Jan 12 2014

The Best Music of 2013 and, of Course, Their Beer Pairings

“Best of” lists are needy, pretentious and stupid.

Here is mine.

(No, I didn’t learn my lesson in 200920102011, or 2012.)

These were my favorite records from 2013. They were the ones I obsessed about throughout the year and could not stop humming and replaying. For each album, there is a beer pairing. These may be new beers, or simply beers that were new to me. But they all tickled my taste buds or pushed new boundaries.

 

In alphabetical order:

arctic-monkeys-am

Arctic Monkeys’ A.M. and Cascade Blueberry Ale

I’ve been following the Arctic Monkeys since their debut and their growing up in front of an audience has been slow and unpredictable. A.M. is another huge step forward for them and a throwback in terms of melodies and harmonies. Brash pub anthems have evolved into confident glam and sugar-coated cynicism. More please.

Cascade’s Blueberry Ale gives you blueberries by the bucket and the perfect amount of carbonation and acidity to balance that sweetness out. I don’t know if I could drink a lot of this beer, but I do know I wanted the 750 ml bottle to myself.  This is a hard score on the east coast, but the musk, fruit and sour of this beer is an orgy of flavor.

 

mikal-cronin

Mikal Cronin’s MCII and Deschutes’ Chasin’ Freshies

Power pop is a weakness for me, and Mikal Cronin delivered that this year. Big hooks and the garage-friendly fuzziness of MCII left a big, nodding smile on my face all year long. It had a very live sound for a one-man album and it felt like the purest memories of your high school crush.

Deschutes’ Chasin’ Freshies featured amarillo hops this year and it was wonderfully light and big in apricot. I’m not always a fan of wet/fresh hop ales, but this one walked the tightrope between sweet vs. bitter and hop presence vs. palate fatigue. Perhaps this was by design, perhaps due to aging and my transfer of it from California to Virginia. I don’t care. It was righteous.  

 

jason-isbell-southeastern

Jason Isbell’s Southeastern and Three Notch’d Brewing’s No Veto Brown

To be honest, Jason Isbell’s Southeastern is probably the best album on this list. Solid from beginning to end. From heartbreak to catharsis. His storytelling is emotional and empathetic, and it sits like a perfectly worn rocking chair. Unfortunately it seems new found sobriety often marks the decline of many an artist, but what we’re hearing here is an artist hitting his stride.

Three Notch’d No Veto English Brown was one of the launch beers that came out of this new brewery in Charlottesville, and Dave knocked this malty one out of the park. The beer delivered balanced notes of cocoa, caramel and an echo of coffee, but none of these aspects overstayed their welcome and they wicked away fast enough to leave you ready for the next sip. 

 

the-national-trouble-will-find-me

The National’s Trouble Will Find Me and Jester King’s La Petit Prince

My objectivity with regards to The National is gone. I can understand how others might not “get” them, but I fall helplessly in love with each new album. I sleep by the phone waiting for their 3 a.m. calls littered with drunken revelations. “God loves everyone, Don’t remind me.”

Jester King’s La Petite Prince weighed in a gentle 2.9% ABV, but this Austin brewery was bottling magic here. This farmhouse beer offered a light, barnyard brett caroming off a trampoline of lemon. In my perfect world, this would flow out of every tap in my house. Hunt this beer down and try not to be freaked out by the unsettling (OK, fucking creepy) label.

 

parquet-courts-light-up-gold

Parquet Courts’ Light Up Gold and Barlow Brewing’s Bread Dawn

Parquet Courts offered a shambling sort of calculated sloppiness that didn’t undermine the smarts behind their music. They crisscrossed genres and contradicted themselves with utter abandon. This album was a fixture in my car stereo all year long and the cure for shiny, predictable music. Singing Stoned and Starving with my kids may not have won me Father of the Year again but, if that was the problem, I can do without that superlative.  

Many of my most interesting home-brews would appear to have been based upon a dare. This year I decided to make a Russian Kvass, which is a low alcohol beer made from stale bread, raisins, and lemons. Barlow Brewing’s Bread Dawn was just as bizarre as it should have been and twice as refreshing. It was great fun to brew and it was nice to collaborate with a friend who baked almost all the bread for the beer. Mashing in pounds of swollen, mushy bread was a chore, but it also made me appreciate the simplicity of a normal all-grain brew day. 

