Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Burpy

Explaining how to pour. (Beer is good in warm places too.)

When you live in a cold place you must drink beer to survive. The southerners in this country, they drink bourbon whiskey. The southerners in Europe, they drink lots of wine. We northerners, all over the globe, need our beer.

My toes are freezing, and I am imbibing a dark chocolatey brew called Edmund Fitzgerald. You all know the reference? It's a ship that sank in Lake Eerie in 1975. Old Gordon Lightfoot sang about it the next year. The bottle even has a sense of humor: "...our Edmund Fitzgerald will taste smoky, robust, dark and bittersweet. Thanks to our environmental efforts, if you take a swig of Lake Eerie it won't taste smoky, robust, dark and bittersweet." I like raillery in a beer. Plus it's got that Guinnessy flavor, without the dogfood aftertaste.

Another beer I can't live without is your over-hopped IPA. That's India Pale Ale for you oenologists who have neglected your beer studies. And it's not Indian at all. It was originally brewed with extra hops so it would last the journey to India from Great Britain, back in the good old days of British Imperialism.

Hops are a preservative as well as a steroid. Drink an IPA if you want to have a long life and fight off inflammation. Dogfish Head Brewery has a 60 minute and a 90 minute IPA that will make you cough and burp a lot.

Speaking of Dogfish Head, they make an ancient brew called Midas Touch. It is based on a recipe that was supposedly derived from examining the contents of beer barrels that were dredged up with a shipwreck. It is quite heavenly. I think the "ancient brews resurrected" category of beers is my absolute favorite.

Another good one is 1554, which is New Holland's Belgian black ale based on a recipe found in someone's 16th century notebook. A flood destroyed the orginal research, so they had to travel to Belgium and find the recipe again by sifting through old manuscripts! I love tasting something that possibly tastes exactly like what stinky enlightened men of yesteryear used to drink by the fire.

It's funny, but anything but the alcohol of yore would probably be quite disgusting to our modern palates. I know this from experience because I checked out a medieval recipe book from the library and cooked some of the dishes. The only edible meals were the ones made with nuts or potatoes. Every other recipe called for way too much calf's blood, dandelions, and tree bark.

I will try any beer once, whether it is a sickeningly thick tar-ale or a bargain basement old-man can that says something about crystal clear waters. I tried just about everything when I lived in Canada. I miss the trips to the beer store -- a semi-socialist phenomenon where the names of beers are listed on a board (no pictures) and your purchases get anonymously sent out on a conveyor belt, the only outlet from the corrugated steel warehouse hidden behind the flapping plastic curtains. That was the only time I ever gained weight -- I ate chocolates and beer for six months solid.

In my ten or so years of tasting adventures I have come across a few nasties, so here's a short warning list.

Miller Chill. This is Miller's "Mexican" beer, pre-limed and with a dash of salt. Stick to Corona if salt and lime are your thing. This beer tastes like it was poured through the urine-soaked streets of Tijuana and scooped back into the bottle, making sure to include the hearty flavor of cigarillo butts. Budweiser answered this with Bud Lime, which causes a slightly less intense gag reflex than its competitor.

Sprecher Pizza Beer. A local invention we Fox River Valley residents should be ashamed of. How did this guy get Sprecher to brew his beer? It is actually made with pizza ingredients: tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and basil. Sounds intriguing, but 9 out of 10 beer enthusiasts only try it once. I am saving you the trouble. Pizza burps without the full pizza belly are no fun. Plus, as many critics have mentioned, beers are paired with food because they complement the foods, not because they taste exactly like them. Yuck.

Tom Seefurth thinks he's "all that."

What next, wasabi beer to go with your sushi? Actually that sounds good...

It is perfectly fine to put spices in beer, but you can't just choose them based on the foods you like. Most men who would never admit to sniffing coriander and juniper go head over heels for these aromas in their liquor! Same for the fruity aromas in various weiss beers -- fruity drinks with twists are ok for boys if the fruit is suspended in the four magical ingredients.

Rogue Chipotle Ale. I actually like this one, but it is intense. It is actually smoky and spicy. It comes close to being too food-flavored, but not close enough to make it disturbing like the orange pizza water. If you like spicy, go for it. Otherwise, avoid this brew. Rogue's Dead Guy Ale is one every drinker can appreciate. And it hasn't even a whiff of formaldehyde.

As usual I am procrastinating on my homework, so I'll pick up my beer reviews later. I'm supposed to be writing about the problem of free will. Well, the problem of alcohol and the problem of free will are not entirely unrelated subjects!


  1. Rogue Dead Guy Ale is my current favorite! I am also quite fond of their Mocha Porter. I haven't tried their Chipotle, but I'm going to look for it next time I'm at Plaza Liquors. While we're on the subject of great tasting fermented beverages, if you haven't tried mead, you should do so at the earliest opportunity. Honey and yeast, together at last.

    My least favorite beer of all time would have to be Schlitz Ice. Schlitz I can handle as a dirt cheap beer, something one might take fishing or tailgating, but the Ice incarnation of "The beer that made Milwaukee famous" was revolting. Others must have agreed because I'm fairly certain it's been discontinued. I haven't tried Miller Chill, but I instinctively recoil from it in the liquor store. Personally, for the lime and salt category I prefer Pacifico. I also prefer to have it with a beach in addition to the lime, but those are hard to come by round these parts.

    I find the idea of orange pizza water disturbing and a little depressing.

    Wasabi beer on the other hand could be interesting. If nothing else it might be good for cooking.

    Next week I'll be taking some brewery tours in and around Denver. Left Hand Brewing Company is one I'll be hitting, you should try their Polestar Pilsner or Jackman's Pale Ale.

    Good luck with your homework.

  2. I'm a teetotaler, which is to say I'm probably a little out of my element on this subject. Seriously, I have three books on various drinks because I kept screwing up different kinds of liquor when I was writing.

    My Mom always says that alcohol makes her warm. I used to think only brandy did this. I'll have to take your word for it that most alcohols have the same effect.

    There's a chocolate brew? And it's called Edmund Fitzgerald? I'll say one thing: alcohol is never boring.

    That's the Irish for you (in regards to Guinness). We don't care what it tastes like so long as it has alcohol in it.

    Maybe I should use you for reference when it comes to drinks. I enjoy all this background information. I love the back stories of things that we take for granted.

    That's amazing about 1554. Isn't it great that some people are that dedicated? To think that you could drink something from yesteryear.

    Another thing that may have made food from way back when inedible was the fact that they used salt to preserve everything. Some people enjoy a salty taste, but if something is literally slathered in it. I shudder to think of it. Of course, you're going way back. I'm surprised there are still medieval cookbooks. Did they offer any kind of alternatives?

    I never understood the phenomenon of lime and beer. I know that you bite a lime when you do tequila shooters to combat the taste. According to your description of Mills, it's not the best combo.

    I actually shudder at the thought that someone thought it would be a good idea to make a pizza beer. Honestly, what a bonehead.

    I love the fact that you were procrastinating to write an impassioned review of beers. Look at it this way, procrastination is an act of free will.

    And right now I'm procrastinating on a story that I need to have typed up tomorrow :)

    Great post!


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