Posts Tagged ‘lager’

Review: Stella Artois Chalice

“It’s a chalice, not a glass.”

stella_chalicesSo, I belong to a word-of-mouth marketing group called BzzAgent. Every once in awhile they send me some free stuff, and I tell people about it. Pretty simple. Occasionally, they have BOOZE stuff, which is pretty much why I signed up in the first place. This is one of those times. They sent me a logo’d 33cl (~11.2oz) drinking chalice to drink their beer with. I already had the 40cl (~13.5oz) bigger sister, likely from some bar giveaway, but unique glassware is always fun. Until I have to move again.

Stella Artois is the current campaign, and they sent me a glass chalice. They like it when you call it a chalice. Stella is a Belgian lager, and a big brand of Anheuser-Busch InBev which is pretty much the largest producer of beer in the world. I would show you some choice quotes from the legal agreement they sent out, but that link has mysteriously disappeared. Basically I’m not supposed to mention any other brands and just stick to the Stella basics, which is difficult because I like to compare things. For example, there may be another beer company who made it a point to create their own custom drinking glass to enhance the flavor of their product. Just saying. It happens.

Not that this is anything new. A great number of breweries, especially in Europe, have brand-specific glassware to serve their beers in. The theory is that the shape, size, thickness, and other features of the glass are tailored to each individual beer and everything tastes better. Certainly glassware makes a difference. You wouldn’t want a martini served in a plastic red cup, or a fine scotch sipped through a twisty straw (well, maybe you would, but you know what I’m saying). So that’s where Stella is coming from. They’re also big about the ritual of the drink. There’s a certain well-known Irish stout that also has a bit of ritual for a proper pour, but the Stella dance is a NINE STEP NUMBER:



Now, I’ve never known a bartender to go through that many steps to pour a beer, despite what the commercials say. Even on a train. But then I don’t order Stella that much. The tastiest one I ever had was from a keg, but most likely you’ll find it in a bottle. A green glass bottle. Green glass doesn’t block as much light as brown glass, and the beer gets skunky, like a number of other imported European brews. In sciency talk, the beer is light-struck in a process called photodegregation. When the light-sensitive isohumulones in the hops are exposed to light, they break down creating, among other things, sulfurous atoms creating the undesirable aromas and flavors. Why they haven’t made the switch to UV-blocking brown glass despite this known flaw is beyond me, but I suspect it has to do with brand recognition. Some argue that the sulfurous qualities are intentionally created traits in certain brews. I don’t really buy that. I’ve had both good and bad examples from the same brewery, so either way, inconsistencies exist in the product. Maybe it’s from being light-struck, maybe not, but a beer brewed in Europe has plenty of opportunity to sit in less-than-ideal conditions, even on the supermarket shelf. So let’s do the ritual and see if the chalice can enhance my Skunky Artois.


I had my bottle chilled and ready to go. The glass was washed purified, and I popped unveiled the bottle. The alchemy part was fun, but I skipped the plum bob for the crown, also known as building a head. Having misplaced my antique Belgian dagger, I went with a samurai sword for the beheading. It seemed to work just fine. The head crown was judged to be exquisite, I cleansed my glass chalice, and bestowed the frosty beverage upon myself.

Man, this terminology gets tricky.

stella_closeupSo, how did it work out?
Well, the brew nosed sweet with cereal grains, and a mild skunky aroma. Not the worst one I’ve smelled, but that sulfur musk is still in there. It does smell corn sweet, which makes sense as corn is an adjunct used in the brew. It’s even bragged about as part of their ad campaigns.

The taste?
Well, it’s a little too sweet. Very rounded, very pleasing, very refreshing. I can’t say that I notice the difference the chalice makes to the taste, as opposed to swigging straight from the bottle. The chalice does impart a nice handfeel… there’s some weight to the chunky stem that counterbalances the liquid. The stem also allows you to handle the chalice without touching the reservoir itself, which would raise the temperature of the beer from the heat of your hand. Lagers should generally be served as cold as possible. Stella recommends serving at 36°-38°F, just a shade above freezing. Bad things happen to warm lagers.

Did it make a difference? Maybe, but it certainly didn’t hurt. Having a little ritual to a beverage can be nice sometimes, but other times you just pour the beer already. Either way, now I’ve got a brewery-specific piece of glassware should I pick up some more Stella. Actually, I’ve got one more bottle in the fridge, so I guess it’s time to start the ritual over again.

Squirrel Farts is now accepting solicited product reviews! Send me a bottle and I’ll take a pretty picture and talk it up in the amusing tangential manner you’ve come to expect. Beer, spirits, mixers, whatever. Contact here for details. Note: I will mention that the review was solicited, hell, I’ll even brag about it. Free booze? Damn right. But The Man says I have to say I got it for freebies. I’m excited about free stuff, so whatever. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll like it, or that I’ll give it a good review. But chances are if you read this blog, then we’ll get along. Put it to the test: send me your booze!

Mil-wacky in March, Part 4: Miller Brewery

Yet another travel series that I never seem to finish. This one tells the tales of our Milwaukee adventures in late March of 2012. We went there to do some serious drinking. Oh, and also Trevtastic got married. Yeah, some girl actually married that boy. But still, it was a good excuse to show the Lady Friend the various drinking landmarks of Milwaukee, so that’s what we did. Wistful wanderings in Wisco. Part 1 is here.
Yah dere hey.

It’s Miller Time. ™ © ®

Friday morning was rather dreary and damp, but we had drinking to do. The first stop of the day was the behemoth complex of the Miller Brewing Company. Obviously, I’m a craft beer fan, but with many friends in the Midwest, and several trips to Milwaukee, I’ve had my fair share of Miller Lite as well. I insisted that the Miller tour was a mandatory part of our trip for the Lady Friend, so she can truly appreciate the SCALE of these macrobreweries. The facility in Milwaukee produces 10 MILLION BARRELS of beer every year, and that’s just one of their 11 breweries across the country. By comparison, Harpoon Brewery in Boston produces 125,000 bbls a year. Miller makes 80 TIMES more beer from ONE facility. It’s absolutely mind-blowing.