 

vampire-weekend

Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City and Night Shift’s Somer Weisse

Vampire Weekend was another band that took a big step forward in 2013. While always fun and catchy, nuance and variety was not something they always did well. This album was shockingly smart and loose, and I’ve no shame in being addicted to “Step” for months on end. Perhaps even still now. This was an album full of maturity, but they had the sense to make it fun, too. 

Night Shift Somer Weisse came out of nowhere and blew me away. My love of the Berliner weisse style is still no surprise, but this brewery’s take on it was amazing. Tart lemon and bread notes dominated, but the perfectly placed ginger flavor was the game changer. Find this one if you can.

 

queens-of-the-stone-age

Queens of the Stone Age’s …Like Clockwork and Surly’s Pentagram

My album of the year is likely the latest from the Queens of the Stone Age. Josh Homme’s near death experience on the operating table gave the Queens a rebirth with kalopsia. It contained all the swagger of their previous albums, but the drug chants were expertly cut with vulnerability. Homme still wants to “Blow my load over the status quo,” but heartache is a now a shadow following the bow-legged strut.

Surly’s Pentagram was a 100% brett dark beer that had moderate amount of sourness without the sweet tart flavor that I find distracting. Surly did a great job balancing the leathery funk of the yeast with the sharper fruit of this light-bodied sour. I harvested the brett and bugs for this and I am curious to see how it affects a batch of my homebrew.

 

savages

Savages’ Silence Yourself and Crokeed Stave’s Hop Savant

It came to my attention last year that there is a term for the music I gravitate towards: Noise Rock. The Savages gave me my post-punk fix with piercing guitars and calculated intensity. But Beth’s vocals and the band’s power noise weren’t blunt weapons. There’s measure to the intensity and they don’t fall into the stereotypical misandry in their lyrics. I suspect this band will be a reckoning force in the future.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of 100% brett beers, especially brett IPAs. Crooked Stave’s Hop Savant was funky and delivered bright citrus over a dry, light body. I’d love to see this “style” catch on, but it isn’t an easy yeast to introduce into a brewery. I’m OK with these beers being like tattoos, because not everyone can handle them.

 

thee-oh-sees

Thee Oh Sees’ Floating Coffin and Westbrook’s Gose

Floating Coffin is probably the Thee Oh Sees’ most accessible album, but that doesn’t undermine the power of it, or strangeness of the lyrics and fuzzed out psychedelic rock. The latest mutation from this garage band takes a step towards the mainstream, but maintains the sinister leer that makes them addictive. Do yourself a favor and get  a little more weirdness into your life.

Westbrook’s Gose makes no sense at all. Gose is another resurrected beer style that a few smart breweries are beginning to make again. It was a wheat beer accented with the judicious use of coriander and salt, and Westbrook not only nailed the style, but also put these in cans. It’s nice to see some good beer coming out of South Carolina and I hope more goodness is to come.

 

waxahatchee

Waxahatchee’s Cerulean Salt and August Schell Brewing’s Star of the North

Cerulean Salt was a simple, basement affair. Waxahatchee sounded like something I would have loved, without really understanding, in college. Earnest, stripped-down and wrenching songs confessed their way out of Crutchfield, and I look forward to her next disc but I fear this sort of crush might not survive subsequent albums. 

August Schell’s Star of the North was a nice surprise coming out of that Minnesota brewery, and I’m always a sucker for a well done Berliner weisse. (Yes, I am a broken record as well as record player.) I laid down one bottle, but the other I drank with friends, and it was full of lemon zest and fruit skin dryness with a nice, rocky head. The bottling and labeling of this beer as stellar, too. 

 

Honorable Mentions:

Speedy Ortiz

Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana – Noisy, nostalgic and full of swagger.

