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Archive for December, 2009

The Vice Blog 2009 Wrap-Up

December 24th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 7 Comments | Filed in Lists

I drank a lot of great beers over the past 365 days but these are the ones I remember most foundly.  The ones I can close my eyes and almost taste if I think hard enough.  If I included it on my “best-of” list for 2008, then no matter how good that same beer is/was, I made it ineligible for this year’s list, but with two notes:

1.  Darkness (2009), while a completely different formula than the 2008 batch, was every bit as good in my opinion and would have easily been my 1st or 2nd highest-rated stout of the year.

2.  I had a few bottles of Pliny the Elder for the first time in 2008 and thought it was good enough, but I apparently hadn’t had it fresh, because this year, after finally having some fresh fresh fresh bottles and drafts of Russian River’s classic, I realized why it is so acclaimed.  I now consider it neck-in-neck for the #1 spot on my all-time IPA list with #3 on the following list.

And, with that, said following list…

TOP TEN BEERS I DRANK IN 2009*

1.  The Lost Abbey Veritas 004

I never expected to have this beer and, quite frankly, I didn’t know a whole heckuva lot about this beer, but then one day I found myself at an epic sour tasting where this blending of Yellow Bus, Duck Duck Gooze, and Cuvee de Tomme absolutely blew away fellow masterpieces in their own right Beatification, Temptation, and Captain Lawrence’s Flaming Fury.  I now call this the greatest single beer I’ve ever had.

2.  Westleteren 12

The first time I had the “Citizen Kane” of beers, I thought, “Eh, it’s great.  I suppose,” and gave it probably the most unenthusiastic A+ ever issued.  Luckily, I got to try it again in a blind quadruple tasting along with The Captain and, this time, Westy 12 humiliated Rochefort 10–a beer I had long hailed as the world’s best quad–so badly, that it made it smell like vomit and taste like bathwater.  Aha!  Now I got it.  Maybe not the best beer in the world, but goddamn close.

3.  Alpine Nelson

I’m not sure if I’d even heard of California’s Alpine Beer Company one year ago today, but when my new e-friend and San Diego legend Jesse the Hutt tells me what I should be drinking, I gladly listen.  In mid-summer he was kind enough to send me a fresh growler of Nelson and I was absolutely floored as it now stands as the best IPA I’ve ever had.  Another package from Jesse is supposedly going in the mail today, one which will include Alpine’s “other” IPAs–Exponential Hoppiness, Pure Hoppiness, Duet, and Nelson bottled this time–and I’m so thankful and anxious to try those sure-fire masterpieces.

4.  The Lost Abbey Serpent’s Stout

Ironically, in a year in which The Lost Abbey was the most shit on of all the major craft breweries due to percieved carbonation, release date, and pricing issues, I fell in love with them and had winner after winner after winner from them.  (And none had carbonation issues nor did the high pricing bother me one bit.)  Likewise, in a year in which I tried pretty much all of the “major” imperial stouts–most of them limited bottle, pricey, one day releases–it was The Lost Abbey’s fairly easily found stout that defeated them all, even beating the far more “famous” Deschutes Abyss in a blind tasting I conducted which then led to me to drunkenly embarrassing myself in front of Tomme Arthur.

5.  Goose Island Night Stalker

Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout is one of my favorite beers in the world and with Night Stalker being that beer before it is bourbon-barreled, I expected to like it but not love it quite as much.  I was totally wrong.  This tap-only offering is just as complex as Bourbon County Stout as the lack of barrel-aging assures that the beer’s amazing complexity isn’t masked by boozy bourbonness (admittedly delicious boozy bourbonness, but still.)  I had this on numerous occasions this year, often facing it off against other highly-regarded stouts, and it almost always won.

6.  Avery Mephistopheles’ Stout

I had, wrongly, dumbly, idiotically, considered Avery somewhat of a second-class craft brewer until this year when I finally start to explore all they had to offer.  The pricey but easily available Mephistopheles’ was their first offering that truly opened my eyes and it still remains one of my favorite stouts on the planet.  Worth every penny.

7.  Struise Pannepot - Old Fisherman’s Ale (2006)

I had this on my first ever visit to Philadelphia’s legendary Monk’s Cafe on a very memorable drinking day with my man Batch.  I’d actually gone to Monk’s most excited to try Struise’s Black Albert stout–which was fine enough–but this incredibly unique spiced quad from these avant garde brewers is truly a beer to seek out.

8.  Three Floyds Blackheart

I had the fortune to also have Three Floyds’ more “famous” IPA this year, Dreadnaught, which was tasty enough, but it was their little-discussed English IPA Blackheart that absolutely blew my mind and was a clear winner over that supposed top 25 beer in the world.  Like any beer geek I drink a ton of IPAs and this is one I’ll never forget.

9.  Founders Harvest

I’ve never had a bad beer from Founders but I’ve never been absolutely floored by any of their offerings either.  Even the legendary Breakfast Stout and Kentucky Breakfast Stout, while both very deserving of their acclaim, have never blown my mind–perhaps something we can attribute to too lofty of expectations heaped on them.  I went in with no expectations about Harvest and it became a highlight of my year.  I may have only given it an A in my initial review, but damn if I’m not still thinking about this sucker a couple of months later, already counting down the days til next year’s “wet hop” season (late fall) so that I can wisely stock up on this gem and polish off as much of it as possible while it’s still fresh.

10.  Southampton Grand Cru

Probably the most underrated New York state brewery, my trip out to the Publick House was a memorable one and this beer is probably the finest American “Belgian” offering I’ve ever had.  Wish I’d stocked up on it as I think about the one time I tried this beer more fondly than I think about most of my past sexual experiences.

Special mention:

Dogfish Head Via Randall the Enamel Animal

Dogfish Head was one of the first breweries to get me into craft beer and I still love their inventiveness to this very day.  I’ve long considered their 90 and 120 Minute IPAs to be classics and I still enjoy them often.  Well the amazing Randall machine adds a whole ‘nother level of complexity and pure deliciousness to those beers and I’d dare say the world would be a better place if all beers were run through this funky machine.  A true revelation in my beer-drinking year.