So, we started our tour. It’s free, but has a number of rules and warnings. Nothing too scary, but yes, there is walking involved, and yes, there are a number of stairs to climb in the brewhouse. It’s not the most fun tour on a rainy or cold day, as you hoof it down the road and in and out of various buildings, but totally worth it in the end. No smoking, no bathroom breaks (this was a concern for the Lady Friend), and no strollers, though if you’re the sort of psychopath that thinks it’s cute and fun to bring very small children who wail incessantly on a public tour, then I hope you develop an ear infection that makes you drastically more sensitive to sound, rendering the cries of your little stinkcritter as unbearable to you as it is to everyone else around you. This goes for airplanes, restaurants, and movies theaters as well. No one likes your horrible offspring except you, so just stay home to raise your brood where you won’t bother the rest of us.

Yes, there were some children on this tour… what makes you ask?

Anyway, they start off by taking your picture in front of a painted Miller mural in the lobby that you can purchase later, packaged with a keychain, for about $20. A nice Disney-level scam to add to the magic. The actual tour begins with a little propaganda film that tells a brief history of Miller Brewing so the tour guides don’t have to. They changed the film since the last tour I took, where the slogan “It’s Miller Time!” was flashed so many times on the screen that it was laughable. I stopped counting at 15 references in a 10-minute film. However, that’s gone now, and they focus instead on a Katy Perry-wannabe dressed as the Girl in the Moon logo from the Miller High Life branding. According to the film, the brewery was started in 1855 by German immigrant Frederick Miller, when he purchased the Plank-Road Brewery. They brewed 300 bbls in their first year, and really expanded the brand in 1871, when they provided beer to the citizens of Chicago following the Great Fire. Ownership of the company finally left the family when Miller’s anti-alcohol granddaughter sold the majority to W.R. Grace and Company in 1966, which was later purchased by Phillip Morris in 1969. Miller Lite came along in 1973, creating a new horrific category of “low-calorie” beers. In 2002, Phillip Morris sold Miller to South African Breweries (SAB) to create SABMiller, similar to Budweiser’s Anheuser-Busch InBev conglomerate. In 2007, SABMiller and the Molson Coors Brewing Company combined to create the MillerCoors joint venture, which is currently where the branding remains today. So, Miller Brewing Company is actually SABMiller in a joint venture with MillerCoors. Big business.

Handily labeled.

Following the film, the tour guide takes over. Our guide, whose name I didn’t catch, was like an excitable version of a T.G.I. Friday’s waiter on meth. You know that overly-friendly “everything is magical and happy here, all day, every day, never any problems nope nope nope” tooth-grinding forced-smile kind of attitude? Like that. As if he’d be beaten with a pillowcase full of Miller Lite cans for not reaching his smile quota, or having too few pieces of flair. So Chipper McGee led us on a short walk down the street to the bottling plant and distribution warehouse. They put the beer into bottles, cans, and kegs, and ship it out. There’s really not much else to tell about this place, except for throwing out some numbers. Staggering numbers. They package 500,000 cases of beer per DAY, enough beer to fill 30,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools in a year. 60% of the beer goes to cans, 30% to bottles, and the remaining 10% into kegs. It’s pretty quick too: 1400 bottles are filled per minute, while cans can go at 2000 per minute (1.5 cases per second). 15,000 kegs are filled per day, going to bars and restaurants nation-wide. The kegs are stored cool, and aren’t pasteurized like the cans and bottles. The big argument there is that pasteurizing (heating the beer, then cooling rapidly to increase shelf-life) eliminates bacteria in the beer. Well, allegedly, it also decreases flavor, which you certainly won’t notice in Miller Lite, but might notice in a hoppy craft brew. That’s why many craft beers are best drunk within a certain window of time, before the hops and flavors start to diminish, whereas a pasteurized macrobrew can likely sit on the shelf for years with no ill-effects. According to Miller, pasteurizing beer buys them 17 weeks of unrefrigerated storage. Ick.

Pictured: Half a million cases of beer.

From the bottling line, we go down to their 200,000 sq ft warehouse, which has a capacity of 500,000 cases. Since they package 500,000 cases per day, there’s a nearly daily turnover rate, which is staggering for that amount of beer. 3% of the product is loaded onto train boxcars (which used to be the primary shipping method back in the day) but the whopping majority, 97%, simply goes into trucks.

Across the street is the actual brewhouse, a multi-story affair with six, 590 bbl kettles that are 18′ deep, producing 26,000 bbls of beer every DAY. It takes 3-4 weeks to finish the brewing process before the beer is packaged. Miller claims to run at 98% waste free, with their spent grain going to livestock feed. A question about the usage of genetically-modified (GM) hops stopped the otherwise chipper tour guide cold, with a forced smile and shaky reply of “I’m not sure, but I will find out that answer for you!” As we descended the stairs, I remarked to the Lady Friend that perhaps a bigger concern would be the use of GM corn, rather than hops, since Miller is a major producer of adjunct lagers. Later on, at the tasting portion of the tour, the guide informed us that yes, GM hops are used, but with a twist: Miller actually owns several patents on specific hops, I’m assuming some sort of proprietary hybrids. I wasn’t aware you could patent a hop. Moreover, the guide confirmed that yes, lots of GM corn was used as well.

The Brewhouse. Big time.

The side of the modern brewhouse is slathered with an absolutely immense mural which can be seen for MILES. The tour guide told me it was one of the largest hand-painted murals in the country. Like most things on the tour, it’s mind-blowingly big.

Here’s a picture from a sunnier day.