Chvrches

Chvrches – Bones of What You Believe – Upbeat, shiny and addictive

my-bloody-valentine

My Bloody Valentine – m b v – I cannot wait for their next disc in 2035.

king-krule

King Krule – 6 Feet Beneath the Moon – Young, simple, and passionate.

 

Song of the Year: Divine Fits – Ain’t That the Way

I still don’t know what this song is about. And it is very unlike me not to care. It’s not as menacing as it sounds, but the uncertainty is spellbinding as you sing along. “Your mommy’s got all she’s got/Your daddy’s got Epsom salt/To help with the bruises/Your mother’s got places to go/And daddy knows all he knows/About replacing fuses.”

 

 


Jan 16 2013

Barlow Brewing 2012 Homebrew Year in Review

At the end of each year (2009, 2010, and 2011), I go through the stats of my homebrewing adventures and try to identify some trends and larger takeaways.

I used to set a goal of brewing 60 gallons a year, which only equates to brewing a 5 gallon batch each month. I don’t know what I shoot for anymore. I try to brew once a month, but when I brew more than once a month if gives me an excuse to skip other months. This year I brewed 91.5 gallons so, somehow, it all worked out.

Looking back at 2012, the three trends that defined that brewing year were: the return of sours, 100% brett beers, and barrel fills.

 

The Return of Sours

I never really ran out of sours, but I was surprised to do the math and figure out that I only brewed 5 gallons of sour beer in 2011. Given how long it takes for sours to age into awesomeness, I did not set myself up for a good 2012.

So I immediately went to work on sours and brewed 23 gallons before the year was done. I did a Berliner Weisse and a Flanders Red for a barrel fill, but sour I most enjoyed making was for a friend’s wedding. I got less than 10 months notice to brew it, so I had to do a little voodoo and blending to make that one come together. But I was happy with the uniqueness of that soured porter on cherries and pinot noir oak.

 Old Lambic Hops

Old Lambic Hops

 

100% Brettanomyces Beers

I’d been wanting to make a 100% brettanomyces beer for quite a while and, inspired by Crooked Stave’s beers,  I finally around to it last year. In fact, I made three of them. I brewed an American IPA with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis, and then I brewed a saison and a dubbel with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis Trois, which is supposed to be the strain from Drie Fonteinen.

Brett strikes fear into the hearts of many homebrewers, but it is relatively easy to work with if your sanitation habits are strong and have separate tubing and racking equipment from your normal batches. Brett ferments just as quickly and cleanly as saccharomyces cerevisiae and finishes around the same place in terms of final gravity. You just need to pitch your yeast at lager rates and to tweak your recipes to favor more proteins for a fuller mouthfeel in the final beer.

I’ll be posting the recipes and stories about those brett beers in the coming months (as I catch up on my blog). I don’t know how many 100% brett beers I will do this year, but I loved the interplay between brett and hops in the experiments, and I feel like I know much, much more about these mysterious wild strains that I did before. But there is still much more to learn.

You Bretta, You Bretta, You Brett

100% Brett AIPA 

 

Barrel Fills

My homebrew club acquired a bourbon barrel last year and we planned to fill the barrel once, and then we would drain in sometime in 2013.

We ended up filling the barrel almost three times in 2012.

The first fill of the barrel was with an imperial porter and we let that go for a few months. That was getting smoother and picking up nice vanilla notes….until it turned sour. We never figured out if we didn’t prep the barrel well enough, or if one of the club member’s portions gave the barrel an aggressive lactobacillus culture. (My conscience is clear because I bottled some of the surplus beer from my batch, that didn’t go into the barrel, and it earned a silver medal in a BJCP competition for a robust porter.)

We drained that barrel and then decided to go with a sour beer, not that the barrel had given us much choice. We filled it up with a Flanders Red and beefed up the bugs with Roeselare and ECY Flemish blends. We were storing the barrel at one of the local homebrew stores and a few months after racking the beer into the barrel, the store had to do some renovations and we had to drain the barrel in December.

So we filled the barrel again, but not until early January of 2013, with a Batch 001 Beatification clone inspired by The Mad Fermentationist. I look forward to seeing how this beer evolves.

And hopefully we don’t have to drain this beer before 2014.

