Dec 31 2016

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.

(Previous “The Best Music of XXXX and, of Course, Their Beer Pairings” posts: 201520132012201120102009.)

 

In no particular order:

Blackstar and Dreg Pirate Roberts (Mixed Fermentation Ale)

david-bowie

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
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.)

car-seat-headrest
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

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
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
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

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
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)

diiv
DIIV – Is the Is Are

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
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
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

 

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Jul 20 2016

The Bourbon County Stout Recall and the Slow Havoc of Lactobacillus Acetotolerans

goose island bourbon county recalls

The recall of more of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout this week has me fascinated on this ongoing story that began with the recall of the coffee stout and barleywine, but now has spread to the Bourbon County Stout Original and Proprietor’s. To be clear, I have little concern or interest in conspiracy theories about why this happened, or to kick a brewery when it is down. Especially when they are doing the right, and very expensive, thing of doing a recall.

What is really interesting to me is the bacteria that is causing this souring. These beers are high in ABV and IBUs, which is a pretty hostile environment for lacto to grow and thrive in. This bacteria was identified by a lab as lactobacillus acetotolerans, which is a new one to me, and it was originally discovered in rice wine vinegar and it has a very high tolerance for acetic acid.

It appears that they are still trying to figure out how the batches got infected, but one theory is out there that it happened in a transfer or a bright tank rather than from the barrels, although that appears unlikely. That will be an ongoing investigation for GI which is complicated by the many steps that occur once these beers leave the barrels and then go from tank to truck and then back into a tank and through a bottling line. There are many points of failure there, and they must be difficult to manage and monitor.

What is interesting is that when plating these beers and looking for contaminants, most of the things that a lab is testing for will grow in 5 days. The lacto acetotolerans appears to be an outlier in that it grows very slowly and may not show itself until after 7 days or more. This slowness is atypical and makes it an unusual bacteria for a brewery to discover through standard procedures.

The overly easy answer to this is that you flash pasteurize the beer in the future to insure that stability, and that is probably something that GI is contemplating. This is certainly a bit of a mess, but it is rare situation and contaminant, and they are doing all the responsible things they can to make this right with the beer that has already left their docks.

The question that a sour beer geek like myself is asking is “what can we do with this new lacto?” Pedio takes a long time to develop in a beer, but we are patient with it because it gives us much more sour complexity than we find with lactobacillus. I wonder if the final affect that lacto acetotolerans has on a beer is desirable and worth that time it takes to become apparent, as well.

Ed and I had joked on Twitter about finding a recalled bottle and ramping up some of that lacto, and I think he has found trader for a bottle of this glacial moving destroyer of beers. I look forward to seeing if this is a cool, new souring agent for our quivers, or just a nightmare for the GI guys.

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Jun 22 2016

British Pale Mild – Reckoner

Although my wheelhouse has traditionally been hoppy or sour beers, I am always up for a challenge. Or an absurd dare.

Three Notch’d Brewing had an Art of Craft challenge during American Craft Beer Week last year, and they asked homebrewers to brew English IPAs, the best of which would be made at the brewery. Timing and interest did not lead me brew last year, but this year’s challenge intrigued me.

Art of Craft at Three Notch'd Brewing Company

Art of Craft at Three Notch’d Brewing Company

The style for this year’s Art of Craft was a British Pale Mild, which one of those styles that most of us don’t get to try unless we travel a great distance and get lucky, or we brew it ourselves. The mild style, which almost always refers to the dark version, is a rare one that is relatively unknown to most beer drinkers, and the pale mild is even more rare.

This beer is like a unicorn. With wings. A pegacorn.

The reason why the brewmaster, Dave, chose this obscure style was because it poses some technical and quality hurdles. This low alcohol (3.4-4.1% ABV) beer leaves you nowhere to hide flaws or imbalances. In the GABF Beer Style Categories description below, fruity-esters aromas/flavors and hop aroma/flavor/bitterness all low to very low.

56. English-Style Mild Ale

A. Subcategory: English-Style Pale Mild Ale

English Pale Milds are light amber to medium amber. Chill haze is allowable at cold temperatures. Fruity-ester aroma is very low to medium low. Hop aroma is very low or low. Malt flavor dominates the flavor profile. Hop flavor is very low to low. Hop bitterness is very low to low. Very low diacetyl flavors may be appropriate in this low-alcohol beer. Fruity-ester flavor is very low to medium low. Body is low to low-medium.

Original Gravity (Plato): 1.030-1.036 (7.6-9.0 Plato) • Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (Plato): 1.004-1.008 (1.0-2.1 Plato) • Alcohol by Weight (Volume): 2.7%-3.2% (3.4%-4.1%) • Bitterness (IBU): 10-20 • Color SRM (EBC): 6-9 (12-18 EBC) 

 

This is supposed to be a malty beer where the body is “low to low medium.”

No, I’m not going to mislead you and pretend that I’m a British beer expert or that I favor British beers in general. But I undertook this challenge because it isn’t a strength of mine, and here is how I went about it.

In retrospect, the process was the easy part. I knew I wanted to make a minor water adjustment to harden the water and I did that with a touch of gypsum in the mash. And I knew I wanted to mash in the 154F range to leave behind some body to this beer, and then to ferment it cool around 68F.

WLP002, English Ale yeast, was an obvious choice for fermenting this British style while leaving some residual sweetness. (Although I always find the yeast’s clumpy cottage cheese look disconcerting, at best.) The hops were simply British pellets (UK Challenger and EKG) that I needed to create low bitterness and a low hop perception.