Next, we popped into the “famous caves” built to keep the lager beer cool and happy. Dug into a hillside, the lagering caves were packed with ice to keep the lager yeast satisfied, even in warm summer weather. Ale yeast likes warm (room temp) climates to ferment, while lager needs cooler surroundings. There’s even a “spooky” visitor in the caves: a projected video of the ghost of Frederick Miller, talking about the social, family aspects of his fine German beer. Some of the small children weren’t terribly fond of this portion of the tour, and there was some hullabaloo to that effect.

Following the caves, it’s sample time. You’ll either head across the street to the Beer Garden, an outdoor patio, or into the Miller Inn, depending on the season. Last time was a beautiful sunny September day, but the cool rainy climate of this March visit meant we popped into the Inn. There were three samples provided, with a larger-than-usual pour of about 8oz, in a tasting glass (the Beer Garden serves in plastic cups). We went through Miller Lite, Miller High Life, and a new offering, Miller Valley Ale, with a sweetish malt nose and taste, and reddish amber color, dark when compared to the usual pale straw yellow pilsners. It wasn’t bad, but was especially tasty compared to Lite and High Life. But really, what isn’t?

Left to right: Plank Road Brewery replica, Historic Caves, Miller Inn, Refrigeration Building,
Brewhouse (1886). Modern Brewhouse is on far right of frame.

That’s pretty much the tour. You hike back down the road to the main visitor’s building, and can browse the ludicrous number of logo-emblazoned products in the gift shop. We didn’t linger, because there were other stops to make (more breweries!) and we didn’t need any Miller Lite pint glasses. They’re not terribly exclusive. There are quite a few to choose from, as the MillerCoors venture produces Coors, Coors Light, Hamm’s, Icehouse, Keystone, Mickey’s, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller High Life, Miller Lite, Miller 64 (new! It’s Miller Lite LIGHT), Milwaukee’s Best (Beast), Beast Ice, Olde English, Red Dog, Steel Reserve, Blue Moon (Coors’s “craft” beer), Killian’s, the Leinenkugel lineup (bought in 1988), Foster’s, Molson Canadian, Molson Golden, Molson Ice, Molson XXX, Sharps, and Sparks. Oh, and they contract brew PBR. That doesn’t even include the imports owned by SAB. Here’s the full list.

As a whole, the tour doesn’t sound that exciting because it’s a very corporate, very controlled affair, and they really don’t like it when you wander off the marked path or ask uncomfortable questions. It attracts a LOT of tourists and families, so be prepared for that as well. Still, the tour is WELL worth doing if you’re in Milwaukee. It’s free and there are samples at the end. Even if you’re a craft beer/ anti-macro type drinker, you really need to go on this tour just to see the sheer SCALE of this operation. Miller puts out something like 40 MILLION BARRELS of beer a year, with 10 million coming from this facility alone. It’s simply staggering. Go there and see for yourself.

Everything’s bigger at Miller.

A Sampling of Lakefront Brewery’s Brews

Aside from the weekly Rule 37 drink this week, there wasn’t much to tell in a Monday Hangover post. At least, nothing noteworthy except Saturday night’s event: a beer tasting party featuring some brews from Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, WI.

I was introduced to Lakefront a couple years ago while visiting Milwaukee. I crashed with Trevtastic and Murs, and it just so happened that they lived a couple doors down from the brewery, along North Riverwalk Way, on the banks of the aptly named Milwaukee River. It’s one of the better tours I’ve been on, and for $7 you get four drink tokens, a tour, and get to trade in your plastic tasting cup for a real pint glass at the end. It’s a pretty sweet deal, and I’ll go into more detail with an official review and tour in a couple weeks, after another trip out to Mil-wacky.

I recently visited Lakefront as part of Trevtastic’s bachelor party shenanigans at the end of Febtober. We were having some samples before the tour (Lakefront highly recommends sampling before the tour, and taking one along with you. It makes the whole experience much more interesting.) and one of the guys in the group pointed out the owner, Russ Klisch, who was standing nearby. I’ve been a fan of Lakefront’s products since I first tasted them, though they’re difficult to find in Boston. I went over to introduce myself to Russ to tell him my thoughts, and let him know about the blog. He took my card, looked at it and said “Drinking blog, huh? Hmmm… well, we should give you some samples then.” Um. Why yes! Yes indeedy, please and thank you. Free beersies! He wandered off and came back with a four-pack of bombers to sample, making the rest of our group regard me as some sort of wizard, able to conjure free beer out of thin air.

With some careful packing, all four bombers made it back to Boston intact and ready for tasting. I wanted to taste all in one session to compare/contrast the different styles from the same brewery, but four bombers (88oz of beer total) is a hell of an afternoon session, especially with abvs starting at 6.5%. So, I decided to invite a small tasting panel over to sample some beers that you simply can’t get around Boston. The attendees included the Lady Friend, Irish Lad and Wifey, the Engineer (who also attended the previous tasting of California beers) and his wife, and my brother the BeerBro, who came down from NH for the night. The two wives settled into a few cocktails, while the other five of us tucked into the Lakefront bombers. The bottles were a wealth of information, with the back label giving many details about the individual brews, abv info, IBU ratings, plato scale gravity readings, and even a lovibond degree. Ubergeeky, though I wish more breweries put this much thought and effort into their labels. It’s nice to see a brewery give you all the information you could want and more, so you can learn about your beer. Nice touch, Lakefront.

Bring on the beers.

Local Acre Lager It’s a lager. Duh.
7% abv, 36 IBU
Made from locally-sourced (Wisconsin) ingredients, an example of a true farmer-brewer product.
Nose: Little to no aroma, but a faint hint of cereal grain sweetness.
Taste: Cereal grain start with a slight bitter snap. There was a medicinal, stale quality to the finish that none of us could quite put our finger on. Wifey called it an “acrid” sensation, almost like burnt plastic. It didn’t ruin the brew, but it was puzzling as to what that flavor actually was. I almost think it could have been some rye in the mash bill, and the Irish Lad wondered if it was the difference between six-row barley that’s normally used, and the two-row included in this brew. It may have simply been the booze, as a 7% lager is definitely up there.

