The Standard vs The Awesome

I don’t think I have much to say on the subject of why beer styles matter (or don’t) that hasn’t already been said. I see that there’s been a discussion in the UK about it and the folks at the New School and Beervana have elaborated what they think is important about the topic.

However, something has been bugging me. During Monday’s adventure to Bailey’s Geoff told me (and I’m paraphrasing so I hope he doesn’t mind) that people didn’t try Laurelwood’s Bay Laurel Pale at the Killer Beer Fest because they were too busy going after the Imperial whatever’s. I was just baffled that, especially as patrons of a place like Bailey’s, people just couldn’t be troubled to step away from their stouts and IPAs for something different. This and the subject of standards have been bothering me and I think I’ve stumbled upon what it is:

The fear that people will abuse taxonomy in order to sell you something.

Hell, they’ll just abuse you if they can, otherwise why would we need the Honest Pint Project? So what I want to talk about is the people part of this debate because I think there’s a forest for the trees moment.

The insistence upon standards may speak to a lack of trust or an unspoken, unpleasant pact between the sellers and the consumers-we know you will attempt to lie to us to get our money- perhaps the creators just don’t care but most likely there are two other desires here; the need to be noticed and the need to be liked. The beer world is quite crowded and it’s easy to be overlooked so I get the desire to have what you did acknowledged-even if you do fuzz the truth a little.

The Bay Laurel pale was a very tasty beer for those willing to take a chance on it, because who thinks; You know what this pale ale needs? Bay leaves. But the beer worked. You should go, have some. Just because you can. It also was what it said it was; a pale ale with bay leaves.

I realize that being rigidly adherent to style is a bit like insisting that rock music died in 1972 because the Beatles are done or whatever feeble insistence on a standard I may come up with so that ‘my world doesn’t change’. At the same time, as a lover of beer and a consumer I want to trust that when the beer says; Imperial Porter or Belgian IPA or Pilsner that what I pour will be, if nothing else, a valiant attempt to be just that.

Still, I know that I’ve had stouts that should’ve been called brown ales and IPAs that should’ve been ashamed to carry those initials. But, and this is purely conjecture on my part, they were called such so they would sell to people who wouldn’t know better. Even if my conjecture is wrong though it doesn’t really matter because when my glass was empty, I felt like the brewer had tried to pull one over on me because they are an authority, so they can. Even if the beer is good, that’s rarely a positive feeling.

One of the times I saw Henry Rollins speak, he said; “You gotta trust somebody,” and in context he was talking about our relationship to the world. We have to believe that the doctors, lawyers, scientists, CEOs, cops, neighbors, wives, husbands, friends, whomever, can be counted on to do right by us, especially when we are at their mercy. I think of this quote often when I am dealing with people who have an advantage over me for whatever reason-or I have one over them. This is not to suggest that we should just let ourselves be taken advantage of because not everyone is worth of trust but I bring it up because of all the little ways that the mentality of a certain lifestyle attempts to take advantage of us.

You can have better. You can be younger. You can make more money than her. You can eat your cake and have it too. You’ll get yours.

Except all of those statements are about you and not about us. If you sell me a beer, then we have a brief relationship. Have you lied to me? Maybe just a little?

If you have, is it ok if I lie to you back in the form of false payment? False praise? False condemnation?

And how long is it before you stop trusting me and I stop trusting you, so that now instead of a kinship we are adversaries?

So I get why there are people hollering about that rigid adherence to style. Somewhere, under their skin, in the cells of their tongue, between snapfires of neurons that tell them all the hows of something, they sense that they are being lied to, that they just cannot trust anyone who isn’t absolutely known. The standard becomes more important than whether or not something is good because the standard is the only way they know they haven’t been fucked over by someone who they feel in all likelihood, doesn’t give a shit about them and the world has frequently proven this view correct. Or even proven it correct once and do you really want to take a chance? You can start saying that Molson’s is an IPA if there’s no actual standard, right? Because the world is whatever We say it is. Trust Us. We know better than you.

But some of us know: We can’t trust you. We feel that in our gut. You aren’t putting forth your most valiant attempt, you’re skimming the top in order to part us from our money-which is, by extension, our time and our work and our selves.

