BAMBINO, with a bunch of wine drinkers. We were celebrating Ari’s 37th (38th?) birthday, and in highfalutin Italian-restaurant gatherings of couples such as this, it’s rare that the collective mood turns toward beer. Bottles of red wine were quickly procured, even before I had a chance to peep, “b-but they have Belgian beer on the menu….!”. It is true, even in these craft beer-explodin’ times, that Italian restaurants such as this limit their beer selection to Peroni, Heineken, Fat Tire, Newcastle and Anchor Steam (the last if you’re lucky). So when I saw several beers I’ve never tried before – including WITKAP PATER TRIPEL – I knew I’d have to do a surreptitious, under-the-radar, in-between-glasses-of-wine order, and try not to upset the social apple cart any more than I had to.
This TRIPEL from BROUWERIJ SLAGHMUYLDER in Belgium is a perennial shelf-sitter at the stores I frequent, meaning that I always see it around, but I never hear anyone talking about it. That’s a shame, because it’s a good ‘un. Classic tripel smell and mouthfeel – very clean, yeasty and biscuity. A little more sweet than some of these can be, with the taste of honey and the ever-present tingling yeasts. On a scale of “thin” to “thick” I’d have this one at about a 3, far closer to the thin side of the scale. Really carbonated, and that’s just fine. It was really a relief to sneak one of these in, and let me say it again, I have no problem with wine at all, it’s just that when someone deigns to throw a beer like this on their menu, you sometimes just have to open up the wallet and let your worries go. 7.5/10.
These folks at SCHLAFLY BREWING have been busy carving out a reputation as “St. Louis’s other brewery – you know, the good one”. I’ll say that said reputation has resonated, even reaching my clogged & jaded ears in the San Francisco Bay Area. So, when in Kansas two weeks ago, I asked the barman to pull me a pint of their offerings. While it was listed under the “IPA” section of the menu of the bar we were at, this most certainly is not an IPA. It’s an “American pale ale”, hence SCHLAFLY APA. I don’t know about you, but it’s been a while since I willingly ordered a pale ale in a bar with 50+ beers. This style, once a kingpin, is now in also-ran in the HBJ style rankings.
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