 Bourbon Barrel - Filling Crew

The CAMRA Homebrew Club Barrel Filling Crew 

 

What’s on Tap for 2013?

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, and I’m not going to do any here.

Having gone so far into the dark/sour/brett side in 2012, I can see myself making some more mainstream beers in 2013. I’d like to do a maibock and perhaps a dark lager. Maybe a kölsch.

But I’ll continue to play with whatever new ingredients I can get my hands on. My second batch of beer for 2013 was an American pale ale that I hopped with the hot, new Mosaic hop. (HBC369 – A descendent of Simoce and Nugget that brings pine, tropical fruit and blueberries to table).

I’ll keep playing with fruit, as well, as I’ve already added cranberries to part of the Flanders red batch that was temporarily aged in the barrel, and I’ve got 10 pounds of Gewürztraminer grapes to put on a batch, likely a Belgian pale ale, too.

Maybe this is the year I’ll act upon my crazy idea to make a Hendricks beer. And a Kvass.

I’d like to not get shut out in the National Homebrew Competition like I did last year, as well. (Just kidding.) (Actually no. No, I’m not.)

 

If you are into stats:

Weights and Measures
Gallons of Beer: 91.5
Gallons of Cider: 12
Pounds of Grain: 230
Pounds of Hops: 2.7

Averages
Average Batch Size: 6.1
Average ABV: 5.74%
Average OG: 1.057
Average FG: 1.013
Average Pounds of Grain per Batch: 12.37
Average Ounces of Hops per Batch: 2.69

By Category
Ales: 11
Lagers: 3

Brett Only: 3
Ciders: 2
Sours: 4

Medals and Ribbons
BJCP Competitions Entered: 3 (NHC, Dominion Cup, CASK Beer Blitz)
Medals Earned: 8 (4 Gold, 1 Silver, 3 Bronze)
National Homebrew Competition Ribbons: 0
National Homebrew Competition Medals: 0

Superlatives
Favorite Brew – 100% Brett IPA – You Bretta, You Bretta, You Brett
Favorite Brew (Runner Up) – Berliner Weisse – Waterloo
Worst Brew – Southern English Brown
Favorite Name – You Bretta, You Bretta, You Brett
Favorite Name (Runner Up) – Panty Lock Brakes
Biggest Trend – 100% Brett Beers

 


Jan 3 2013

(Not Quite) White IPA – Iron Brewer Championship Round – Wahoogaarden

I was lucky enough to win the Iron Brewer Championship last year (2011) with my black rye IPA, and that gave me a free pass to the championship round this year (2012). That is quite a boon, because some great and creative brewers enter the competition and it is difficult to win a qualifying round, let alone win the championship round.

The final round ingredients were announced as: Honey Malt, Lime Peel and Cascade Hops.

That’s an interesting but mixed bag and, with Iron Brewer, there’s is always an ingredient that throws a monkey wrench into recipe formulation. The lime peel and cascade hops were easy to wrap my head around as they impart a similar kind of citrus character.

It was the honey malt that was the problem. I had used that grain before in a Belgian beer years ago, but I didn’t remember much about it. In doing some research, it’s a lot like crystal malt, but without the caramel and roast. It only imparts color and sweetness.

In the end, I decided to do something silly (again) and figured I’d take a shot at a White IPA. Yes, White IPAs are yet another “new” (also read as: “made up”) IPA style, but there was something interesting about them. I had tried a Deschutes Chainbreaker White IPA during one of my trips to Oregon, and I thought it was nice. Cut to the chase, it is basically a hoppy wit beer. The Deschutes version used orange peel and cascade hops, and was frankly close enough for me to take a shot.

Deschutes is kind enough to supply homebrew recipes of their beers, but they don’t exactly hand over the keys to the kingdom. The Chainbreaker clone recipe was helpful enough to get me on the right path of pilsner and wheat malt, centennial and cascade hops, and coriander and orange peel. I followed that basic structure and then threw in some honey malt. I knew that the honey malt would have a big impact to the color of the beer (which couldn’t be helped) and that it had to be used in moderation in order to have the malt come through the final beer, but not make it too sweet. I decided, in the end, to use 0.5 of a pound of honey malt.