Bridge Burner Special Reserve Ale Strong Ale
8% abv, 45 IBU

Nose: Hoppy, with a dark malt aroma.

Taste: Malty, but tastes a bit thin. I got a boozy flavor to it, but it was well-balanced with the sweetness of the grain, though certainly a sweeter beer. The Engineer thought it was too thin, but wanted to drink it all night. It is very drinkable for the abv, and could get dangerous when you pound several of these at 8% and try to stand up. I think the thinner quality actually helps the drinkability, as a more syrupy, heavier ale would weigh on you. Bridge Burner is a great balance between flavor and chug factor. Very nice.

MyTurn Series DAN Baltic Porter
8.5% abv, 37 IBU
The MyTurn Series is a sort of employee-brew project, much like White Birch Brewing’s Apprentice Series. Apparently Dan’s Baltic Porter was VERY popular, so I was glad to snag a sample.
Nose: Nice roast with a dark chocolate bitter.
Taste: Medium syrup quality. Sweet, dark chocolate syrup is cut by the bitter roast. Very nice, very smooth, very tasty. Unremarkable, in that it’s indistinguishable from any other Baltic Porter, but could be said to be a perfect example of the style. I thought it was outstanding as it was exactly what a Baltic Porter SHOULD be, though in that regard it doesn’t stand out from the crowd. It’s the Toyota Camry of Baltic Porters; perfectly reliable, but nothing that would catch your eye. Still, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

IBA India Black Ale
6.5% abv, 50 IBU
I thought this was a neat trick. There has been a lot of discussion in the craft beer world about “black IPAs,” that is, an IPA made with a darker malt. I discussed it briefly here with the Widmer Brothers Pitch Black. The question is a matter of semantics: how can you have a BLACK India PALE Ale? Many breweries have adopted the term “Cascadian Dark Ale” to appropriately describe their brews, though Lakefront simply avoided the whole thing by calling their brew an India Black Ale. How simple is that? Nicely done.
Nose: Smokey and savory. Definitely a bit of smokiness in there, most likely from roasting the barley, though I don’t recall coming across a smokey quality in any other bIPA. The savory smell likely points towards some Sorachi Ace hops in the mix. The Engineer agreed, getting an aroma of “greasy smoked sausages.
Taste: It’s got a decent bitter hoppy start, but nothing in the follow through. It falls off quickly, with a mild hop linger. It was the Irish Lad’s favorite of the four Lakefront beers, though the Engineer said it “does not have the malt you’d expect.” I agreed, thinking that it was a bit thin, though very drinkable. Strangely, the BeerBro and Irish Lad both got a finish that reminded them of a Scotch Ale. I think they’re both insane.

Serendipitously (an awesome word I never get to use), the Irish Lad had brought over a pair of Oskar Blues’ Old Chub Scotch Ales. We cracked them and set about to comparing. To me, a Scotch Ale is usually all malt with little hop. Most I’ve had in the past range from a medium syrupy quality up to a sensation of drinking a glass of malt extract. The Old Chub, while certainly malty, did not have any such syrup to it, and was the lightest mouthfeel Scotch Ale I think I’ve had to date. That said, it was very nice; malty and sweet with some vanilla notes. After tasting, the BeerBro and Irish Lad conceded that it was entirely different from the IBA, and I still am not quite sure what sensation they were getting from the finish of the Lakefront brew.

We went on to taste a couple homebrews from a Smash project the Irish Lad and I had concocted, and the night’s events pretty much faded from there. Wifey conned us into some silly game that several of us managed to sabotage quite well, and I found myself with a Sweaty Betty Blonde Wheat Ale from Boulder Brewing, and finished off with a fantabulous Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro. Overall, the group seemed ambivalent about the Lakefront beers, though I enjoyed them overall. The lager had that unidentifiable taste in the finish, which is a good reason to have others sample with you, throwing in their opinions. Unfortunately, that one trumped the whole group of us. The Bridge Burner was tasty, if a little sweet, but certainly didn’t feel like an 8% beer. That’s a good thing. I felt the Baltic Porter was a perfect example of its style, and would love to pick up another. The IBA just wasn’t doing it for any of us however. It seems like Lakefront is brewing milder versions of various styles, choosing drinkability over innovation. It’s a fine tactic to choose, but I like to see breweries pushing the envelope a bit more. It’s why Sam Adams disappoints me time and time again; they have unbelievably vast resources, and yet create middle-of-the-road beers. Their Bonfire Rauchbier is what led me to have the Lady Friend try a REAL rauchbier. Sure, it comes down to what you can actually sell, and most people don’t want the crazy obscure beers, but Boston Beer Company could certainly afford to take a few more chances. Lakefront is nowhere near that size, so I’m willing to cut them a lot more slack. I love their regular lineup, but was expecting a bit more punch from these special bottlings.

That said, there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch.
Buy some if you can find it.

Quote of the night: “Can beer get a yeast infection?” “Yeah, it’s called brett (brettanomyces).”

Squirrel Farts is now accepting solicited product reviews! Send me a bottle and I’ll take a pretty picture and talk it up in the amusing tangential manner you’ve come to expect. Beer, spirits, mixers, whatever. Contact here for details. Note: I will mention that the review was solicited, hell, I’ll even brag about it. Free booze? Damn right. But The Man says I have to say I got it for freebies. I’m excited about free stuff, so whatever. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll like it, or that I’ll give it a good review. But chances are if you read this blog, then we’ll get along.
Put it to the test: send me your booze!

TVs in bars/ Stoddard’s

I love tv.

A lot.