And we. Don’t. Like. It. So we raise our voices and shout at people; You are being screwed over! It’s not fair! There is a Standard, don’t you see? Look! This thing brought to you by that…liar doesn’t even come close! Submit to the Standard!

Well…let’s wait just a minute.

It is that same standard that halts the more adventurous brewers who are working the ethereal realms of taste, scent and pleasure in an attempt to share something awesome. They blend and they hover like alchemists, relying on the knowable and the unknowable, what can be proven and what just is out there, somehow, in order to make something fantastic. Something delicious. Something to share. They just get stumped when people ask; what is it? How does it fall under The Standard?

Er…it’s awesome?

That answer works great when you’re twelve. It’s less satisfying to grownups-for reasons that if I were to get into, would lead me into very strange places. So let’s not.

What this insistence on Standards does, instead, is trample on the spirit of adventure.

You can’t tell me what it is? I am afraid of it, don’t want it, and am going to sit back here with my one trve beer. I’m going to hide behind the Standard because the Standard tells me what is Right.

Well, fuck it then; why bother making something awesome if nobody is going to share it with you, right? Awesome things alone just aren’t as satisfying and beer is something we share. Think of how many times you have gone to someone’s house or had someone in your home and asked them, ‘Would you like something to drink? Or eat?’

We want to share the good things we have with other people. It’s been a foundation for many, many relationships.

Worse, what happens when those people making something awesome but hard to define just say; Well to hell with you, I’m taking my ball and going home? Who wins then?

So let’s make a deal. Do your best to call it what it is. You don’t have to adhere to style but you do have know what it is so you can be straight up with me about what you’re attempting to do. Don’t call it an Imperial if it isn’t. If you tried for a stout but by gods it’s a porter; say so. You don’t have to publicly admit mistakes-that’s asking a lot from anyone-but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to get me to purchase your wares based on what you think sells, despite that product not actually matching the hot commodity of the day.

In return, I will admit that styles are guidelines not purity laws and try whatever you got at least once, giving it as fair a shake as I can. I won’t panic when I see you’ve made a garlic and mushroom beer; I’ll see if it goes well with a burger and fries. If it is good, I will say so. To everyone who asks. Wherever I can. If it isn’t to my taste, I’ll say that. If it’s just flawed, I’ll say that. But I won’t damn with faint praise if I can at all help it and I won’t say it’s awful just to mess with you.

Maybe we can trust each other to do right and admit that the guidelines are important especially if you’re new to the game but sharing something awesome, even if it can’t be tied to a definition, is more important.

More outings

I’ve had the luck to experience both Coalition Brewing and the Beaker and Flask in the past few weeks (blaming/thanking friends for pulling me out.) Brief impressions are as follows:

brown aleBeaker and Flask is more a cocktail place than an beer joint. The cocktails are wonderful though-the sips I had off of other drinks were very, very tasty. I settled for a brown ale-by whom I sadly don’t recall- and a Hale’s fresh hop ale, both of which were served well and I’d consider having another. The food was well prepared-spicy but not hot, flavorful but not overwhelming-and the service was very good.

It’s spendy though. Not saying it isn’t worth it, just know you’re opening the wallet when you go.

Coalition on the other hand was a bit more reasonable and is a beer joint. Which I suppose anyone paying attention doesn’t need me to tell them. The food wasn’t bad but didn’t stand out either, although my companions seemed to enjoy their meal more than I did mine. However, the Wu C.R.E.A.M. was very good and I really, really dug the name, my co-diners liked the Maple Porter and I liked Bump’s Bitter ESB-however I wasn’t able to give it my full attention.

I’m looking forward to going back and giving it some.

I’ll have whatever you say #6

It has taken awhile but tonight is what I have hoped for since I started this project. I doubt it will happen too often, so on the nights it does it’s always good for me…though maybe less good for the readers.

I have returned to Bailey’s. Now while I don’t need a reason to come back here I have to confess, part of my motivation has to do with FOMO because on Saturday night, broke as all get out, I saw on my Twitter feed reference to the Killer Beer fest. Except instead of FOMO it was more like; Knowing Of Missing Out.

Sigh.

Velvet ESBSo I  come back to Bailey’s in hopes that some of the brews on tap Saturday have survived to Monday and I can at least sample some. And while I am in luck; some of them are, the man at the bar is drinking Hopwork’s Velvet ESB, so that is what I’m drinking tonight.