 

 

Honey Malt

Honey Malt

 

Honey Malt Close-Up

Honey Malt Close-Up

 

In terms of the lime peel, I decided to be fancy and use key limes. In retrospect, I wasn’t fancy at all because all of the other Iron Brewers used key limes, too.

 

 

Key Lime Peels

I ended the boil with the typical wit beer ingredient of coriander and, my secret wit weapon, chamomile.

Chamomile, Coriander & Key Lime Peel

Chamomile, Coriander and Key Lime Peel

The brew day went as planned, which was surprising since I hadn’t brewed in two months and I’m prone to screw-ups when I’m rusty.

I fermented it for seven days at 68º F and let it roll up to 72º F before the end of the week. I dry-hopped it with cascade in primary on the 7th day, and let it go for another week. I bottled it without secondary since I was pressed for time and clarity isn’t a necessity for the style.

 (Not So) White IPA - In the Glass

A (Not So) White IPA (This is a bad pic. It isn’t quite that dark)

I liked how this beer turned out, but it’s certainly not a white IPA in most regards. The color is off, the lime is too bright in the flavor and aroma, and it is a bit sweet in a way that hides the spices. But that is how the Iron Brewer competition should go. The three required ingredients need to shine above all other components, and you can’t judge it by style.

All that being said, I was happy with the way that beer this turned out.

As it has aged, the lime aroma and flavor was been the first thing to drop out and the coriander has come to the forefront. I’d like to try to make a proper white IPA one day, and I think this recipe is a good foundation once you strip out the Iron Brewer pieces.

It did well in the Iron Brewer competition, but not well enough. I came in 2nd to a superior beer from Robert (a great and seasoned homebrewer), who delivered a fantastic cream ale with the same ingredients. Congratulations to him and, with that, another fun Iron Brewer year comes to a close.

I look forward to 2013 for…REVENGE.

 

Wahoogaarden (Iron Brewer 2012) – (White IPA) – 6g
Starting Gravity: 1.050 (11/4/12)
Final Gravity:  1.010 (11/18/12) 14 Days
5.3% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 79.3%
Real Attenuation:65.0%

Mash (60 minutes 154º)
6 lb Pilsner Malt
5 lb Wheat Malt
0.5 lb Honey Malt  

Boil (95 min)
1.0 oz Magnum (14.7% AA) Pellet (60 min)
0.50 oz Cascade (6.2% AA) Pellet (10 min) 
0.50 oz Centennial-Type (9.7% AA) Pellet (10 min)
2.2 grams Wyeast Nutrient (10 min)
1.5 oz Key Lime Peel (5 min)
0.1 oz Ground Coriander (5 min)
0.25 oz Chamomile (~5 tea bags) (5 min)
0.50 oz Cascade (6.2% AA) Pellet (0 min) 
0.50 oz Centennial-Type (9.7% AA) Pellet (0 min)

Primary (68º F)
1 smack pack Wyeast 3944 – Belgian Witbier – Starter made
2 oz Cascade (6.2% AA) Pellet (Dry Hop)  (from Day 7 to Day 14)


Dec 31 2012

The Best Music of 2012 and, of Course, Their Beer Pairings

I’m back to give you the thing you never knew you wanted. Again.

That’s right: The Best Music of 2012 and, of Course, Their Beer Pairings.

I didn’t learn my lesson in 2009, 2010 or 2011, and apparently you didn’t either. So let’s get to this. In no particular order:

 

 

Tame Impala - Lonerism

Tame Impala’s Lonerism and Russian River and Sierra Nevada’s BRUX

Tame Impala’s Lonerism is a tidal wave of swirling psychedelic spin (ear) art. I had hoped that they could surpass their debut, Innerspeaker, and this magical mystery tour delivers. But it is far from the isolation that the title implies. Lonerism feels like revisiting your old vinyl collection and falling in love with a younger you again.

The stand-outs are the lazy-boned merry-go-round of “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” and the driving Sabbath groove of “Elephant”. Sounding like transmissions from the 60s, Kevin Parker and company shoot past mere imitation and into something familiarly transcendent.