Seriously. I watch it more than I know is healthy. And do unhealthy things while watching it, like drink beer and eat fatty food. But it’s comforting. When I went through a period of underemployment, my tv helped me through it, and despite the personal finance crunch, the cable stayed on. Who needs health insurance? I’m not going to break my leg if I don’t leave the couch.

But I also love to drink. And I love to go places to drink. Most of the time, that’s a bar. And when I’m at a bar, I’m trying to observe and pass judgment on those around me. That woman wears too much lipstick and eyeshadow so clearly she has low self-esteem and is probably a giant whore. Those college kids are all drinking Bud Light despite the fact that they’re in a craft beer bar with over 100 offerings. The guy at the end is trying too hard to look wealthy, and is wearing white socks which effectively ruins his carefully crafted ensemble of “casual opulence.” Even the overly made-up strumpet isn’t buying it.

There’s plenty of judgy entertainment. No need for a tv.

Yet, most bars seem to disagree. Why do bars feel they HAVE to have a tv? I understand it in a sports bar, or even a dive bar, but a place trying to sell itself as a more upscale cocktail-oriented place shouldn’t stoop to that level. I go to a bar to AVOID the tv and get some human interaction… if I wanted tv with my booze I’d drink at home. I can’t not watch it; if a tv is on – and it doesn’t matter what horrible reality program or jocktarded sporting event is shown – my eyes flick over to it like ocular moths to a beckoning flame. They’re even worse now that we’re solidly in the era of flat panels and HD.

Stoddard’s has a tv.

I’m referring to Stoddard’s Fine Food & Ale, a restaurant/bar that decided on an early 20th-century decorating theme, located on Temple Place, in Downtown Crossing. They’ve only been open a couple years, and I finally made it into town to check it out. I had a Friday off, and went for lunch with my friend, Leelz, a former coworker. She’s an artsy type (RISD grad artsy) and is much more fun outside of the office. We share the common interests of Photoshop geekery and photography, often launching into nonsense tech talk that few others outside of the photo world can understand. “You might have a CMOS sensor, but my electronic curtain will sync to 1/500, AND I can hack the speedlight control sensors for an FP sync, though that drastically reduces strobe duration, and thus, power output.” Get a few drinks into her and she becomes a chatty, excitable little Tasmanian Devil.

Here she is after a gin and tonic calmly discussing how to use Apply Image from a L*a*b* channel to pull detail from an underexposed shadow.

What was I talking about? I’ve got TV ADD.

Oh right… Stoddard’s.


For a place that styles themselves as a Prohibition-era speakeasy, the monstrous flat panel lurks high above, but thankfully perpendicular, to the bar itself. Their decor of dim lighting, dark solid bar, gleaming chrome taps and ornate bar back is ruined in an instant when a power button is pressed and a Toyota commercial flares to life, searing the dark ambiance with a pixellated harshness. Again, I expect it in lower-end places, but I feel that Stoddard’s is trying to give themselves a little street cred among cocktail and craft beer enthusiasts with their retro styling, which is dashed to pieces when you turn on that tv. On the other hand, it helped me get some low-light shots, no easy feat since the place is mostly dark wood. Just have to wait for that Camry spot to play again and snap like crazy.

So, Leelz and I met for lunch and drinks. The cocktail list at Stoddard’s is full of classics, and very impressive. They do things the old-school way here, with quality ingredients, and have a number of originals as well. I opened with their Temple Smash, a conglomerate of bourbon, lemon juice, ginger beer and a king’s ransom in mint. It came very highly recommended by a coworker, whose brother works as a bar back at Stoddard’s. I found it well balanced: there’s a nice bourbon flavor, though the ginger beer spice is quite mellow, and lemon citrus lurks happily in the background. Everything is intensified by the minty forest poking out of the mason jar giving your nostrils a menthol blast with each sip. Leelz started with a Planters Punch, and seemed to enjoy it. While sipping, I watched the bartender work over a Lewis Bag with a wooden mallet to make some fresh crushed ice, and was pleased at the extra effort. (Note: a Lewis Bag is a small sack made of canvas. You put ice into it, and smash it with a hammer or mallet to make crushed ice. The trick is that the canvas absorbs the water created from the friction, and gives you a very nice, dry, ice. Not dry ice.) Moving on, it was a Jack Rose for me, which was a much deeper shade of red than my homemade versions have ever been. It didn’t taste too heavy on the grenadine, however, as the apple flavor of the spirit still shone through nicely. [UPDATE: They make their own grenadine, as do I.] Leelz, after much deliberation, went with a Bronx with Bitters, and reluctantly followed my insistence that she order it just that way. The bartender came back a moment later after taking the order to confirm that she wanted an “Income Tax,” which is indeed the name for a Bronx cocktail with a few dashes of bitters added. Bonus points, and bully for you, sir!

Bully, indeed.

It was about here that some food arrived, though I don’t remember much about it other than it was excellent. I munched on some tastily battered fish n’ chips (though the chips were tater tots) and the cocktails started hitting Leelz, who got very chatty after seeing a commercial for A Christmas Story (told you that TV was distracting). Apparently her feelings on that particular film are quite intense, as she chittered:

“Do you like ‘A Christmas Story?’
You either love it or hate it.
My best friend and Tom
[her boyfriend] hate it
and I said ‘Join the tradition or DIE!!’ “

Ok there, killer. Time for a beer to calm you down.

Oh, the lovely taps.

Luckily, Stoddard’s has a craft beer list equal to their impressive cocktail menu, and the chromed taps run the entire length of the bar. There are also a large number of bottles available, so making another decision took some time. In the end, it was a lovely Left Hand Milk Stout for me, and a Coney Island Lager for she, though her lager tasted much hoppier than expected. She calmed considerably, and swayed slightly on her bar stool, sipping quietly at the brew while I shot a few pics of the gloriously-styled bar. I came back to collect Leelz, and we eased into the street, where the sunlight caused her much distress. She’s not used to daytime boozing and reacted as if she was Dracula’s niece, hissing and cursing at the sky, scalded by the bright yellow orb. The Lady Friend came to collect me, and Leelz went on her way through Downtown Crossing searching for a last-minute holiday gift, with a slightly tilted gait.