Now, while it’s never easy for me to have conversations with strangers it doesn’t take too much work to start talking to Kevin, a dapper man in a newsboy hat with rings on multiple fingers; a short explanation about the blog and away we go. Shortly thereafter we are joined by Craig who’s in a Cardinal’s baseball cap-and then there’s me in my fedora. So I suppose it’s like the Three Musketeers, only with hats instead of swords and more beer.

And the conversation starts with the Giants taking out the Cowboys. Sure, it’s early in the third quarter but the score is 24-20 and the Giants have begun their successful comeback. None of us, oddly, hope the Cowboys do well. Rude jokes are made (I think I probably made the worst of them) and topics transition.

Politics. Movies. Culture. Slogans (“I need a beer before I do that” which I swear will be a t-shirt I’m going to design). What’s on tap and is worthwhile. Craig has to leave briefly-there is a girlfriend discussion that I won’t claim to understand. I’m briefly able to talk to Geoff who informs me that Laurelwood’s offering will be on tap for awhile because pale ales don’t move very quickly.

I’m baffled. Laurelwood’s Bay Leaf Pale is…well, from Laurelwood. It’s not like people don’t know who they are or the quality of beer they produce. Yet at the KillerBeer Fest, people didn’t take advantage. Marketing in action I suppose but a good lesson for myself; trust the artisans, not the names.

In the meantime-or perhaps at the same time-conversations about art and artists continue, cross referencing Star Wars and Kanye West, mention of video games, CEOs, and what Kevin calls the ‘lack mentality’. Which I really like; I think the fear that somehow we will starve overwhelms our actions more than we’d like.

Which is too bad, because we have so much to offer.

Craig leaves and Kevin and I continue to discuss the mentality of America, comic book heroes, justice versus criminality, great movies (LA Confidential, Chinatown, though I wish I’d brought up the Muppet Movie, looking back on our discussion. It’s themes of friendship and community would have fit well) the mentality of generations, the mentality of now, sacrifice, war, how to be better and in the middle of it all Kevin is kind enough to buy me a beer.

Which reminds me of all the times I was bought a beer when I was unemployed. I was unemployed for over 365 days. Every time I wanted another beer and could not afford it, someone bought me one.

Now, that I may have lived a life that allowed or encouraged people to buy me beer when I was lacking really isn’t the point. I didn’t buy beer for friends because I thought that they would pay me back.

Except that I sort of did. The idea that ‘if you do good, good will come back to you’ is engrained pretty strongly in this country. I don’t think it’s all that surprising that we have a mentality of fairness, that insists that the man with two million is treated the same as the woman with two dollars, under the law.

No, it doesn’t work like that; everyone knows. But we strive for it. We’re disappointed when injustice continues and cheer whenever it is defeated, even if it’s only for a moment. At my best I would have given selflessly and I tried, lord knows…but occasionally I felt like; hey, I’m putting into the kitty.

Yet, when one is unemployed, you know; nobody is going to help you. It’s a struggle that involves a lot of sympathy but usually very little opportunity-in part because these days, everyone is concerned about what they have, and not losing that.

Except…people helped and bought me beer. Craig and Kevin both reminded me of this, in a very roundabout way and I’m quite grateful to them, not just for providing me with stories, perspectives and slogans but for giving me a chance to say it here:

Thank you to everyone who bought me a beer (figuratively or literally) while I was unemployed. If all goes well, I’ll be able to pay it forward and pay it back, in my own way.

Singletons 2

This one was made with Magnum hops and Special Roast malt.

magnum and special roast singletonIt also came out much better. Now, this may speak in part to the versatility of Magnum hops. There’s a good, floral nose with a hint of clove in front and a lingering but not overwhelming bitterness at the end. The beer is much lighter than my previous Singleton visually but there’s enough malt in there to provide a steadying sweetness in the middle. And, this beer seems to have come out much cleaner. I’m not sure why that is but it seems like less yeast at the bottom of bottles is making its way into the glass.

The flavor isn’t really affected but from a visual standpoint, it’s pretty cool.