Elephant

Russian River and Sierra Nevada came together in 2012 to produce the BRUX which they called a “domesticated wild ale.” This one started out with a Belgian yeast, and then went through a secondary bottle fermentation with Brettanomyces bruxellensis.  

After the disappointment that was the Lost Abbey/New Belgium Brett Beer, I was delighted to find the BRUX dry, complex and amazing. As young as it is, this beer is a champagne of pepper, tart pear and biscuity spice. I am currently hording bottles of this beer. Yes, I’m a beer horder.

The pairing of Lonerism and BRUX is one that will age gracefully and confidently.

 

Father John Misty - Fear Fun

Father John Misty’s Fear Fun and Barlow Brewing’s You Bretta, You Bretta, You Brett

I have to be honest here. I like the Fleet Foxes, but I don’t love them as much as everyone else seems to. They are a little too somber and a little too earnest for my tastes. Josh Tillman’s (the drummer for the Fleet Foxes) latest is so much different from the FFs, it is striking. His rambling freak, folk songs carom between funny, profound and foolish in the same verse.

Fear Fun is filled with fireside, cottonmouth songs that you can’t help but sing along with unconsciously. Clever words and nuanced imagery abound, and in quiet moments of regret you know what he means when he sings, “I would like to abuse my lungs / Smoke everything in sight with every girl I’ve ever loved”

I laughed out loud when my youngest, who is always subjected to my musical tastes, quoted “I’m Writing a Novel” in conversation by saying, “My reality is realer than yours.” Tillman is not that pompous, but he knows that the trippy stories of those who believe that to be true are glorious distractions.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings

I brewed my first 100% brettanomyces beers this year and my first attempt ended up being my best. You Bretta, You Bretta, You Brett was a 100% Brett American IPA that I made with the advice of Chad Yakobson of Crooked Stave. It was insanely hopped with Falconer’s Flight, Citra, Amarillo and Centennial pellets, and it was a mouthgasm of tropical fruit while it was young.

As it aged, it got funkier unintentionally since I packaged it through my “sour” bottling bucket and it surely grabbed some lacto and pedio bacteria from other batches. Despite not having a home in any BJCP category, it scored well in several contests and even recently earned a gold medal at the CASK Beer Blitz competition as a Category 23 specialty ale.

Absurd, over-the-top and yet remarkably enjoyable and sessionable, You Bretta, You Bretta, You Brett pairs beautifully with a night of non-sensical and gregarious adventures with Father John Misty.    

 

Japandroids - Celebration Rock

Japandroids’ Celebration Rock and Devils Backbone Eight Point IPA

Rock and roll should be simple. The Japandroids’ Celebration Rock is 35 minutes of driving, chant-along songs that don’t need footnotes or a lot of introspection.. The album starts and finishes with literal and metaphorical fireworks and bleeds the kind of positivity that never rings false or exhausts. And I dare you not to follow along with your own “oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh” to “The House That Heaven Built”.

Celebration Rock started to get spins in my car in June of this year, and I don’t see it leaving that rotation anytime soon. “When they love you, and they will / Tell ’em all they’ll love in my shadow / And if they try to slow you down / Tell ’em all to go to hell.”

Damn straight.

The House That Heaven Built  

Living in Central Virginia, I’m lucky enough to have the winner of the GABF Champion Small Brewpub & Brewmaster Award for 2012 in my backyard. Unfortunately, that still means Devils Backbone is 50 minutes away from me, but it is a pretty drive when I make it. Jason Oliver brews solid beers and I needed that this year.

Every U.S. brewery has their massive American IPA, and it seems like I tried them all in 2012. In terms of a nicely balanced IPA that I could drink every day, DBB’s Eight Point IPA was perfect, and it was on every local shelf so I didn’t have to drive down to their brewpub or The Outpost to drink it. I even had the chance to try a 100% Brett version of the Eight Point, too, and…..well, that deserves its own post in the future.

Perfectly balanced and not over-thought, Japandroids’ Celebration Rock and Devils Backbone Eight Point IPA is a pairing of simple goodness.