Honorable mention:

Russian River Consecration–I feel silly not having a single Russian River beer in my top ten as I gave four of them A pluses this year.  Masters of the American wild ale style, Consecration was my favorite I tried this year, just edging out Beatification and Temptation.

Kate the Great–the patron saint of the Vice Blog, my friend DW, stood outside in the cold (BY HIMSELF!) to secure one of these super-limited, highly-rated stouts and I think we’d both agree it was well worth it (me more so than him because I didn’t stand in line by myself in the cold!)

Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock–the best wheat beer in the world “iced” and suped-up?!  Why thank you very much!

Odell Woodcut #2–the (surprise) big winner at this year’s SAVOR event, it must have out-performed 50 other beers I tried.

Kuhnhenn Fourth Dementia–these Warren, Michigan brewers became a new favorite of mine as they finally got a small push into the NYC market this year.  I’ve only had four of their beers so far–all unequivocal winners–but this old ale was my favorite.

Others (alphabetical):

Boulevard Saison-Brett
Cantillon St. Lamvinus
Dieu du Ciel! Peche Mortel
Fantome Saison
Girardin Gueze 1882 Black Label
Hoppin’ Frog B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher

Ithaca Brute

Marin White Knuckle DIPA
Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel
Nogne O Dark Horizon 2.0
Rochefort 10
Russian River Beatification (Batch #2)
Russian River Tempation

Southampton Cuvee des Fleurs

Smuttynose Gravitation
The Lost Abbey Angel’s Shares
Three Floyds Dark Lord
Westvletern 8

BONUS:

Favorite wine of the yearKluge Estates Cru

Favorite liquor of the yearGeorge T. Stagg bouron

WORST BEERS I DRANK IN 2009

You know it was a great year when there was only five beers so bad that I couldn’t finish them.  These are them:

5.  Cannabis the Beer (Red Power)

The beer itself was plenty awful–sure–but it led to my least proud moment of 2009, which is more than enough to merit it a spot on this list.

4.  Southampton North Fork Fresh Hop

I hate to bash Southampton as they made several of my favorite beers of the year, but this effort was just a watery mess.  After my first sip of it at Blind Tiger one evening, I set it down and ordered a new beer.

3.  Southern Tier Cherry Saison

Southern Tier had never done me wrong until this disgusting brew which tastes like an original Coors with some cheap cherry syrup poorly mixed into it.  I tried it freezing cold, I tried it room temperature, tried it from several different glasses…I ultimately tried it down the drain.  Awful.

2.  Michelob Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale

This falsely named beer (cask?!?!?!  bourbon?!?!?! are you fucking kidding me??!?!) was so horrendous, just a few sips of it had me sick to my stomach for the bulk of the next day.

1.  Crazy Ed’s Cave Creek Chili Beer

Just an iconoclast of awfulness.  So fucking terrible I implore you to try it just to know what the lowest depths of beer can be.  Unfortunately, the brewery that makes this supposedly went belly-up, rendering this beer fairly rare I suppose and meaning you may never get the grave misfortune to taste it (I actually have a few bottles still “cellaring” just in case).  Eh, I do things so you don’t have to…just watch my tasting video linked above and count your blessings.

Happy Holiday and New Year and here’s to grand tipplin’ in 2010!

*Notable 2009 offerings I’ve yet to try which I own or am soon to own:  The Bruery Black Tuesday, Pelican Pub’s The Perfect Storm, The Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze, Firestone 13, and a few others.  2010 is gonna be a good year I think…

Monk’s Blood

December 23rd, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | No Comments | Filed in Brewer: 21st Amendment, Country: America, Grade: A-, Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale

My mom gets mad I rarely call her.  The last girl I dated was always upset that I solely communicated with her via text.  Shit, the last few years of women have been perpetually perturbed that they only get electronic communiques from me.  And I kinda always felt bad about that.  But last night, while drunk on some Monk’s Blood, I started thinking–what the fuck was I apologizing for?!

You’re considered a rube or a pathetic sentimentalist when it comes to hanging on to the technologies of a bygone era, except when it comes to how you deal with women.  If you don’t own a cell phone or claim ignorance with how to use a computer nowadays, you’re rightfully mocked.  If you listen to vinyl records or read the dirty newsprint newspaper every morning you’re correctly labeled an eccentric.  But if you only text or e-mail the women in your life you’re considered a bad son and an a-hole of a boyfriend (by them).  I’m here to say, though, that that shouldn’t be the case.

I’m sure women were up in arms in the 1850s when men started sending them telegraphs instead of handwritten letters (ARE WE STILL ON FOR NEW MICHAEL BAY MOVIE STOP MEET YOU AT DOWNTOWN CINEPLEX AT EIGHT STOP WE CAN GET ICE CREAM AT COLD STONE AFTERWARD STOP).  And I’m sure they were likewise angry when, all of the sudden in the 1960s, they were being called on the phone and no longer getting handwritten letters or telegraphs.  In the 1980s women probably got mad when men left messages on their answering machines instead of calling back until they got a hold of them.  And now as we close in on 2010, women are mad that I’m e-mailing and texting them instead of calling them?!  Look, let me break it to you ladies, my voice is nice enough but it’s not exactly the kind of sexily sonorous George Clooney timbre that’s gonna instantly moisten your knickers.  You don’t need to actually hear me as I send more than enough texts and e-mails and am always reachable.

If you’re mad I don’t call you enough then you should be mad I don’t send you enough telegraphs and don’t hand-write you enough letters and don’t graffiti enough highway overpasses for you and don’t slap paint on enough cave walls for you.  But you’re not, because those technologies have passed into history and soon phone calls will too.  Oh shit!  Am I going to have to video chat with these women in my life in the very near future?!  OK, OK, OK, a few phone calls every now and then will be just fine!  Just please don’t make me video chat!!!!!