Another interesting thing was that my gravities were pretty low; the OG was 1.058, which is lower than any other beer I’ve done that wasn’t a mild, the FG was 1.015. This put the beer at about 5.6% ABV, which again, is a bit lower-maybe as much as .5 less-than many of the other beers I’ve made.

I’m not exactly sure why this one turned out so much better but there’s still one more to go, so we’ll see if I can make it two out of three.

How-To

Maybe most readers know this already but it’s never a bad thing to remind people how to pour a beer. It’s the kind of thing you ought to learn in school but don’t. Thank the gods for the internet.

Note: I’m still not convinced by the glassware argument. I think it’s the kind of thing that people insist makes a difference because they’re paying money for it, when the actual difference is negligible at best. A bit like stereo geeks who want to tell you their solid gold connector cables produce better sound than the ones you paid ten bucks or.

But to each their own. Nobody needs someone like me insisting that their experience is invalid. If you like the beer, then you like the beer.

I’ll have whatever you say #5

Proletariat RedI’m on my Outboard Brain and waiting for a friend to show up but I’m alone right now at Oaks Bottom and I’m not sure what to do. I’m surrounded by tables and booths and these provide a certain silent request for privacy–just interrupting and asking a simple question feels like a slightly bigger, more intrusive step. Still, I have a mission. A much older man and his wife are in the booth behind me, helpfully offering his selection of Proletariat Red when I ask what he’s having. He likes it and that’s a great start. Mogwai‘s Auto Rock is on and as that song represents a form of heartbreak for me, it is weird and out of place. I can’t explain why, exactly; loving a song-even a song that breaks your heart- is something that just is and dressing that up, while a worthwhile task and a fun endeavor, is no substitute for just getting it.

I like the Oaks Bottom. Have since Fuz and I walked in a few years back. Gets bonus points for not being absurdly crowded on a Monday. It is a bad time to be here though because I have been jonesing for chicken strips and this is the kind of scene where you want chicken strips.

Sticking to a budget is damned hard, sometimes. Like when I want a beer. And chicken strips.

I wonder why there aren’t pork strips? Seems like a good idea, right? Or beef strips? Basically I am fan of meats that can be breaded, deep fried and dipped in sauce.

Except for bacon. I had deep-fried bacon once and it was so disappointing I remembered what it was like to discover there was no Santa Claus. A little bit of the magic in the world went away.

The beer however might restore some of my faith. The Proletariat Red is workhorse kind of beer that may not get much respect but revels in its malty goodness. It does leave me wishing I could have the monster mash imperial porter. I’m a bit of a sucker for new beers and seasonals in particular. However, one of the great lessons of the world is to accept what you have, because what you want isn’t the reality: what you have is.

Singletons

After I brewed the Megabyte IPA, (I called it that internally because it’s not quite a Gig) I was faced with a dilemma; Lots of hops but now what? Since my finances have been limited (though finally getting better) making another IPA really wasn’t feasible.

So I took the opportunity to defy recipes and make beers using only one kind of hops and one kind of steeping grains. My motive wasn’t purely fiscal; so often I’ll have beer and be unsure what ingredients are giving me certain flavors. People will tell me that the Magnum hops are really showing through but frequently I find myself nodding and trying to parse out the messages my tongue is giving me-‘which of you is the Magnum? Please step up!’

Using just one ingredient meant that the beer would be focused and if I made the brew correctly the attention couldn’t be diverted or questioned; it was going to taste only like what I put in. With the hops I had leftover from the Megabyte, I thought this would be as good an opportunity as any.

rainier and c120 brew

I started with a brew that had Rainier hops and C-120 malt for steeping and that was it. (Light malt extract and yeast, of course but you get the idea.)

Visually, it’s quite nice; a pleasant amber color, nice head on the beer. The hops don’t show up too much in the nose and the mouthfeel is a little thin. As far as flavoring goes, there’s a kind of jagged citrus note as the beer finishes off. The C-120 malts give it a nice color but they don’t quite give me enough malt backbone to tie the experience up. The flavors just don’t flow very well into one another and while it doesn’t taste bad, the beer just doesn’t come together very well and it prevents a good beer from becoming great. So the lessons is; Rainier hops are better as finishing hops, C-120 malt may need something else to develop the body of a beer.

There are two more brews in the series so it will be interesting to see how thing shake out.