 

Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE

Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE and Cigar City’s Cucumber Saison

You don’t need me to tell you about Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE. He’s on every list for the best albums of 2012 and he’s been hailed as some sort of  second coming R&B revivalist. But throw those accolades out the window and just spend some time with his tracks.

“Sweet Life” immediately hooked me with Motown sway, but Frank’s falsetto on “Bad Religion” reveal a man in perfect control of his voice and message. He shifts between Stevie Wonder and Prince, but never as mere imitation. He’s always genuine, even when he’s voicing of one of his many unreliable narrators and turning the world of the crackhead or angst-ridden super rich kids into art.

Thinkin Bout You

 

Cigar City’s Cucumber Saison sounds like a polarizing beer. Either you hear about it and immediately seek it out, or you’ll cringe and you’ll dismiss the idea. I feel bad for those who would dismiss this amazing concoction. You get the cucumber aroma right away, and it quickly gets backed up in the flavor, as well.

I’m not completely sure how they did it, but I’m guessing that a lot of cucumber puree and sorachi ace hops came into play. This is a wet saison with hints of lemongrass and pepper, and it is stunningly refreshing. I hope they bring this beauty back next year as a seasonal.

Kick back and enjoy the sweet life with Frank Ocean and a Cucumber Saison.

 

 

Divine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits

Divine Fits’ A Thing Called Divine Fits and Champion Brewing’s Tart (Berliner Weisse)

I’m an huge Spoon fan and when I heard about a collaboration between Spoon’s Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and the Handsome Furs, I was immediately and comically drunk with high expectations. When A Thing Called Divine Fits landed it seemed almost equal parts Britt and Dan. The same Spartan beats and hooks I expected, but the keyboards drove more than a few songs and filled in the gaps without becoming over-produced.

What was interesting to me is that Daniel seemed to be happy hanging in the background of some of these songs. More relaxed than he’s seemed in a long time, and I wonder how he would evolve in a band of peers. I don’t know if we’ll see more albums out of the Divine Fits, but I hope so. Their raw, potential alchemy is undeniable.

 

Would That Not be Nice?

Charlottesville got a new brewery at the end of 2012, and I’ve very excited to see the quality beers that Hunter and Champion Brewing have produced. Champion has benefited from the recent signing of the Virginia SB 604 bill, which gives brewery license holders permission to sell their beer for on-premise consumption where it is made. For new breweries, be they nano, micro or macro, this is quite a financial boon and an equalizer with the many local wineries.

But lets’ cut to the chase: Champion is making great beers. I could have easily chosen their delicious Pacecar Porter, but they had the balls to make a Berliner Weisse during the first few months of brewing. The fearless choice to do a sour mash on their new system and roll out a tart session ale is worthy of making this list alone.

And, most importantly, the beer is fantastic, too. The Champion Brewing’s Tart is clean, slightly puckering and infinitely drinkable. I expect big things from these guys, and bold moves like this beer assure their success.

Successful “supergroups” and delicious brewery start-ups are unicorns. Pair together the Divine Fits and the Champion Tart and marvel in your own genius for seeing their genius.

Fiona Apple The Idler Wheel... Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel… and The Alchemist’s Heady Topper

Fiona Apple is exhausting. Hell, the full title of her album is The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. If you invited her over to you house, you’d expect the visit to end after a vase was broken, a screaming match leading tearful hugs occurred, and all of your pens were stolen. Her fidgeting drama and her scalded truthfulness can be too much. But your house is so empty when she’s gone.

The Idler Wheel…. is not the slow burn album that the critics would lead you to believe that it is. “Every Single Night” and “Werewolf” are standouts of feverish defiance and melodic fishhooks. Give in to her songs that hold her madness and despair at bay. Apple will tell you herself that there’s “Nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor key”

 

Every Single Night

Heady Topper from The Alchemist was one of the seemly endless amount of American Imperial IPAs that I tried this year. Some were too bitter and some had attenuation issues but, for the most part, they were all good. And completely uninspiring.