I’d liked the one or two 21st Amendment brews I’d had in my life–never enough to formally review them, nor enough to purchase for at-home consumption–but I got a very respectable tip that Monk’s Blood was a huge winner.  Indeed it was, one of the more unique beers I’ve had this winter.  Self-labeled as a Belgian dark ale brewed with cinnamon, vanilla, oak chips, and dried figs, this is more like the most boozy winter warmer you’ve ever tasted.  Really unique and enjoyable, crazy complex, I’m going to be enjoying these ass-kicking but drinkable (and affordable!) cans for the next month at least.  You should too.

A-

Fantome Saison

December 22nd, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | No Comments | Filed in Brewer: Brasserie Fantome, Brewer: Southampton Publick House, Country: America, Country: Belgium, Grade: A regular, Style: Saison/Farmhouse Ale

8% ABV from a 750 mL

I never thought I’d be a saison fan, but sure enough, I have become one late in 2009.  Coincidentally well out of saison season as we hit the snowy, bitter winter of New York.  Oh well, I’ve never exactly drank to season any how.  Of course, it’s easy to fall for these French-named, Belgian beers when you’re drinking some of the best of the style, as I did twice in the last week while snowed-in and with nothing to do but get drunk and play Cranium by myself (harder than you think).

I’d been looking for Fantome Saison for well over a year since I’m a shameless follower of the Beer Advocate Top 100, where Fantome has long resided and, luckily, I finally stumbled upon a sole bottle at a beer store in lower Manhattan.  Believe me, I paid a handsome penny too but it was well worth it.  I loved Fantome mainly because it’s not what I–probably erroneously–”expect” from a saison. It’s not thin, it’s not simplistic, it’s not bordering on non-alcohlic.  No, this sucker is like a double saison.  It opened so foamy it seemed like new life was still being created as it just oozed from my bottle.  Incredibly citric with the usual suspects of lemon, orange, and peach giving it a little tartness though this is no simplistic brew.  Very refreshing as per the style, but with some nice heft as well, though still majorly drinkable.  This was a solo drinking effort, and unlike Amelia Earhart I enjoyed every single second of the journey.

A

Southampton Cuvee des Fleurs

7.7% ABV from a 750 mL

While some of Southampton’s “little” bottles and tap-only selections are no great shakes, their big boys, specifically from the “750 Series,” are nothing but huge winners and that is again the case here.  You’d have to be an expert horticulturist to completely understand what you’re drinking as des Fleurs is flavored with a blend of edible flowers including L. augustifolia, A. nobilis, C. officinalis, R. canina and H. lupulus.  OK, whatever.  Excluding hops of course, the only other beers I can ever recall drinking that are made from, you know, flower flowers would be Elysian’s Avatar Jasmine IPA and Dieu du Ciel! Rosee D’hibiscus and neither of them hold a candle to this effort.  Extraordinarily fragrant, truly like stuffing your head in a rose garden while someone sprays perfume over you, the taste is also deliciously herby and sweet, atypically full-bodied and thick for a saison as well.  I just sucked it down like Vitamin Water.  Of course it’s incredibly unique, but this is truly one of the most flavorful saisons I’ve ever had and one of my most pleasant drinking surprises of the year.  (Then again, so was Southampton’s Grand Cru.  Perhaps I’m just not showing these Publick House boys enough due deference yet?  Never again will I folly.)  I shared this beer with my two non-beer connoisseur sisters who absolutely adored it as well, leading me to believe that us fellas can now present this beautiful flower beer to our wives instead of, you know, real flowers.  Of course, I’m not married, so why the fuck would you trust me on that?

Fantome Saison and Southampton Cuvee des Fleurs are truly at the apex of the saison style alongside only, let’s say, Boulevard Saison-Brett and, maybe, Hennepin and they should be sought out accordingly.  (And don’t think I don’t feel like a bit of yokel for having three of my four favorite saisons being from Kansas City, upstate New York, and Long Island.)

A

Maui CoCoNut Porter

December 21st, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 6 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Maui, Brewer: Minneapolis Town Hall, Brewer: Williamsburg AleWerks, Country: America, Grade: A-, Grade: B plus, Style: Porter

5.7% ABV canned

I’ve been too precious with my beer lately.  Just keeping it on the shelf, in the fridge, admiring it more than drinking it.  Almost scared to uncork my bottles if not for a special occasion.  Right, like I have special occasions.  I’d become like some douchebag who owns a fleet of Porsches and Ferraris yet never takes them out of the hangar, instead pedaling a beat-up Schwinn to the store every time he needs a carton of milk.  So this past weekend, with a load of looming trades headed my way, I decide to take some inventory and free up some space in my cellar.*  By drinking through my bottles one by one.

I’ve been drinking a lot of porters lately–a style I’m starting to think I can only differentiate from stouts in my mind–and each one of these three came in a trade from my three favorite fellow beer bloggers.

I don’t know why, but I’d wanted to try Maui’s CoCoNut porter for a long time.  Maybe because it just sounds exotic.  Maybe because it would be the first Hawaiian beer I’d ever had.  Maybe because I have a weird fetish for quality canned beers.  Or maybe just because I’m a fan of unnecessary midWord capitalization.  Alas, I finally got a can courtesy of my man Jay at Hedonist Beer Jive.  I’m sad to report, though, I was a tad disappointed.  Much like the Stone’s Ken Schmidt collaboration (which, yes, also included some help from Maui), I think this is another middling review that we somewhat have to blame on my own faulty expectations.  I don’t know why I keep expecting these coconut beers to taste like a liquidized Mounds bar, but I just can’t shake the desire for that taste.  Just like Ken Schmidt though, this one tastes nothing like that but instead is a very, very roasted offering.  I also found it somewhat lacking in complexity for such an ambitiously created beer.  A slightly thin mouthfeel would be another debit, but this is actually a pretty nice drinking porter for the low ABV.  I may not sound like I liked it, but I truly did, I just wasn’t floored by it.  I’d love to get my hands on the rest of Maui’s offerings as well.