This is from earlier. It was cloudy then.

[UPDATE: After writing this, I have been informed that the tv at Stoddard’s does indeed get turned off “after the local sports team is on.” Good to hear!]

Soused in SanFran – Part 2: SFO D1

This here is Part Two of the Grand Caliventure of November 2011.
For Part 1, make the clicking to here.

Hold on to your butts, this is going to be a long one.

The dawn did done diddly dawned Thursday morning as JJ and her husband scurried about the apartment and left for work and classes, respectively. The Lady Friend and I eventually changed out of sleepy pants and rallied for the day’s adventures. The one certainty on the schedule was a lunchtime visit to 21st Amendment Brewpub, but after that we were open until tentative happy hour plans with JJ. We decided to walk, since it was a couple miles away, and I like to wander and do some street shooting. Went down by the water to see the Bay Bridge on the way, and then were plenty ready for lunch and beer.

Slightly bigger than Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, NH. Slightly.

21st Amendment Brewery is a brewpub in the South Park area of SFO, and is apparently near AT&T Park, a baseball stadium that is a whopping 11 years old. How cute. Fenway is almost 100 years old, so suck it California. 21st is, of course, named after the Twenty-first amendment to the Constitution which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment of nation-wide prohibition. I’ve had several of their canned offerings including the Brew Free or Die IPA, Hop Crisis ImpIPA, and Hell or High Watermelon (of which I believe there’s still a can in the Lady Friend’s fridge.) While they don’t have an official sampler of their beers, you can order a sample of each, which we did. However, the normal canned beers (which apparently are canned in Cold Spring, MN) were not on the list. They might have been on tap, but we were at a table instead of the bar, and didn’t get a look. Here’s what we got:

We tasted right to left.

Ninkasi Total Domination IPA (Guest Brew)
Nose: Apple fruit. Slight malt. Very light and airy aroma.
Taste: Green, unripe tree/ stone fruit. Tart, apple.

Rammstein Bavarian Wheat
Nose: Banana clove. Sweet and aromatic. The Lady Friend described it as “circus peanuts” that marshmallowy orange candy.
Taste: Initial spiciness, eases off to a banana/ bubblegum wheat flavor.

Roasted American Amber Ale
Nose: Roasted malt/ barley. Not a coffee roast, but a TOASTED aroma.
Taste: Burnt toffee. Not syrupy. Not quite toast-like, but essence of golden brown crust, like fresh baked bread. Slight copper metallic, but very slight. We both really liked this one.

Fireside Chat Dark English Ale
Apparently they’re canning this one, but I haven’t seen here yet.
Nose: Very weak aroma. A stir with a fork yielded some slight fresh-baked cinnamon bread aroma.
Taste: Cinnamon raisin bread. Gives way to a slight syrup maltiness with a touch of roasted bitter.

Schooner’s Oatmeal Stout (Guest Brew)
Nose: Roasted oats. Yep.
Taste: Bitter coffee, but eases off. Very smooth. Finishes with a roast bitterness lingering. Nice.

Two Rivers Granny Smith Apple Cider (Guest Brew)
Nose: Apple juice. Tart and sweet.
Taste: Tart start. Mouth puckering. Not too sweet, but finishes nice and apple-y. I’m not generally a cider fan, but this one was really nice, and not too acidic.

It was very lumber-y inside.

Following our sumptuous repast, we started wandering around with thoughts of heading down to a beer store where I planned to do some purchasing. However, though it began as a brisk, sunny day, by mid-afternoon it started to rain. Then pour. Plans for walking several blocks were aborted, and we about-faced to head towards Union Square. I had gotten in touch with a friend of mine from my former company, Qwadd Grafficks, who I met by chance on a tour of a printing plant in Wis-cahn-sin. She also turned up on one of our ski/snowboard house trips to Killington/Pico in Vermont (SnoHaus 2010). She left Qwadd to travel to France earlier in the year, and was now working as a bar manager in SFO. She traveled with two other Qwadd ex-pats, who, following the trip, became wine harvest interns in Sonoma County. Ke$hia Ho is a plucky little Asian girl with dance moves that demoralize any white boy within a seven-block radius, except perhaps Trevtastic. She rocks a New York fashion-sense, despite her Minnesota upbringing, and since I saw her last has developed quite an appreciation for, and knowledge of, cocktails. She had Thursday off, and agreed to meet us in Union Square, then hang out for the afternoon.

The Lady Friend and I ducked into a dark Irish sports bar to dry ourselves, just off of Union called Lefty O’Doul’s, who is apparently some former baseball player. It was appropriately dark, dank and bar-like, so we grabbed a couple stools at the end of the bar and ordered up two Anchor Porters. When in Rome. Sidebar: it also happened to be International Stout Day. A porter may or may not technically be a stout, depending on who you ask, but I had the oatmeal stout sample at lunch so THAT TOTALLY COUNTS. Louie, apparently a regular, was having a grand old time a few seats down slurping Heineken’s and hitting on the female waitstaff, who are plainly used to his advances. Ke$hia Ho strode in after a short time, and we departed for a bar called Top of the Mark, a hotel bar with commanding panoramic views of the city. Though the rain had stopped, this unfortunately meant hiking, and I do mean HIKING, up several of the steepest hills mountains I had ever encountered in a city setting. It’s not even funny.

The view was pretty nice.

So, Top of the Mark is a ritzy little cocktail and piano bar, and we flipped through the extensive drink menu looking for a tasty tipple. However, something quite alarming caught my eye: the Top of the Mark Negroni, made with Ketel One Citron, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Wait… what? A Negroni made with VODKA?? Guess what tardclowns, THAT’S NOT A NEGRONI. I should NEVER have to specify that I want GIN in a Negroni. Ugh. They lost all credibility for that one. Unbelievable.