The thing to (over)think was the SRMs. In order to keep the color pale and below 9 SRM, it limited my ability to use deeply flavorful malts as they would darken the beer out of style. The base grain I split between Maris Otter, for a slight nuttiness, and Golden Promise, for a touch of sweetness. And although I rarely use it anymore, I also used some carapils which is dextrine malt which brings some unfermentable sugars that improve foam, head retention and mouthfeel.

In trying to add more flavor, I also used a British Carastan malt to add some toast, caramel and toffee flavors, and some Crystal 120 for another level of caramel, burnt sugar and raisin. In the end, I think the high Lovibond color of the Crystal 120 kept me from adding enough of that malt to make a flavor difference. In doing this over, I would have probably doubled the Carastan up closer to a pound to make that malt more prominent without concern that the color would increase significantly, as well.

The brew day was uneventful, and the wort came out pretty light. I honestly think I still had a few SRMs to give.

Pale Rack to Carboy

Pale Rack from the Keggle to the Carboy

When kegging the beer with a friend, the beer had no noticeable flaws but seemed a bit mild. Yes, I know the style is “mild”, but the malt flavors were restrained. This made the beer easy to drink, but less flavorful than I had wanted.

 

Final Color - Pre-Carb

Final Color Before Carbonating

The Art of Craft event was a fun one and I forget how fun it can be to share beer with a crowd of wildly varying degrees of knowledge about beer.

Art of Craft Event at Three Notch'd

The Art of Craft Event at Three Notch’d

In the end, I did not win, but the goal for me was to stretch beyond my comfort zone and try something new. I got great feedback from the crowd, and it is easy to forget how nice it is to share something you love with strangers. This recipe might be a jumping off point for you if you decide to challenge yourself to outrageous acts of mildness.

Since this was a difficult challenge, a reckoning of sorts, I called it Reckoner. And because it is one of my favorite Radiohead songs, as well.

In addition, if you have made this style yourself, leave a comment on your recipe and approach.

Recipe:

Reckoner – Pale Mild 2016
4/16/16

OG: 1.032
FG: 1.007
3.3% ABV

3.0 lbs Maris Otter
3.0 lbs Golden Promise
1 lb Carapils
4 oz Crystal 120L
8 oz Carastan 30L

1 tsp Gypsum mash

Mash 154F

0.50 oz UK Challenger (6.1% AA) 60 min
0.35 oz East Kent Goldings (5.7% AA) 15 min

1 Tab Whirlfloc
Yeast Nutrient
Yeast Energizer

WLP002 English Ale yeast (1000 ml starter made)

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Jun 17 2016

Darwin and the Art of Mixed Fermentations

Survival of Whatever Fit

 
In the fifth edition of On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin introduced the phrase “survival of the fittest” intending it to mean “better designed for an immediate, local environment.”

As a brewer of mixed fermentation beers, you understand the importance of getting your favorite mix of yeasts and bacteria into your creations. You want diversity, but only the diverse group that you had hand selected to do the job. Once that beer is complete, you probably want to use that same culture of amazing funk and/or sour for future beers, as well. All you need to do is harvest those dregs, and off you go with your prized mix for the next project.

Unfortunately it doesn’t work exactly like that.

You can use a single yeast strain for multiple generations and, slight mutations aside, it will just get better with the first few ferments. But for mixed fermentations, you have often have saccharomyces and brettanomyces competing in some fashion for sugars, as well as lactobacillus and pediococcus bacterias doing the same. It is survival of the fittest until the bodies/cells hit the floor. Many of the players in your vessel are making contributions, but there’s only one or two MVPs being selected to represent after the game.

That concept was new to me and it was brought to my attention by Jeff Mello, of Bootleg Biology, weeks ago and he echoed it again in his presentation during this year’s National Homebrew Conference. (Yes, I continue to struggle with calling it Homebrew Con.)

When he streaks out cultures from finished beers, there are usually only a couple of winners from the yeast and bacteria genera. In addition, most “wild” mixed cultures end up being primarily yeast because of how and when they are harvested and a smaller percentage of cultures that ending up having viable bacteria if there is yeast present. (**What’s important to remember here is that this is my recollection of what he said. If what I’ve typed here is wrong, it is my error not his.**)

That isn’t to say that all of those yeasts and bacteria didn’t have a hand in the final beer, but it is a long shot that you will get the same results with those dregs in your next beer.

Does that mean commercial mixes of twenty brett strains in one vial is just a marketing gimmick? In my opinion, yes. But I have used those cultures with great success, so it is hard to dissuade you from using them, and that is certainly not my goal here. Having said that, if you know only one or two strains will shine through, it seems more logical, albeit maybe less economical, to choose those strains yourself rather than hope they emerge from the hunger games of pitching all the bretts.

What does this mean for my beers?
 
The implications of this, at least for me, was a reminder to continually push for diversity in my beers. At onset of a new batch or new barrel, I’ll still be carefully adding the commercial cultures and dregs that will create the complimentary effects I want imparted into the beer. That’s the same.
 
What might be the larger reminder is to keep pushing for diversity in subsequent generations of beers with that original culture and/or with your wonderfully funkified barrel. While brett might have crawled into your wood and your barrel is riddled with pediococcus, you still need to feed the diversity and to keep your beers from devolving into simplicity. Keep putting your favorite dregs into your beers for diversity’s sake, but also to ensure what you have what is best designed for that immediate, local environment.

TL;DR

The diversity of yeast and bacteria that you add to a beer is a continual endeavor. Your mixed fermentation beer is a living thing, and the cultures that made the beer what it is are not necessarily the ones left to harvest and repitch.

Sour Collab Barrels at a Local Brewery

Sour Collab Barrels at a Local Brewery

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