The Best Music of 2016 and, of Course, Their Beer Pairings
Here’s a final list for 2016 for you to not care about. These are my top ten favorite music albums of the year and, of course, their beer pairings.
These are simply the albums that I enjoyed the most, and the beers didn’t need to be new to the world, just to me and right for the album.
In no particular order:
Blackstar and Dreg Pirate Roberts (Mixed Fermentation Ale)
David Bowie – Blackstar
Blackstar was an amazing postcard from Bowie as he disappeared at the beginning of the year. It is strange, challenging, and everything that isn’t walking gracefully into the sunset. His voice sounded strong and clear. His notes clean and measured like pallbearer’s steps. He lived dozens of lives within the one he was given. Bowie was as rare and unstable as the elements at the end of the periodic table. The fact that he wasn’t immortal is almost impossible to reconcile.
Favorite tracks: Lazarus, Blackstar
Barlow Brewing – Dreg Pirate Roberts
This is a repeat from 2014 (the first time I’ve done that), but it would be hard for me to have a pairing list without this beer. It won a gold medal in the National Homebrew Competition this year, and I was in Baltimore during the conference to pick up my medal. It was a four year old mixed fermentation sour that was aged in a barrel for 2 years, and that aging with gentle funk and sour notes made it a perfect pairing with Blackstar.
A Moon Shaped Pool and Acidulous Hop Trip (Sour IPA)
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
A Moon Shaped Pool found the band becoming more orchestral. The buzzing fridge is still there, but swelling strings provided the lift that once came from guitars. Although it appears that I am the only one that finds the new version of True Love Waits, which took 2 decades to come into being, to be drained of life and the desperation that it deserves. You can believe differently, which is fine. It just makes you wrong. The album is very good and very human. The latter isn’t always synonymous in the art of Radiohead.
Favorite track: Burn the Witch, Ful Stop
Devils Backbone Brewing Company – Acidulous Hop Trip
This was a collaboration brew that I did with Jason and his crew at DBB. I was very happy with how this one turned out as it was a commercial brewery collab of mine that finally mirrored the insanity of my homebrewing creations. For further information on that beer, read about it here: Acidulous Hop Trip – Tart IPA with Devils Backbone.
Teens of Denial and Very Hazy (N.E.I.P.A.)
Although this list is in a random order, Teens of Denial was without question my album the year. Will Toldeo is clearly a student of music, and this album is spilling over with hooks and lyrical insights that are perfectly placed and painfully self-aware. Whether acting as simply character in his songs or speaking as himself, Toledo is quite conscious of his situation and surroundings, but still somehow perfectly captures the beginings of adulthood when you can do no right, but you still keeping trying.
Favorite tracks: Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An), Fill in the Blank
Tree House Brewing Company – Very Hazy
The New England IPA style has gotten a ton of beer geek attention during 2016, and there’s a good chance that you either love them or you hate them, and where you live is factor in your opinion, as well. I don’t dig the look of the cloudy junk that some breweries are putting out, and I couldn’t in good conscious serve something like that myself but, if done right, the “style” is delicious. Very Hazy was sent to me by a friend, and it was bright and lightly bitter with absurd amount of grapefruit and tropical fruit flavors. It pairs perfectly with Teens of Denial, which documents the transition through awkwardness that some of us never completely age out of unfortunately.
Coloring Book and Funky Gold Mosaic (Dry-hopped Sour Ale)
Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
At first, the mix of gospel and rap left me feeling uncomfortable with Chance’s latest mixtape. I couldn’t shift gears between the two, and that confused me for a time. But in revisiting the work of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On?, I remembered how gracefully he transitioned between jazz, gospel, classical, and urban arrangements in a way that the world wasn’t quite ready for at the time. I’m not comparing the two, but with patience and a bit of slow rewiring of my brain, Coloring Book became one of the most rewarding albums of the year for me.