Despite the waiter’s near unintelligible accent, we managed to place our drink orders, with Ke$hia Ho sipping on a French 75 (she had some champagne earlier in the day and wanted to keep the theme going) and the Lady Friend trying what she thought was a Tequila Sunrise, until something tasted a bit off. Turned out, she got a Tequila SunSET, which was Stoli, 1800, Grand Marnier and Grenadine. Take a tequila drink and dump in some vodka. What is the matter with this place? Anyway, the cocktails were pricey, the waiter unsuccessfully attempted claw his way through the English language, they massacre classic drinks, and we spent our time there next to a group of business types drinking Bud Light. In a cocktail bar. The only reason to go here is to see the views, which were very nice, but after you’ve seen it, there’s no excuse to go back. Also, the bathroom, while elegantly decorated, had the distinct bouquet of a thousand haunted farts, with strong overtones of wet dog. Time to leave.

So, leave we did, thankfully taking the bus instead of walking, to a bar called Harry’s to meet JJ for happy hour. Yes, SquirrelFarts, there is a Happy Hour. We’re not in Boston anymore. Nothing too special about Harry’s… casual, but nice, and dark. There were $3 drafts, including Lagunitas IPA and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Awesome. The Irish Lad isn’t a fan of Lagunitas IPA, though I’m still not quite sure why. I think it’s slightly pine bitter, but delicious.

As we were chatting, a girl came up to our table calling Ke$hia by some other name… I forget what. After some confusion, we figured out that apparently Ke$hia is this other girl’s doppelganger. When the other girl turned up, it was a pretty close match, and mild chuckling ensued. We had a few munchies until JJ arrived, looking rather drawn and haggard. A nice pint of Sierra Nevada revived her, and we all headed to a Peruvian restaurant for dinner, though some of us would have much preferred a slice of pizza.

The place was named Fresca The roasted chicken looked tasty, and that happened to be the one thing on the menu that the kitchen was out of. Super. So, I said I didn’t want anything else, and started doing some tasting notes on my Cuzqueña Peruvian lager (no nose whatsoever, a slight skunky “green glass” lager taste with some cereal grain sweetness. Also of note: it’s allegedly the only South American beer that adheres to the Reinheitsgebot; the German purity law that says beer must be made only from water, barley and hops.) I’m not sure if the notebook did it, (although I have had strange things like this happen before) but all of a sudden the waiter came back saying there was magically ONE more chicken in the kitchen, and would I like it? Um, sure. Maybe they thought I was some sort of reviewer or critic, but whatever the reason, I got my chicken. And it was tasty. As were the accompanying french fries I very nearly inhaled.

After that we called it an evening (since it was a work night for JJ). Ke$hia hopped a bus with plans to meet up with us again the next day, and the remaining three of us stumbled back down Fillmore to the apartment for another night of futon slumber. This was just day one: more drinking adventures to come!

The Monday Hangover: Oct 22-23

The Monday Hangover:
Other drink adventures of note from the weekend.

Naturally, the weekend started with a trip to Curtis Liquors for some beer browsing. I had recently heard of Backlash Beer Company, and happened to see their two brews, Convergence and Groundswell on the shelves. Of course, they wound up in my clutches, and will be reviewed (hopefully) soon. A cool feature: they dip the bottle tops in wax (a-la Makers Mark, Knob Creek and other bourbons, but somewhat unusual on beer bottles), and put a cool logo stamp on the top, like a signet ring. Nice touch.

Also liberated from Curtis was a six-pack of New Zealand Breweries LTD Steinlager Pure. Beautiful matte-finished green cans, slim due to their 300ml (10.1 oz) volume. Purchased almost purely for aesthetics, and again, an upcoming review. It tasted like any other lager, but was on sale for $5. It may still be cheap beer, but it’s FOREIGN cheap beer!

Apropos of cheap beer from foreign lands, the main score: Baltika Brewery Grade 9 “Extra Lager.” I had mentioned this one before when I snagged the glass pint-sized bottle and yearned for the 1.5l. No such regrets this time… The 1 quart, 1 pint, 3 oz plastic-clad wonder was mine for the equally wondrous price of $3.75. That’s 51 oz of beer, which breaks down to 4.25 beers, or 88¢ per drink. At 8% abv. Looking forward to a fun evening when I unleash this Russian monster. I swear I heard it whisper “I must break you.”

Before our cocktail night, the Lady Friend and I also sampled a Clown Shoes Muffin Top, which is described as a Belgian-style tripel IPA. It was… interesting. Hoppy nose with a hint of Belgiany-wheaty-banana lurking underneath. The wheat is much more prevalent in the taste, though with plenty of IPA hop to confuse my mouth. It was good, but I much prefer the Tramp Stamp, which leans more towards the hoppy versus the Belgian wheat flavors. Still, at 10% abv, it was just the thing to kick my Friday evening into gear, and motivate my apartment cleaning activities.

Saturday brought a perfect fall day with big cartoon Simpsons clouds, ideal for a baseball game. I play with some former coworkers, and this was our “World Series,” the final game of the season. The Knives slashed The Guns 9-8, though it was a well-fought battle. Following the game, we convened for a backyard barbeque and, of course, a wide selection of beers. The Lady Friend and I brought Harpoon’s 5:30 club mix pack, containing the IPA, Munich Dark Lager, UFO White and Belgian-style Pale Ale. My consumables were, as near as I can remember, the following:

- Harpoon IPA: nothing wrong here. Always a pleasure.

Samuel Adams Bonfire Rauchbier: it didn’t smell like smoke (Rauchbier is literally a smoked beer… it’s odd, and lovely in small doses) but there were elements of charcoal in the taste. Not bad, but not stunning. I have a feeling they kept the smoke flavor subdued to keep the masses happy. Nothing like the rowdy Bamberg boys.

