Saturday, May 25, 2013

Beer: Bell's Hopslam

Bell's Hopslam is a craft beer phenomenon. It's released in limited quantities, once a year, and subsequently sells out very quickly in Bell's distribution region, despite it's relatively high price (around $18 for 6 12 oz. bottles). It's a strong 10% ABV India Pale Ale brewed with honey, and despite the hype, it is truly world class.

Rich golden in appearance, with nice white foam. Superb lacing. Aroma is breathtaking...floral, grapefruit citrus, a little pine. Absolutely appealing.
Flavor is sweet but with a sustained hop sharpness. Maybe the honey is the balance? Pine, sweet grapefruit, and really very enjoyable. The high ABV is concealed well, too. 

This is a superior IPA, and one I'll definitely re-experience again.

Beer: Oaken Barrel, Budweiser, Bell's Brewing

More beer reviews, this time from a wide array of breweries. Keep in mind, my ratings run from a 1 (awful) to 5 (awesome). Any beer scored a 3 or more should be considered worthy. Without further adeiu:

Based near Indianapolis, Oaken Barrel has quietly produced some fine beers for some 14 years now. Epiphany really impressed me.

Poured a cloudy golden upon pouring into my Viking glass. Nicely carbonated, but lace is thin. Nose is toasty at first impression, with some candied or dried fruit coming in behind. I don't get any spice in the nose, though, oddly. Taste is rich and malty. Definitely a big flavor here. I get candied fruit (figs, berries, fruitcake) along with a mildly spiced note. The finish is dry with a balanced fruit-spice melding. The bottle doesn't note the heavy-duy 9.4% ABV at all, but it's evident 2/3 through the bottle!

Overall, this is a solid brew, and certainly a faithful interpretation of the big Belgian tripel style. Enjoyable.


Not much introduction needed here. Corporate attempt to make a "heavier" and more alcoholic junk lager, No surprises as this one's very mediocre and hard to get down.

Pours a clean, clear golden amber, as promised on the bottle. Solid head of fine off-white carbonation, which subsides quickly, leaving no lace. Nose is yeasty and grainy. Not bad, just pretty well generic. Taste is sweet and mild, with almost no hop bite whatsoever. There are some toasty caramel and toffee tones, and even a hint of fruit. I get a really sweet finish, too, which kind of kills my enjoyment. 

I've had much worse beers before, but this isn't one I'd return to, given the choices. 

Bell's is a Midwestern craft beer giant, and this is their classic pale ale, reformulated and re-designed. It's a superb addition to their already-solid lineup of premium craft beers.

Pours a cloudy golden with a superlative white head and attractive tree-line lace. Lovely! Nose is crisp malts and a snappy citrus hops presence. Seems balanced and enticing. Taste is nicely hopped, but not overly so given the style. I get a complementary malt bill alongside the hops. 

Overall, a perfectly balanced and exemplary pale ale. Top marks for the style.

A new seasonal from the respected Bell's, Smitten combines rye and plenty of hops into a highly enjoyable pale ale with a twist.

Pours golden and semi-cloudy due to massive chunks of sediment. My bottle is dated only a month ago, so I have no explanation for this. Regardless, there's a wealth of lovely and attractive lace. Nose is malty and appealing, with a hint of hops. Not bad. Taste is pleasantly hopped, with nice citrus notes and a slight bitterness. Didn't get a lot of the rye in the mix (which is fine with me), just a well-hopped pale ale. 

Tasty, well-done, and very enjoyable!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Witches Of God - "The Blood Of Others" CD

This Los Angeles band's debut smokes in a big post-Black Sabbath way. 

All the genre's staples are here, from the gargantuan, way-out stoner-psyche riffs of "Devils III" to the massive space-metal beast that is the title track. "Higher Than The Heavens" is most certainly the acid-dropping offspring of Ozzy, Geezer, Tony, and Bill. "The Horror" features guest vocals from Scott "Wino" Weinrich of St. Vitus, The Obsessed, and Shrinebuilder), and moves from heavy rock to weird, evil tribal sounds. Absolutely great stuff here. I consider this the album's high point, but give it all a listen and see for yourself.

All said, "The Blood Of Others" is an excellent stoner metal album that brings the bongs and blown speakers. Amen, brothers. And I love the cover art.  

"Cheese & Beer" by Janet Fletcher

This classy hardcover book, written by a respected authority on artisanal cheese and gourmet food pairings, is among the first to examine, in-depth, the relationship between fine cheese and fine beer. Illustrated by tons of well-done color photos, "Cheese & Beer" dares to match up gourmet cheeses of every type with a comprehensive and impressive array of craft beer styles. 

At 128 pages, there's plenty of interesting pairings to try. Want to impress your dinner guests with a luscious Hudson Valley Camambert? Try it with a Monk's Cafe Sour Ale, or any Flanders brown or red ale. Or what to pair with a superb stout or porter like a Deschutes Black Butte? How about an Irish Cashel Blue cheese, or, appropriately, a slice of Barely Buzzed -- an artisan cheese from Utah that is rubbed with ground coffee and dried lavendar. There's hundreds more pairings here, with something that's sure to please anyone.

Could this be the authoritative tome on beer and cheese matchings? Odds are, I'd say so. "Cheese And Beer" is available through any major book sellers, and retails for $24.99 in the US and $26.99 in Canada.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Beer: Starr Hill - Grateful Pale Ale

Starr Hill Brewery is based in Virginia, and has been producing quality craft beers since 1999. I once tried their solid Boxcar pumpkin porter on a trip to Nashville, but that was the extent of my experience with Starr Hill. Luckily, thanx to Ronnie at Virginia Eagle Distributing, I had a chance to taste their superb new seasonal, a pale ale called "Grateful Pale Ale". 

Pours a clean golden-amber, with a thick, frothy 2 fingers of head. Beautiful and detailed lace. Nose is nice herbal and floral hops. Inviting. Taste is well-hopped, but it's not an overwhelming nor bitter hops character. This one is nicely balanced with plenty of malt presence.

The body is medium to heavy, and this is a solid and enjoyable pale ale, scoring a respectable 3.75 on a scale of 5. Well-done!

"Brick And Mortar And Love" DVD (director: Scott Shuffitt)

This feature-length documentary examines the legendary Louisville, Kentucky indie record shop (and sometime-music venue), Ear X-Tacy, and holds a special place to me, as well as anyone who recalls the shop's heyday. Featuring interviews with owner John Timmons, plus other employees, customers, and other indie record shop owners, "Brick And Mortar Love" is a kind of love letter to the now-closed hub of Midwestern indie culture.

The shop's struggle to stay profitable is profiled here, and director Shuffitt follows the store from it's heyday to the final day. His "there on the scene" camerawork is a definitive document of the store and what it meant to local business and the scene itself. Changes in the industry, and the emergence of big-box retailers and online sales, despite a massive public outcry and support from Louisville local artists, weren't enough to save one of America's best-loved and best-known indie record stores. "Brick And Mortar And Love" is a moving testament to what we have now lost.

As a one-time Louisvillian, I spent considerable time in Ear X-Tacy, and purchased a number of items there (I recall picking up Throbbing Gristle's "Part Two - The Endless Not" there, among others). This film touches home, and is quite recommended for anyone who has pleasant memories of this piece of Louisville history.