Rare Brews: Two exquisite craft beers, made only once a year
Firestone: Walker Solace
Hybrids of odd styles are popping up across the country, but this California beer is a brew marriage that actually works. The cross of wheat-enhanced Belgian saison and German hefeweizen intensifies flavor and spice in a lighter beer (firestonewalker.com).
Dogfish Head: Festina Peche
Sour beers are all the rage in craft brewing, but too many taste like pickle juice. Not so with brewer Sam Calagione’s summer-only offering, which is based on an acidic German style and made with peaches. It pops with the tart zing of good lemonade, with an added kick (dogfish.com). —Christian DeBenedetti
Let posterity show that the last week of July, 2009, beer and its mythical powers to unite the irreconcilable became the number one conversation in America. Earlier this week I got an email I won’t soon forget, from NIGHTLINE, offering me a chance to comment on the so-called Beer Summit at the White House, which, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will recall was convened by President Obama to diffuse the tension following his comments on the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. by Cambridge, Mass., Police Officer Sergeant Jim Crowley. Phew. So how could I resist? In the end, the three guys and Vice President Biden joined each other for an awkward exchange on a ridiculously small picnic table for beers, the brands of which threatened to overshadow the Very Important Reason for their little brew down in Obamatown. Here’s the result. Blink and you’ll miss me, right after Barbara Walters and Barack himself raise their eyebrows at all the considerable fuss.
This week’s New Yorker features an unexpected treat by staff writer Burkhard Bilger. Call it the Barack Obama of beer articles: a ten-page analysis of the craft beer industry—and one of its provocateurs, Sam Calagione, of Dogfish Head—that sucker punches conventional wisdom. There’s much to savor here, with passages such as the following:
“Calagione strapped on a pair of safety glasses and peered into the oak and hickory embers. “If there are no second-degree burns, I’ll call this a success,” he said. Then he heaved in a rock, sending up a shower of sparks. “Let me know if they start to explode,” he told one of the cooks.”
Bilger’s descriptions of Calagione’s unorthodox brewing methods, including the use of Palo Santo (a rare, aromatic Uruguayan wood three times harder than oak) to ferment a burly stout are riveting—and brings back a lot of fond journalistic memories. My oft-beer-writing-partner-in-crime Seth Fletcher and I wrote about Calagione’s use of Palo Santo back in the October issue of Men’s Journal in which we named the resulting beer one of the best in America, only after tasting it with Calagione while huddled at the tiny copper-topped bar of Dieu De Ciel, a brewpub in Montreal’s Plateau district. We’d ventured up for the Mondiale Du La Biere Festival, and arranged to meet Calagione, well armed with samples—including the Palo Santo-aged beer. Another interesting passage for me was Bilger’s on-site interview with Brasserie D’Orval brewmaster Jean Marie Rock, who I met, too, in 1997 while on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship doing research that would become the basis of my first published article, from the (now defunct) Brewing Techniques magazine (and an award-winner). A toast to Burkhard, Sam, and beer drinkers everywhere who’ve been calling for full respect of the good stuff for a long time. I’ve got to sign off now, or I’ll be late for a tasting at Gramercy Tavern. On the menu? Beer, of course.
The sky may be falling on Wall Street, but we’ll always have beer. It makes us happy; it’s inexpensive; it’s readily available. What’s not to like? And fall is an especially good time to drink it. The Great American Beer Festival is in just a few weeks; the traditional Oktoberfest in Munich started just two days ago—and will go for another 13—but there are plenty of reasons raise a glass of beer right now, and close to home instead.
For the last five years I’ve had the incredibly good fortune to join my friend Seth Fletcher in rating the best beers in the land (or sometimes the world) for MEN’S JOURNAL, a somber task we approach with monkish restraint (OK, we enjoy it mightily, but if we actually finished the hundreds of bottles we sample each summer the story would never happen. Much returns to Earth from whence it came. And we have notebooks, piles of them. We swear.)
This year’s list is on newsstands now, and this time, the premise was deceptively simple: if you like ‘X’ mass beer, try ‘Y’ craft variation. Are you a Guinness drinker? Then try Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter, available in 19 states and counting. With an eye toward America’s smallest, most artisanal craft brewers—some with only a handful of employees—we dedicated ourselves to coming up with a list of exceptional American (and in one case, Quebecois) craft beers that are a bit harder to find, but so worth the effort. Many of these beers are available in NYC, on tap or in bottles at bars likeThe Blind Tiger, Bar Great Harry, DBA, Against The Grain, Spuyten Duyvil, The Diamond, the Brazen Head, and more. There’s also a mini-profile of beer provocateur Vinnie Cilurzo (of California’s Russian River Brewing Company). Enjoy!
From the first page of the recent and much-lauded Jonny Miles debut novel “Dear American Airlines” (Houghton Mifflin) any weary traveler worth his industrial-strength earplugs will surely nod in baleful agreement with Miles’ assessment of the scabrous conditions considered normal in American commercial aviation. Apparently, some recent AA passengers didn’t get the memo (read: everybody loses) and decided to fight back. Which, in keeping with the way things go these days, backfired. But at least they tried. I was Miles’ researcher/fact-checker at Men’s Journal for a couple of years, which was a pleasure, especially working on one non-fiction ode to New Orleans bars in all their decadent glory. Catch him reading from his new book this Monday night the 14th at the Half King. I’ll be there. RELATED: Vicarious air rage was never so therapeutic nor generously rewarding. Buy the book.
The news that Sir Edmund Hillary had died of a heart attack at the age of 88 on Thursday in New Zealand didn’t particularly come as a shock to me—I’d been afraid of hearing the news since reading of his failing health over the past few years. But it did bring back a vivid memory. Reading the tributes (a few found here), I remembered a surreal afternoon about eight years ago when I sat up bolt-straight in a wooden chair, and, over a phone line, heard his voice crackle through the earpiece. “Ed Hillary,” he said. I nearly froze.