Trinity IPA: from the Trinity Brewhouse in Providence, RI. I’ve been there several times, and their IPA is outstanding. They only sell their six-packs near Providence, but luckily someone hoofed it up from the Island of Rhode.

- Samuel Adams Black Lager: well, most people brought Harpoon beers, but someone brought a Sam sampler. I’ve had all the Harpoon ones that were at the party, so I took to trying a couple of these Sams. The black lager had a light body but mild roasted flavor. Not bad. Acceptable, but again, like most Sam beers, seemed to be dumbed down for mass appeal.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager: like the Harpoon IPA, this is a go-to in Boston. Nearly every bar in the city serves this flagship brew, and given the choice between this and the usual macrobrews, I’ll happily chug this every time. Lots of flavor for a lager; if you think it’s “too strong,” then maybe you shouldn’t be drinking beer. You really can’t go wrong here, and Sam Lager has probably helped countless lost souls over to the land of craft beers. For that Sam, I thank you.

Terrible Tuesdays Call For Some XXX

Today was a suck day.

Just one of those days where things start off bright, shiny and happy, and then the world spreads its cheeks and drops a steamer right in your lap. Then, you stand up to push it off, and it plops onto your brand new shoes. That kind of day.

So, finally back in the Fortress of Squirreltude, it was time for a beer. Perhaps a drink later, certainly a shot at least, but starting with a beer. It’s the easy solution. My fridge has been quite nicely stocked lately with the spoils of travel: various assorted remnants of sample packs from Middle Ages Brewery and Dundee, a couple homebrew bombers from the Irish Lad, and some scattered singles were all coexisting nicely, leaving little to no room for actual people food. As it should be. Anything resembling food in the fridge likely belongs to Lady Friend. (Wifey insists I’m going to die of scurvy, but I do get plenty of Vitamin C from the fresh squeezed citrus juices in various cocktails.) So, a beer was needed, POST HASTE.

But which? I tend to suck at making such decisions. Put me in a liquor store with $20 and I’ll be there for hours trying to figure out what magical combination of booze bottles I can acquire. Do I go for quality, or quantity? Bitters or bourbon? Splurge on champagne or scrimp on PBR? I must choose wisely, lest I find myself sucking on a Sidecar, when what I really wanted was a Smirnoff Ice. Not that that particular situation is terribly likely. What generally happens is I’ll put the $20 back in my pocket, and put $37.62 worth of inexpensive whiskey and several assorted craft beer bombers on my debit card. Then I’ll think I’m flush with cash and gallantly produce the Jackson with a flourish when the pizza delivery guy comes a-knockin’ later.

I make wise financial decisions. Clearly.

But this was an IMPORTANT decision. Choosing a beer can make or break the evening from the moment you catch that first waft of piney hop skittering up your nostril and you yearn for a malt bomb instead. Standing with the refrigerator door held wide is a tactic I generally employ in such situations. I’ve always enjoyed staring at nothing in particular, eyes unfocused, with the door as open as could be, the incandescent light spilling across the floor with much 50 degree air and squandered electricity. There’s a zen to it; staring but not looking. Naturally, my parents used to serenely shriek and screech at me for practicing this Buddhist-like mediation, squealing “What are you looking for?”

“I don’t know,” I’d reply.

“Then shut the door until you figure it out!”

Well, now I’ve left the nest. I have my own fridge, and my own electric bill. And as long as I live under THIS roof, I’ll abide by MY rules. So there. Sometimes I’ll prop the door open and go grocery shopping for an hour, just because I can.

Tonight I was ready to punch the world in its fat stupid face when I grabbed the door for some good ol’ Fridge Stare. Lots of Dundees waiting to be sampled (Dundee, a Rochester brewery, is best known for making Honey Brown Lager. Lady Friend scored a sample 12 pack for like $8 on one of our New Hampshire excursions: a total score. Even if it’s total junk, it’ll be worth $8.) and some homebrew bombers, as expected. Then, it caught my eye. I had forgotten about them. This, was the right beer for the night.

Send the kids to the neighbors, ’cause it’s time for some Triple X.

Molson XXX.
My college roommate had discovered this beer back in our SU days and quickly it became a favorite. It’s cheap, it tastes like crap, but at 7.3% abv, it was one of the higher alcohol beers we’d had so far. After two of them you didn’t CARE about the taste. It eventually became the official beer of our “Dudes’ Night Out” adventures, or even “Dudes’ Afternoon In” consisting mainly of XXX, Pizza Chef pizza, and Super Smash Bros. (Melee).

SquirrelFarts in younger days.

So how does XXX hold up? Well, I’ve had it on an infrequent basis since college, usually grabbing it when I happen to see it. There was a while where it became perplexingly hard to find, but now seems to be back, full force. I snagged two bottles for a mixed sixer I was constructing, mostly for the nostalgia factor involved. Though I certainly hope my palate has evolved, it’s really not that bad. It’s undeniably a macrobrew, with a lot of adjuncts, but a lot of maltiness as well. You really can’t taste the fact that it’s a 7.3% beer, but you’ll know it after pounding a couple.

Plus it (still) makes a great pregame shower beer.

Beeradvocate certainly rips it apart, but I don’t care. It’s got that “so bad, it’s awesome” douche factor to it, with it’s eXXXtreme name and metallic label, which I’m sure is part of the reason we loved it in college. It’s labeled as “super premium,” almost as if Molson said “Oh, hey, I wonder if we can actually get away with this, eh?” The reviews are right about one thing: it’s best super cold. As cold as possible. Ice Planet Hoth cold. We’ve choked down some warm XXX’ers before, but it’s never pleasant. Fortunately, the ones in my fridge were delightfully frosty.

And tonight, it’s just what I wanted.

Cheers to Dux, DOUGdoug and Gregor. |mTd|

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