Jul 1 2016

The Best Music of 2015 and, of Course, Their Beer Pairings (Belated to the Point of Pointlessness)

I wrote an absurd Music and Beer pairing post every year but, in my hiatus from blogging, I didn’t post a single one during the last two years. The moment has passed and I’m only posting this because I had done most of the work for the 2015 post last December, but I have not added the usual (lack of) polish and hyperlinkage.

So, like someone who publishes unfinished work as a reminder of the process and the celebration of warted early drafts, here is the sketch for 2015:

Here is the final list for 2015 that you don’t care about. I used to turn these yearly pairings into a blog post, but I’ve gotten to busy and unmotivated to maintain my brewing blog and the time it takes to post to that.

I don’t present these as the best albums from the year. (If so, Kendrick Lamar would have made the list. Maybe Courtney Barnett.) Just the albums that I enjoyed the most. And the beers didn’t need to be new to the world, just to me.

In alphabetical order:

Beach Slang - The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us

Beach Slang – The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us
And
Sierra Nevada & Brauhaus Riegele – Oktoberfest

– Maybe Beach Slang sounds a little too much like The Replacements, but how could that be a bad thing? In less than 30 minutes, they deliver an earnest dose of punk rock and roll, and memories of being young, too cool for the world and destructively bored.
Sierra Nevada and Riegele got together and made an amazing Oktoberfest that was bready, light in caramel and just damn easy to drink. It appears that Sierra Nevada will make this a seasonal collaboration with a different German brewery each year, and I’m looking forward to the future brews if this is any indication of the quality.

Bully - Feels Like

Bully – Feels Like
And
Devils Backbone – Hasselhoff

Bully is another throwback album that would have fit into my collection in the 1990s. In a list full of strong, female voices, Alicia Bognanno shows off a Kurt Cobain howl in this raw coming of age album.
– I was very lucky to have two of my beers brewed by local breweries and put on tap in 2015. Hasselhoff was a pro-am beer that I did with Devils Backbone. My original homebrew was a Bohemian pilsner that slid into German pils territory, so it wasn’t surprising when the DB version started as a German pils that slid into Bohemian pilsner territory. Light, dry and refreshing, this beer was as easy to drink and it was to make with Jason Oliver and the amazing Devils Backbone crew.

EL VY - Return to the Moon

EL VY – Return to the Moon
And
Wicked Weed – Montmaretto (Barrel-aged sour with Montmorency Cherries and Almonds)

– I don’t honestly know if EL VY is a coherent album. In a way, I was so hungry for a new The National disc that Matt Berninger’s voice over the sound of children banging on pots and pans would have been welcomed. EL VY is successful in adding musical variety to Matt’s word salad and I’m curious to see if this collaboration continues in the future.
– I tried this version of the Wicked Weed Montmaretto in Denver, and I was impressed with the sourness that played under the cherries and almonds. I expected the almonds to mimic some of the Belgian krieks I’ve enjoyed since those brewers leave some of the pits in the cherries to impart a light nuttiness. But these almonds conveyed a touch of Amaretto that I found interesting and refreshing.

Grimes - Art Angels

Grimes – Art Angels
And
Ballast Point – Grapefruit Sculpin

Grimes was a surprise entry into this list, but it hooked me quickly. Is this a logical evolution of K-pop, or the rare album with top 40 potential but bigger ideas? Maybe both, but Boucher knocked this out of the park.
– Ballast Point was sold for 1 billion, with a “B”, dollars last year. I don’t know if that was a great business deal for purchaser, but their Grapefruit Sculpin is a great tightrope walk between bitterness, hop aroma and pithy fruit.

Hop Along - Painted Shut

Hop Along – Painted Shut
And
Russian River – Ron Mexico

– That. Voice. Frances Quinlan’s transitions between girlish whispers to hoarse screams are everything in this album from Hop Along. Her words sounded rubbed raw and I hung on every line.