B+

Minneapolis Town Hall Odin

8.4% ABV from a growler

Minnesota has become a craft beer mini-mecca and luckily my man The Captain lives right in the eye of the storm and, even luckier, has no compunction with mailing heavy ass growlers halfway across the country for, you see, two of Minnesota’s top breweries–Town Hall and Barley John’s (which I have still yet to try an offering from)–are tap/growler only.  After their legendary Masala Mama, Odin is the second offering I’ve had from the Town Hall boys and it’s another very good one.  Full bodied and roasted but with a hint of nice sweetness on the back-end.  Beautifully complex and quite enjoyable.  Not too boozy but a little too heavy to be super drinkable, then again, I had no clue the ABV on this was so high until I just this second looked it up on BA.  I enjoyed this one quite a bit and hope to continue stockpiling Town Hall growlers.

B+

Williamsburg AleWerks Bourbon Barrel Porter

ABV unknown from a bomber (#0334/2009)

This final offering comes from Dave the Drunken Polack.  I had, quite frankly, never even heard of this Virginia brewery but when Dave asked if I was interested in this beer I saw those three magic words–BOURBON.  BARREL.  AGED–and I was sold.  Wise decision as this is a very solid offering in perhaps my favorite sub-style of beer.  Aged two months in oak bourbon barrels with tastes of caramel, chocolate, toffee, brown sugar, vanilla, and bourbon this is a very complex and very strong beer.  It smells like a masterpiece but the taste doesn’t quite deliver as it’s a little hot and a little bitter.  Well worth seeking out though and along with Williamsburg’s absolutely outstanding Pumpkin Ale that I had back in October but never formally reviewed, I’d definitely have to label this relatively-known brewery as one to watch.

A-

*Like I have a cellar!  Ha.

Ed Hardy Light Beer

December 18th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 2 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Cervecera Mexicana, Country: Mexico, Grade: C regular, Style: Macro!, Video Reviews

ABV unknown

C

Tasting notes:

*I currently have, by my count, 12 Beer Advocate Top 100 beers in my McMansion that I have yet to try, but I was far more excited to try this dreck.  I have a problem.

*I love that a beer created by America’s douchiest company is actually brewed in Mexico.  Say what?!

*The taste was very bready, fizzy, smooth, no hops at all, and drinkable.

*I would have to rate this as probably the second or third best macro lager I’ve ever had right behind PBR and perhaps Michelob original.

*I actually finished the entire bottle after I shot the video.  And kinda enjoyed it!

*There’s also, apparently, an Ed Hardy “Premium” Beer.  Do I dare?

And, as always, if you have any recommendations for future SHITTY beer video tastings I need to do, hit me up at theviceblog@gmail.com

The Bruery 2 Turtle Doves

December 16th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 5 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Brasserie d'Achouffe, Brewer: High Point, Brewer: Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project, Brewer: The Bruery, Country: America, Country: Belgium, Grade: A-, Grade: A-/B+, Grade: B plus, Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Style: Wheat (Hefeweizen)

12% ABV on tap

“You’re not sthupposed to review that.”

I turned to see some weaselly-looking pot-bellied virgin in a Blue Point pullover addressing me.  He had a slight lisp which is always more annoying than a full lisp for some reason*.

“’scuse me?”  Usually when I go to beer bars to geek out I go by myself and at off-hours so no one will see me nor bother me, the same strategy most XXX theater fanatics employ.

“You’re not sthupposed to officially review sthuch a small serving size.”

The pot-bellied weasel aimed his unkempt pointer finger at the flight of four beers I’d just ordered.  Rattle ‘n’ Hum was hosting a winter beer blowout and with dozens of brews I wanted to try and only an hour or two to spare on a Tuesday afternoon, I had no time for full pours.

The pot-bellied weasel had apparently seen me making a few reviewing notes on my iphone and, wanting to show off the sort of annoying pedagogy that would assure a lonely life for him, had pounced on me.

“You’re sthupposed to at least have an eight ounce pour to officially review something.  You’re not sthupposed to review so many beers in one sitting either.”  He started into a stuttering chuckle.  “You’re what, what, what we call a ‘ticker.’  Someone who tries to quickly review as many beers as possible just to say they drank them.”

I smiled knowingly and calmly, sipped one of the four beers in front of me.  I like being berated by asocial nerds with slight lisps.  It’s like getting dressed down by Don Rickles except totally the opposite.  I said nothing.

“I’m just telling you for your own good, man.”

The pot-bellied weasel had finished his rant and looked down, ashamed of his standing in life.

“What are you, on Beer Advocate?” I finally spoke.

“BA?  Yes I am.”

“What’s your user name?  I bet it’s something like stoutslurper69 or something.”

“I’m totallyhopsome.”

“And your avatar?  Which ‘Star Trek: The New Generation’ character did you pick?  Data or Geordi La Forge?”

He didn’t respond as I quickly looked up his profile on my iphone.

“Ah…Number Six.  Sexy.”

I held up one of my tiny glasses of beer.

“Let me tell you something.  It’s just beer.  Repeat after me:  it’s just beer.  Just a liquid.  You see, cool people like me use this liquid to enhance our lives.  We use it to make us feel good, to help us celebrate life, to aid in our understanding of the universe.  I’m already interesting enough as it is but this beer is going to make me even more interesting and in a few hours I’ll use that turbo-boost of charisma to perhaps pick up a woman, take her home, and then Greco-Roman wrestle with her.  So yeah, I suppose my beer reviews could be lacking, but at least I like myself.”

I may not go back to a bar for the rest of the month as over-flowing NYC bars seem to be currently divided between these people that don’t like themselves at all and people that like themselves a little too much.  Rattle ‘n’ Hum last night was a Sharks and Jets battle between these two incredibly annoying populations.  On one side we had a bunch of drunken yahoos who had just come from their official work Christmas parties.  Idiots in cheap suits and tacky skirts, flirting with that fat HR girl, the guido idiot in the mailroom.  Ripping on their a-hole bosses.  Slobbering, slurring, trying to dance.  What happens at the Christmas party stays at the Christmas party and I unfortunately had to witness it.