Favorite tracks: Blessings, All Night
Prairie Artisan Ales – Funky Gold Mosaic
I bought two bottles of this beer while on vacation, and I was excited to try it as I had had others from the Funky Gold series and they were amazing. The first bottle was awful. It was enteric and it took me an hour to get the baby diaper flavor out of my mouth. On a hunch, I let the second bottle age for almost 6 months, and it was wonderful when I finally cracked it open. Mosaic is an unusual hop in that it can stand alone and have the complexity that brewers can only usually achieve through the mixing of other hops. Funky Gold Mosaic had a beautiful funk character that balanced well against sour notes and the danker compounds of that hop which don’t usually pair well brett and lactic acid. It shouldn’t work, but it does and that is a perfect segue to Chance’s latest mixtape.
Blond(e) and Savage (100% Brett Table Beer)
Frank Ocean – Blond(e)
The lead up to the release of Frank Ocean’s latest album created a hype that was hard to surmount, and the first few listens left me confident that Blond wouldn’t equal Channel Orange. But I gave the album a lot of spins while I was at the track and it finally just clicked. As the sun set each evening, and I was running in circles between day and night, and the subtle ambiguity of Ocean’s songs won me over. Blond lives in the first few moments of waking up when the lines between dreams and life, man and woman, and desire and disgust are blurred. In a world that has become painfully boolean, this was a gift.
Favorite tracks: Self Control, Pink + White
The Veil Brewing Co. – Savage
The Veil has become one of sexy breweries for beer geeks, and I finally got a chance to visit them in Richmond during a homebrew competition. I tried a few of their insanely hoppy Double IPAs and those were fine, but Savage is what knocked me out. Savage is a 2.7% table beer that was fermented only with brettanomyces in wine barrels. This was a beautiful, golden beer with crisp notes of hay and citrus that was a masterful show of brewing skill. The beauty and simplicity of this beer makes it great company for Blond.
We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service and Oktoberfest
Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
After the passing of Phife Dawg, I assumed that a new Tribe Called Quest album was impossible, but they delivered something both amazing and true to who they are 18 years later. This is old school rap with the members trading verses like you learned in grade school. While their style is tried and true, the topics are of the moment. They effortlessly transitioned between gentrification and race relations with the smarts they’ve always shown and the wisdom that has depended over time.
Favorite tracks: We the People…., Melatonin
Sierra Nevada/Mahr’s Bräu – Oktoberfest
The collaboration Oktoberfest between Sierra Nevada and Bauhaus Regale made this list last year, and their latest collab with Mahr’s Bräu was equally wonderful. Oktoberfests often work out tasting too…..something. Too caramel. Too hoppy. Too something, which ends up being distracting for me. The malt here was perfectly bready and full of crisp cereal grains. This oktoberfest also brought Record hops to my attention, and I’m curious to see if this marks a return for this child of Saaz and Northerner Brewer hops. Bringing back traditional methods and ingredients to this beer, it pairs perfectly with the newest, and last, Tribe Called Quest.
A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings and Luponic Distortion Series (American IPA)
Beach Slang – A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings
I have a soft spot for Beach Slang. There’s too much Replacements in James Alex’s songs. Too much adolescent angst and alienation. But those were also the emotions that we all needed this year. We needed to remember that, “We’re not lost, we are dying in style. We’re not fucked, we are fucking alive.” We are, indeed, Mr. Alex.
Favorite tracks: Future Mixtape for the Art Kids, Atom Bomb
Firestone Walker Brewing Company – Luponic Distortion
Firestone Walker is no stranger to my lists, and they’ve earned another entry this year with their Luponic Distortion series. Brynildson and company are taking risks through the mixing of new and unusual hops, and you can either feel they are bold in doing so, or afforded the luxury of doing so by their size and reputation. Some of the Revolutions are better than others, but I applaud their experiments that swing from South African to German-influenced. These raw, but thoughtful, experiments pair well with A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings. And some middle-aged ones, as well.