What was different about the Heady Topper? This canned beauty smelled and tasted just like fresh flower hops, without the vegetal flavors that other hop bombs couldn’t seem to avoid. Just tropical fruit, pineapple and pine. And, for an added bonus, pour this beer into a glass and enjoy the hop blizzard snow globe it creates.

If you want musical and alcoholic melodrama done right, crack open an Alchemist Heady Topper and Fiona Apple’s latest. But maybe follow their directions and drink this 120 IBU beast straight from the can.

Diiv - Oshin

Diiv’s Oshin and New Glarus’ Home Town Blonde

Diiv’s Oshin was a surprise on my musical radar this year, and I was lucky enough to catch them live when they opened up for Wild Nothings in town. I’m a sucker for shoe-gazing bands who have a precision sound without losing the melody. These young guys did that in spades and I look forward to seeing how they evolve.

A personal standout from the album is “How Long Have You Known”. There’s nuance in their hypnotic guitar and, at the 1:57 minute mark, they drift off into another plane of inclusionary detachment.

How Long Have You Known?

A good friend brought back a few beers from the lovely state of Wisconsin and the big stand out was New Glarus’ Hometown Blonde. This Bohemian pilsener was pristine with a nice, grainy nose and mildly grassy hops. Even while tailgating before a game and being muddled between other beers varying wildly in strength and style, this beer was a clear winner. Clean, slightly sweet and endlessly drinkable.

Unfortunately, New Glarus doesn’t distribute outside Wisconsin, but Hometown Blonde and Diiv are a match made in pure heaven.

 

 

Grizzly Bear - Shields

Grizzly Bear’s Shields and Crooked Stave’s Wild Wild Brett Persica

 

Grizzly Bear’s Shields is no Veckimast, so let’s just get that out of the way. This album was harder to get my head around, but the lyrics are less like clues and more like poetry. And there was a give and take in that.

In Shields, every song sounds like it comes from the soundtrack of one of my favorite coming-of-age movies. Where all the characters believe so deeply in arbitrary things because…..well, they want to believe deeply in *something*. In anything, really. This one is a grower, but it deserves the multiple spins needed for it to unfold.

Yet Again

The Crooked Stave’s Wild Wild Brett Persica is a golden sour ale on peaches. And, as a homebrewer, I know how hard it is to pull peach flavor out of the fruit and into a beer. This fantastic ale does that along with apricots, bright acidity, and a faint and trailing hint of vanilla oak.

I brought this one to a 4th of July party and it was a jaw dropper for everyone who tried it. Another amazing beer from Chad and Crooked Stave, and I’m looking forward to being a Cellar Reserve member again in 2013.

Stretch out your brain and enjoy some complexity with an evening of Grizzly Bear and Crooked Stave. And quit being such a damn philistine.

 

 

Honorable Mentions:

Cat Power’s Sun and Firestone Walker’s Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA 

Dum Dum Girls’ End of Daze EP and Deschutes’ Chainbreaker White IPA

Cloud Nothings’ Attack on Memory and Black Raven Brewing’s Pour Les Oiseaux Viognier Barrel Saison With Brettanomyces

Purity Ring’s Shrines and Green Flash’s Rayon Vert

 

 

Songs of the Year:

Carly Rae Jepsen, Jimmy Fallon & The Roots – “Call Me Maybe”

Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” was inescapable this year, and I fell for it, too.

But I didn’t hear Carly Rae’s version until much later after I had heard and fell in love with the performance she did on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. She, Jimmy, and The Roots played the song with classroom instruments (!?!?) and I could. Not. Stop. Watching. The. Video.

It became a problem.

I love The Roots and they find a way to make my music and beer pairings list every year, but this was something else. Pure fun, playful energy and a nasty earworm.

Purity Ring – “Fineshrine” 

This was the creepiest damn song I heard all year, and I could not get it out of my head. In the car, at the beach, and even when I was trying to fall asleep.  This song, and the entire rest of the album, is haunting. These songs were the doll’s eyes that you can still feel watching you in the darkness. They are what to whisper into the executioner’s ear to give him nightmares.

“Get a little closer let it fold / Cut open my sternum and pull / My little ribs around you”.

WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?

I don’t know, but I loved it.