On the other side we had the self-loathing beer geeks, pedantic in their pseudo-scientific non-enjoyment of beer, embarrassing in the nerdy browbeating way they ordered from the bartenders (”Uh…could I have a tulip glass please!”), pitiable in the “big dick contest” way they bragged about what saught-after beers they’d tried recently, aloof in how they presented their disgusting visages to the world.  You’d think the kind of person that cares so much about the look, smell, and craftsmanship of a silly liquid would care as equally much about the look, smell, and craftsmanship of their own person.  Naw, better to just rip on beers with bad carbonation than to worry about getting the orange wax out of your ears and do a few deep-knee bends.

Flying solo I had just four beers, all in smallish serving vessels the geek was right, but you’d have to be a dunce not to “understand” these beers after only 4 or 5 ounces:

I love the concept of The Bruery’s 12 Days of Christmas vertical and I too one day, when I open my own brewery, hope to have my own holiday themed vertical:  The 10 Plagues of Passover series.  (”Trade you two Death of the First Born quads for a Locusts barley wine?”)  2 Turtle Doves is, no duh, the second in the series set to conclude on Jesus’s bday 2019 when I’ll be 40 years old, still unmarried and without kids, but with 12 dusty bottles of beer to drink.  Yay for having dreams!  2 Turtle Doves is another boozy winner from The Bruery, maybe the most buzz worthy beermakers around at this second in time.  Chocolaty, nutty, caramely and roasted with perhaps some dark fruit flavors, slightly sour, a cordial finish, it gets better with each sip.  Glad I have several bottles of this.  A-

N’ice Chouffe is an odd little bird.  Like a Christmasy Belgian strong pale.  Which is as exotic and weird as it sounds.  Spicy and yeasty, a true Belgian take on a winter warmer.  A-/B+

I’d been searching for Ramstein Winter Wheat for awhile as I’d heard this New Jersey–New Jersey?!–offering was in the Aventinus ballpark.  Ha, not quite.  Aventinus is an utter masterpiece and a paradigm of the weizenbock style.  Ramstein Winter Wheat is dark and boozy hot, especially for a mere 9.5% beer, packed with banana esters and cloves, a little lacking in complexity, flavor, and expected silkiness.  Still enjoyable though.  B+

Pretty Things Babayaga is a rich and roasty 7% stout with a nice thick but not too viscous of mouthfeel.  It apparently has rosemary in it which I love in concept–it’s a favored addition to naan for me–but don’t taste in execution.  A solid effort but not sui generis or extraordinary.  Like the best crafted Guinness Extra Stout you’ve ever had.  B+

*I greatly admire the genius that decided to name the condition for people that can’t speak correctly a word that they could never pronounce correctly.  Listhp.  Maybe that’s the true test.  As soon as you can pronounce lisp correctly, son, then we’ll know you don’t have one no more.

Marin White Knuckle DIPA

December 10th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 1 Comment | Filed in Brewer: Marin, Brewer: Telegraph, Country: America, Grade: A regular, Grade: B regular, Style: California Common/Steam, Style: IPA

8% ABV from a bomber

One of the fun things about beer trading is getting sent stuff you absolutely have no interest in.  I’m being serious.  Every place in America has those certain beers that locals know about, and love, but that for some reason no one else seems to know about and love. Everyone knows about California’s Russian Rivers and AleSmiths and Stones, etc., but few have probably heard of Marin Brewing Co.  So, of course, when a local Californian like my pal Jay at Hedonist Beer Jive hooks me up with some West Coast beers I surely know, and had asked for, something like this White Knuckle DIPA stuck out like a store thumb and you can’t help but being like, “What the hell is this?!  I’ve never seen this on BA’s Top 100!  I’ve never heard about this being released on a one-day only $15 a bottle, four bottle limit party!  Surely this beer sucks.”

But of course it doesn’t.  There’s a reason why a smart guy and a savvy beer drinker like Jay insisted I have it.  And God bless him cause Goddamn is this good.  Wow!  Just a juicy, juicy smell and full of tasty hops goodness.  Packed with grapefruit and a tropical mango/peach/apricot-like melange of fruit flavors this is one complex sucker.  Piney yet with a balanced bitter/sweetness finish it just tickles the tongue.  I loved every sip of this one and drew out my enjoyment of the bomber so long you would have thought I was Tantric.

I really don’t understand why this beer isn’t more notable.  It’s even more bizarre that it get a solid, solid “A” on Beer Advocate.  Yeah, well then why in the heck isn’t every non-California beer dork demanding his California buddies send him some?!  You really should as it’s honestly one of the best IPAs I’ve ever had and one of the more unique ones too.  I really see no flaw in it AT ALL.

A

Telegraph California Ale

6.2% ABV from a corked-and-caged 750

A second heretofore-unknown-to-me California beer that Jay insisted I try was the aptly named California Ale from Telegraph Brewing Company.  Listed as a “California Common,” the only beer I’ve had of that style, and I would guess you have to, is the iconoclastic Anchor Steam.  But I haven’t had an Anchor Steam in ages so I don’t exactly remember the calling card of the style.  This beer poured incredibly frothy and foamy.  I loooooved the aroma of it and the first taste was fairly enjoyable.  It tasted like a malty saison to me if that paradox could possibly makes sense.  “Belgianish,” it was yeasty and bananay yet caramely.  A bit of an oddball.  I found it a little too carbonated, a little too thin of mouthfeel, but overall not too bad.  I was glad to try it.

B

Surly Darkness (2009)

December 8th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 4 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Surly, Country: America, Grade: A plus, Grade: B regular, Style: Helles, Style: Stout

10.3% ABV bottled

How do you remember how good a taste was?  My “normal” friends always wonder how I can recall what beers I liked and what I disliked.  How I can recall that a stout I drank in September of 2007 is better than one I drank in November of 2009.  And, you know, they raise a valid point.  How can one ever remember a purely visceral experience?  For beers, one could review their tasting notes, but I’ll be honest with you, for 99% of us beer reviewers they’re just going to be packed with trite buzzwords scrawled on a cocktail napkin while toasted.  IPAs are “hoppy,” “piny,” and “citrusy.”  Barley wines are “malted,” “caramely,” and “boozy.”  Belgian dubbels and quads have tastes of “candi” and “dark fruits.”  Stouts are “roasted,” “chocolately,” and “coffee-like.”  Yeah, big fucking help.  We’re all frauds.