– HBC 438 was unusual new hop in that it was offered to homebrewers before commercial brewers. Russian River was allowed to play with this neomexicanus hop in their Ron Mexico beer given out at the National Homebrew Conference in 2015, and it had a smooth tropical fruit quality that stood out amongst the raw hop throat scrapers in southern California.

Kacey Musgraves - Pageant Material

Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material
And
Creature Comforts – Tropicália

– If every female country music singer isn’t taking notes from Kacey Musgraves right now, they are fools. Approachable, personal, playful and relaxed, this album doesn’t work in less skillful hands. Pageant Material is built to be sung on back roads in effortless harmonies with well-worn friends, and we all need more of that.
– I was lucky enough to get some Creature Comforts beer muled up to me by my nephew who goes to UGA. Athena was a nicely kettle-soured Berliner with yogurt notes, but it was the Tropicalia IPA that stood out. Juicy, and crushable, while leaning more towards orange than grapefruit. Seek out these cans if you want to try one of the premier IPAs on the east coast.

Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love

Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
And
Firestone Walker – Feral One (Batch 1)

– This return by the Sleater-Kinney ladies made this list before the end of January. Likely their most approachable album, but no less challenging or pointed. This wasn’t the mature masterpiece of 2005’s The Woods, but it was amazing to hear new music from them for the first time in 10 years, but it wasn’t surprising that they hadn’t lost a step.
– I had unreasonable expectations for Firestone Walker’s Feral One and they were easily met. This blend of four barrel-aged beers was big with bright citrus and juicy fruits. The high carbonation helped push forward the  noticeable barrel character. I only wish I had a dozen bottles enjoy and watch evolved. 

Tame Impala – Currents

Tame Impala – Currents
And
Three Notch’d Brewing – Brettadocious

– I love Tame Impala and Kevin Parker’s insane drive for perfection, but their latest almost didn’t make the list. Despite being an inconsistent album, it had some truly great tracks, and I respect Tame Impala’s ability to make psychedelic R&B, whatever that means, work.
Brettadocious was the second beer I had go on tap last year and it was with Three Notch’d Brewing. We brewed it in 2014 and it aged in two Pollack Vineyard wine barrels for a year with a dozen brettanomyces strains before blending them back together. The final beer was dry, funky and full of the complex notes that came from the wine barrels. One barrel was packaged straight up, and the other will hopefully be ready in 2016 after aging on pedio and tart cherry purée.

Thee Oh Sees - Mutilator Defeated at Last

Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated at Last
And
The Rare Barrel – Ensorcelled

– Despite breaking up or changing their line-up, Thee Oh Sees seem to make my list every year and I won’t make excuses for my homerism. They are my favorite, and most consistent, garage band, and they have perfected a formula of strange, fast and spacey rock with fuzzy psychedelics.
Ensorcelled is an inspired blending of a sour, red beer and a black, Brettanomyces beer and aging that blend on raspberries. The raspberries were bright in this beautiful beer and they sat nicely on top of funky leather and dark fruit sweetness. The Rare Barrel is becoming infallible.

Wilco – Star Wars

Wilco – Star Wars
And
Rothaus – Pils Tannenzäpfle

– It was nice to have a Wilco album released that meant something. I had difficulty listening to their previous three albums more than once or twice. I don’t know what happened to Tweedy, whether he was in a good place or sober, or whatever it was that took away his edge, but Star Wars felt alive and interesting. And it was the right amount of sloppy and passionate. I’m happy that his jaw isn’t broken and his bandage isn’t wrapped too tight. The world has less need for a fangless Tweedy.

– The Rothaus pils was a surprise to me and lagers often are. (This is my problem, but I’m working through that as most craft-loving Americans slowly do.) I tried this one at the local Kardinal Hall and could see myself easily sitting down to more than a few pints of this smooth, lager of light malt, grass and cereal.

 

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

2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.

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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.

 

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