Is the Is Are and Bear Witness (Oud Bruin)
I don’t think that all 17 tracks of DIIV’s latest album are necessary, but there’s beauty in the depths that Smith digs into with his sound. For all the talk over the last four years about the new direction for the band, Smith produced something that sounds a lot like DIIV, but isn’t a bad thing. The circular scales and subtle hooks are immersive, and for an album that swirls around the drain of addiction, it sounds gorgeous. This was a year that needed a few hooks delivered by sewing machines rather than sledgehammers.
Favorite tracks: Dopamine, Valentine
Three Notch’d Brewing Company – Bear Witness
I was lucky enough to be a part of two beers that came out of Three Notch’d brewing this year. The first was a delayed variant of the Brettadocious beer we released last year, but it was aged on sour cherries. It was, quite simply, called Cherry Brettadocious, it was a big hit at the Top of Hops Beer Festival in Charlottesville. The beer that made this list was one that I played a much smaller role in and it was called Bear Wtiness. The beer was the idea of Levi’s at Three Notch’d to use the then empty wine barrel that contained some of Brettadocious, and to fill it with a dark, malt-focused wort to sour into a oud bruin (or Flanders brown ale). I merely supplied some thoughts and feedback, as well as the brett and souring bacteria for the beer. It was Levi’s baby and the resulting beer was dark and sour with dark fruit character and hints of caramel and sherry. A perfect paring with the complicated spinning of Is the Is Are.
Adore Life and Classic Saison
Savages – Adore Life
Without question, the best live show I saw this year was the Savages at the 9:30 Club in DC. While this album is varied and challenging, their live show was a clinic on sound by a group at the zenith of their powers. Gemma’s guitar work created a wall of sound that never stopped as she kept pushing and noodling betweens songs, as well. It was as if the whole performance was one continuous feast and I walked away with full eyes and ears.
Favorite tracks: Slowing Down the World, The Answer
Blackberry Farm Brewery – Classic Saison
This brewery out of Tennessee surprised me with the simplicity of this saison. Just about every brewery has a saison, and they often have unusual herbs, spices, or weird peppercorns. It was amazingly nice to drink a beer in that style that was just a perfect love letter to the Dupont saison. Not a quirky variant. Not an attempt to be a clone. Just a seamless beer to pair with an amazing live show.
My Woman and Golden Swan (Wild Blonde Ale)
Angel Olsen – My Woman
I wasn’t familiar with Olsen before this album, but her wit and wisdom quickly made me a fan. For all of her playfulness, the songs are focused and straightforward. Many of her tracks are fearlessly sparse, too, as is the art of a someone confident in their craft and voice. The simple romanticism of “Show me the future, Tell me you’ll be there,” still lingers, as does the entirety of My Woman with me.
Favorite tracks: Sister, Shut Up Kiss Me
Pen Druid Brewing – Golden Swan
Pen Druid is a local brewery to me, only an hour’s drive away, but since they’ve got no distribution, it took me some time to finally swing by to try their beers. Pen Druid Brewing focuses on mixed and wild fermentation, barrel fermenting and aging, and spontaneous fermentation. They use a (relatively) small 5bbl system as well as an oak mash tun and open oak barrel fermenters. I tried a half dozen of their beers that day, and all were interesting and well crafted. My favorite was the Golden Swan, which was a delicate blonde ale with herbal notes and a hint of lemon. I look forward to more beers from Pen Druid as their obsessions match my own. This beer pairs wonderfully with the long, slow jam in the middle of the song “Sister.” Cheers.
Honorable Music Mentions:
Drive-By Truckers – American Band
Mitski – Puberty 2
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Honorable Beer Mentions:
Champion Brewing Company – Fruitless
Green Bench Brewing Co. – Petit Provision
Westbrook Brewing Company – Key Lime Pie Gose