It would be like trying to explain why some random sexual experience in 2005 was better than some random sexual experience in 2007.  Yet you could probably do that, right?  Because what you’re remembering–what you’re using to “rank” the experiences–is the remembered pleasure you got from it.  So, yeah, I do remember Surly Darkness 2008 as being maybe the sweetest stout I’d ever had in my life but I more remember sitting on my friend’s couch on a cold November night and both of our eyes just popping out of our heads, our jaws dropping to the hardwood, staring at eachother after the first sip and just saying similtaneously, “Is this not the best fucking beer ever?!”

And so, when I tell people Surly Darkness is the best stout I’ve ever had, I’m not telling them that based on side-by-side tastings with every other halfway decent stout I’ve ever had, but rather based on my seemingly clear but probably hazy memory of how I felt that one time I drank that one rare bottle.  An inexact science, sure, something that will always be influenced by the time, place, surroundings, and what happened before, during, and immediately after the experience, but it’s all we got.  And, hey, that bout of great sex you seem to recall having a few years ago probably is better in your memory than it actually was.

Legendary Minnesotan The Captain got me that one rare bottle of Darkness last year and the gracious dude also got me that one rare bottle this year.  I’d heard that this year’s recipe was completely different from last’s–apparently brewmaster Todd didn’t like how sweet his last batch had been–and so I was a little concerned.  The sweetness was what I had liked about last year’s batch, what I felt had set it apart from all the other legendary imperial stouts out there.  So now I had assumed Surly had just gone all status quo and made your typical *BUZZWORDS!* “roasted,” “chocolately,” and “coffee-like” stout.  You know, good, but nothing unique, just throw it on the pile.

I’m glad to report I was quite wrong.  Darkness 2009 smells incredibly hoppy, totally unlike last year (as I recall!).  Honestly, if you were blindfolded and this was put to your face you might guess it a DIPA or a barley wine.  The taste is also a little more hoppy and bitter but that special underlying sweetness is still there.  It’s really blurring the line between what we think of as a stout and perhaps the catchall “strong ale.”  Man, this one drinkable motherfucker.  Most imperial stouts naturally have a drinking “governor” on them if you will and through pure booziness you’re forced to take eye-dropper-sized little sips each time the glass comes to your face.  But not Darkness.  I could chug Darkness and it’s so damn good I struggled mightily to savor each sip.  In my mind, I feel like Darkness 2008 was a hair better–of course even if I had a bottle of 2008 a comparison now would be invalid as it would be aged a year–but Darkness 2009 is still one of a kind and out of this world.  I will continue to call it my favorite stout on planet Earth.

A+

I had warmed up for Darkness with, perhaps, Surly’s polar opposite of a beer Hell (likewise provided by The Captain).  The cool name betrays the very uncool style–helles lager, a kellerbier (aka zwickel bier) technically–and based on the internet geek buzz I was already kinda pissed off at this beer.  Why was the great Surly, makers of boozy masterpieces like Darkness and flavor-packed hybrids such as Furious, Bender, and Cynic wasting my time with such a lame, low ABV (5.1%) style?!

I was so wrong.  I totally expected to hate this, to bitch at Surly for eschewing their high-ABV flavorful beers, but I really dug Hell.  So crisp and refreshing.  Light and grainy.  Bready and sweet.  It’s like the best “shitty” beer I’ve ever had.  That sounds like faint praise I suppose, but Hell is what Bud/Miller/Coors should aspire to.  If I gave this to my macro-swilling chums there’s no way the wouldn’t now realize that Bud/Miller/Coors is adjunct-ingredient garbage.  I’m not sure this style could be rendered any better.  I could drink these all day long and probably would if I live in Minnesota.

B

The Vice Blog’s Top Movies of the 2000s

December 4th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 22 Comments | Filed in Lists

Indulge me if you will…

1.  There Will Be Blood (2007)

The instant classic.  Even watching it for the first time you realize you are seeing greatness, something that for the rest of time will be mentioned in the same breath as “Apocalypse Now,” “Citizen Kane,” and “Bonnie and Clyde.”  That just doesn’t happen a lot any more.  Backed by Daniel Day Lewis’s bravura performance–the decade’s best performance*–and Jonny Greenwood’s phenomenal score, this study of a ruthless maniac livin’ the American dream is something I will surely revisit once a year for the rest of my life.  This was the decade that Paul Thomas Anderson confirmed he is the world’s greatest filmmaker, bar none, and this was the film that nothing else came even close to matching.  Hey look at that–I didn’t even mention milkshakes once!

2.  The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)**

Before this one I’d never particularly liked Julian Schnabel pictures.  Sure, there was stuff to admire in both “Basquiat” and “Before Night Falls,” but I still found them a little too scattered, pretentious, and boring.  Not so with “Diving Bell” which still stands as one of my fondest theater-going experiences of all time.  Alone on a cold December 2007 night in Manhattan’s second worst movie theater–I won’t name names–amidst a sea of crinkly plastic-candy-wrappered unwrapping “What he just say?” old Upper West Side Jews, I was nearly brought to tears, of both joy and sadness, as I saw one of the most touching and life-affirming movies ever made.  (I cried even more in frustration upon trying to exit the theater in a timely fashion behind these decaying corpses.)  A subtitled French film shot mainly from a POV angle, this highly experimental work I would doubt is for most people’s tastes–you would think–but if you take a chance on it you be floored by the true story of the indomitable spirit of Jean-Dominique Bauby.

3.  Lost in Translation (2003)

I fell in love with Scarlett Johansson–at probably an earlier age than I was “legally” allowed to–with her crackling sarcastic supporting work in “Ghost World” (an honorable mention choice on this very list) but “Lost in Translation” still stands as her best work to date.  Nevertheless, Bill Murray steals the show in what could even be argued to be his very best performance (I’d personally opt for “Rushmore,” “Groundhog Day,” or the criminally-underrated “What About Bob?”)  I had more arguments about my love of this film than probably any other over the last decade with these being the top three FAQs trying to deride my love:

“But what is it about?”

“Don’t you think it’s a perverse love story?”

“Don’t you truly just like it because Scarlett prances around in her underwear?”

I don’t know what to say, I’ve seen it over a dozen times and I never tire of it.

4.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

If PT Anderson was THE director of the 2000s, then Charlie Kaufman was unquestionably THE screenwriter and two of his films make my top ten.  “Eternal Sunshine” is probably his best work ever and, in fact, stands as one of the best modern love stories of the last twenty-five years.  Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet bring their A-games, there’s hysterical supporting work from Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, and Kirsten Dunst, and Michel Gondrey’s directorial vision meshes beautifully with Kaufman’s “out there” ideas.  A stunningly original and brilliant work.

5.  Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Aside from #10, this is probably the only picture on my list that isn’t “weird,” or “avant garde” if you want to sound fancier.  Then again, SERIOUS and earnest gay love stories that aren’t swished up and packed with hijinks (or Kevin James lisping it up) are amazingly still considered “weird” and “avant garde” in this day and age.  I couldn’t believe the looks I’d get, even in 2005 New York City, when friends and acquaintances would ask me what my favorite movie of the year was and I’d respond with “Brokeback.”  Eh, maybe I’m just friends with homophobes.  Or latent homosexuals.  Whatever the case, “Brokebreak” isn’t a great film because of some purely era-based avant gardeness–ala, say, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” which was never very good but I suppose considered “cutting-edge” because of the era it was released in–no, the movie is great because it is the most touching Romeo & Juliet-esque love story of recent times.  Add an unbelievable score by Gustavo Santaolalla, Heath Ledger’s heartbreaking performance as Ennis del Mar, and maybe my favorite final shot in film history as Ennis hugs Jack Twist’s bloody old work shirt keepsake after learning of his death (uh…spoiler alert?) and you have a masterpiece.

6.  The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Rushmore” was a movie that greatly shaped my college-era movie fandom so I eagerly anticipated Wes Anderson’s follow-up and he absolutely stunned me with this one.  I still remember sitting in a Chelsea cinema watching the opening monologue about the Tenenbaum troika’s childhood.  The mix of on-screen graphics, insert shots, and such gorgeous costuming and set design, topped of with a cover of “Hey Jude” which led into the opening, modern-day Tenenbaums credits and I knew within minutes I was watching something special.  I’m eight years older now and perhaps not as into whimsy but this movie still stands as an iconoclast in the cinema landscape and for sure a masterpiece.  There was a time where Wes seemed to be neck-in-neck with PT in the Best Filmmaker in the World debate, but after the still-visually-stunning-but-somewhat-lacking “The Life Aquatic” and “Darjeeling Limited” he is no longer in that debate, though he seems to have gotten back on track with “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” his whimsy and childlike wonderment perhaps lending itself better to stop-motion anthropomorphizied animal flicks.

7.  Kill Bill:  Volume I/2 (2003/2004)

Speaking of greatest filmmakers ever, Quentin Tarantino is still most certainly in the debate.  In a world where we are constantly disappointed and forced to curb our expectations, Quentin’s movies never fail to surprise and delight.  It’s easy to call him an “homagist,”*** or a rip-off artist if you’re being nasty, but QT is a true American original and if you’re not grinning ear to ear from the start of his movies til the end, then you don’t have a pulse.  “Kill Bill” is probably his most uneven film, but Uma Thurman and David Carradine (now in autoerotic asphyxiation heaven along with Michael Hutchence) give boffo performances and there’s still a remarkable amount of gleeful onscreen “Well shit, I’ve never seen THAT before” moments–most notably The Bride’s battles with the Crazy 88s and the California Mountain Snake; “Pussy Wagon,” O-Ren Ishii’s anime backstory, and the showdown at the House of Blue Leaves–to make this a surefire classic.  (And fuck to you if you think I’m cheating by including two movies in one slot, although, for the record, Part 2 was the slightly better effort.)

8.  Adaptation (2002)

No one would ever say it, preferring to cite eminently forgettable schlock like “The Hangover,” but “Adapation” was easily the funniest movie of the decade (not involving Sacha Baron Cohen or Christopher Guest).  That’s the thing about Charlie Kaufman, he’s not making comedies but his films are so so fucking funny.  It’s easy to bag on the guy’s acting abilities, but Nic Cage carries the movie, giving a tour de force performance as both Charlie and Donald Kaufman.  But this is no Haley Mills “Parent Trap” effort, Cage crafts two completely distinct characters that you never for a second can’t differentiate on screen.  “Adaptation” is a meta-goof on all the shitty by-the-book Hollywoodized movies Kaufman was no doubt encouraged to take a stab at–as opposed to continuing to write his “weird” movies–while he struggled to get his sui generis vision on the silver screen.  Let’s be glad he never succumbed.

9.  Ratatouille (2007)

If you made a top ten list for the decade and you didn’t include a Pixar film then you either have no heart, are trying to be cool, or are one of those weird anti-animation people (”I don’t WATCH cartoons,” they always say.  Uh…yeah, but you DO watch Michael Bay movies?!)  Honestly, every single Pixar film released since 2000–save “Cars”–would have made, say, my top 100 films of the decade, but “Ratatouille” was the best, edging out, in order, “The Incredibles,” “Up,” and “Wall-E.”  It’s honestly hard for me to think of a better movie about creating art while all the critics–everyone’s a critic!–tries to tear you down.

10.  Catch Me if You Can (2002)

The 2000s were an incredibly strong decade for Steven Spielberg**** as well with “A.I.,” “Minority Report,” and “Munich” but none were better than “Catch Me If You Can.”  I’ve never been the biggest Spielberg fan.  I can’t deny the man’s talent, but I’ve felt that he always opts for commercial sentimentality over artistry, cop-out third acts over less satisfying finishes–which is funny because in this decade he got a lot more dark and twisted.  Which makes my love of maybe his most sentimental, “throw-back” effort of recent years even more amusing.  But damn if “Catch Me” wasn’t one of the most purely enjoyable films of the decade, a film that has quickly entered the “Groundhog Day”/”The Fugitive”/”Castaway” class of movies that if you are to pass them by on TNT or something, you can’t help but watch them yet again for the hundrendth time.  It’s easy to dismiss “Catch Me” as nothing more than a nice popcorn flick, and it is unquestionably the most “popcorn” on my top ten, but it has a swell message of isolation and searching for happiness in life and the great DiCaprio has never been more likable.  It also begins with the best title sequence in ages:

Notables:

11.  Once (2007)
12.  Before Sunset (2004)
13.  No Country For Old Men (2007)
14.  Ghost World (2001)
15.  Mulholland Dr. (2001)
16.  City of God (2002)
17.  Atonement (2007)
18.  Almost Famous (2000)
19.  Amelie (2001)
20.  Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
21.  Children of Men (2006)
22.  The New World (2005)
23.  The 25th Hour (2002)
24.  The Incredibles (2004)
25.  The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)

BONUS:  Top 3 Documentaries of the 2000s

1.  The Fog of War (2003)
2.  Grizzly Man (2005)
3.  Dear Zachary (2008)

I’d love to see everyone else’s top 5, 10, 1000 movies of the decade (assuming you’re nerdy enough to make one!)

*Giving myself a mere thirty minutes and not a second more, the decade’s top performances.  I’m sure I missed a few big ones, so please note in the comments if I did.

MALE

1.  Daniel Day Lewis (”There Will Be Blood”)
2.  Heath Ledger (”The Dark Knight”)
3.  Nicolas Cage (”Adaptation”)
4.  Heath Ledger (”Brokeback Mountain”)
5.  Javier Bardem (”No Country For Old Men”)
6.  Daniel Day Lewis (”Gangs of New York”)
7.  Billy Bob Thornton (”The Man Who Wasn’t There”)
8.  John Cameron Mitchell (”Hedwig & the Angry Inch”)
9.  Benicio Del Toro (”Che”)
10.  Christoph Walz (”Inglourious Basterds”)

(Pains me to not include a single performance by Eastwood, Freeman, Bale, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, DiCaprio, Damon, or Russell Crowe, as well as Amalric in “Diving Bell,” Ben Kingsley in “Sexy Beast,” and Sir Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler.”  It’s tough to limit yourself to ten.)

FEMALE

1.  Saoirse Ronan (”Atonement”)
2.  Helen Mirren (”The Queen”)
3.  Kate Winslet (”Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”)
4.  Audrey Tautou (”Amelie”)
5.  Frances McDormand (”Almost Famous”)
6.  Abigail Breslin (”Little Miss Sunshine”)
7.  Halle Berry (”Monster’s Ball”)
8.  Charlize Theron (”Monster”)
9.  Hillary Swank (”Million Dollar Baby”)
10.Ellen Burstyn (”Requiem for a Dream”)

(Pains me to not include a single Cate Blanchett or Tilda Swinton performance and I could have easily include at least three more Winslet’s.)

**What a year for movies!  My top 10 of 2007 back in 2007:

1.  There Will Be Blood
2.  Le Scaphandre et le papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)
3.  No Country For Old Men
4.  Atonement
5.  Michael Clayton
6.  Ratatouille
7.  Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others)
8.  Once
9.  3:10 to Yuma
10. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Three of the above make my decade’s top 10 and three more make the top 25.  Wow!

***Google the word “homagist”–which I was Googling to even see if it was a real word!–and look at who the first entry is about.

****Speaking of greatest filmmakers alive, I’m stunned, and quite remiss I couldn’t find room for a single Eastwood film in the top 25.  Eastwood just KILLED it this decade with a string of superb features (”Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Letters from Iwa Jima,” and “Gran Torino”) all of which could easily make a reasonable person’s top ten.

Black Xantus

December 3rd, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | No Comments | Filed in Brewer: Nectar Ales, Country: America, Grade: A-, Grade: B-, Style: Amber Ale, Style: Stout

11% ABV bottled

It’s always exciting when a new brewery penetrates (huh huh, he said “penetrates”) your market and Nectar Ales was no exception.  I still don’t quite understand what’s going on with this brewery despite the fact that they’ve been a California staple for some twenty years.  They seem to be different from but still affiliated with Firestone Walker–the highly acclaimed and still-not-available-in-New York brewery–who seem to own Nectar Ales but not exactly brew Nectar Ales.  (Maybe some smarter cookie can elucidate things for me.)  Any how, Black Xantus was their first ever limited release “big beer” and was much desired…until it was released and became one of the more hotly debated beers of the year.  Pretty much no one thought it was a masterpiece everyone expected it to be, but many still thought it was damn good.  Just as many, however, thought it was swill.  Everyone, though, pretty much agreed it was way overpriced (some $15 in my neck of the woods–though if everyone still bought said “overpriced” beer then it wasn’t overpriced now was it?)

I was still excited to try it, even with tempered expectations, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.  Yet another bourbon barreled Russian Imperial Stout–the style du jour of this era and thank god for that!–this one has your typical buzzword tastes of bourbon, vanilla, dark roasted coffee, and a bitter chocolate finish.  It’s a liitle too boozy, a little too thin on the mouth, and lacking a certain richness, but I still enjoyed it a lot.  I wouldn’t say to rush out to “overpay” for some, but if you see it on tap or want to split a bottle with a hobo, I’d said it’s worth trying.

A-

A few days later at The Pony Bar–which has now passed Rattle ‘n’ Hum on the Hardest NYC Bar At Which To Photograph Taps and Beers list (though dig the artistry in the above shot!)–I had the semi-fortune to get to try Nectar Ales longstanding flagship beer Red Nectar (with it cute-as-a-button hummingbird tap handle).  This may be a craft beer “classic” but like many of the forefathers of the industry, most beers that have been around for twenty years just aren’t going to intrigue a modern palette that much any more.  A nice enough 5.5% amber ale, minimal hops, a little creaminess, incredibly drinkable, easily forgettable, and I’ll probably never have another glass for the rest of my life.  Looking forward to try some other Nectar Ales though.

B-