Of course this blog is primarily devoted to chronicling our consumption of local beers in Albuquerque, but this month we're on the road. Zach and I are posting all the way from the capital of Yippee-kai-yay: San Antonio, Texas. Remember the Alamo?
Remember the what?
Don't feel bad. We didn't either, but that's why we set out one muggy afternoon (which followed a muggy morning, only to precede a muggy evening) to explore the famous Riverwalk and tour the Alamo. Originally in San Antonio to present at the huge Popular Culture and Southwest Pop Culture Conference, we budgeted some time away from the conference and away from our lengthy papers (mine on death in Gothic children's literature, Zach's on Neil Young's movie-esque Twisted Road Tour), to discover the local brewery scene in one of Texas's most celebrated and historic cities. And this might be why we felt justified to include our liquid-escapades. For a city of this age and of this size, rooted as it is in the vaquero culture that is Texas--think bulls, boys, dust, and boots--we expected during our preliminary online research to find many a brewery dappling the sizzling streets of ol' San Antone. After all, Albuquerque is maybe a quarter the size of San Antonio, and we have at least twenty, depending on how you stretch the boundaries of the metro area.
San Antonio has 4-6, depending on how you scroll around Google's map. Without a rental car to call our own, we set off on foot to reach the Blue Star Brewing Company on South Alamo St. The brewery and and restaurant was nestled in one of San Antonio's characteristic historic neighborhoods complete with Georgian architecture, birch, palm, hackberry, and jacaranda trees. Blue Star's headquarters looked like a barge that had crash-landed off of one of the tributaries of the San Antonio River, which is to say charming with its dark wood, wrap-around deck where we and our traveling companions saddled up for some Texas-style suds.
A note on our traveling companions: to save on cost, my good friend Jana booked an historic house in a neighborhood not too far from Blue Star, where she and her family were staying while in town to celebrate her husband's graduation from Air Force boot camp. Not only were they good enough to let us stay with them, but they were more than delighted to join us for dinner and drinks at the brewery. We were, however, such a large group that the server had to seat us on the elevated "private" deck. Considering the view of the city and the sunset, we could hardly complain. (Not to mention the parking lot, and the flat-sided apartment building. Come on, it's still Texas.) Considering how rowdy and rambunctious we got later on, they could hardly complain.
Our server quickly brought us a sampler of all the beers Blue Star had available that night: the Texican Lager, Smoke Dark Ale, the Stout, the Pale Ale, King William Ale MMXI (a barleywine: my all time favorite, if they are done right). We traded the sample-tumblers like bandits and gunslingers at a gambling table swapping chips and money. There was some greed, some disgust, some winners and some losers.
The key here is "available that night." I was actually quite surprised at the number of beers NOT available that night. Also, the "black board specials" that promised rare and seasonal beers... had the regular menu.
The Texican, as golden yellow as wheat before a harvest, can sit proudly beside its brothers of the Lager family. This beer was refreshing and even little sweet. It coaxed you to recline back in your chair, tip your hat forward and make y'self at home.
Agreed. Quite crisp, refreshing, and all the other words Miller Lite uses. Only this beer means them.
The Smoke Dark Ale, according to Blue Star's website, comes from a wood-smoked malt. When I tasted it, I openly declared, "Yyyyeeeccchhhh! It tastes like Liquid Smoke!" You know, the stuff your mom keeps in the spice cabinet to flavor her gravy or darken the homemade BBQ sauce. There were few at the table who could muster a better description or opinion.
It was... strong. Like a bear smells strong. That's a compliment... right?
The Stout was a decent stout with a thick creamy head and an aftertaste evocative of a hardy coffee--evening coffee for hard-working, thick armed men with V's of sweat still marking the fronts and backs of their shirts. I wound up not choosing to drink the stout for the night because along with all that was good about it, there was a hint of cigarette...the slightest tinge on my tastebuds, which reminded me of menthol.
Intentional? Or a careless brewer? Either way, these San Antonio folks like them some smoke.
Finally, I tried the sample I was most looking forward to, the barleywine, the King William Ale MMXI. Barleywines have always, and will always hold a special place in my heart and on my palette. A student of history, and a fan of ancient Greece and Rome, I first read about barleywine in the Xenophon--a charming, only slightly gory "coming home" tale. Zach and I also have the dark, toffee-like Ol' Oku barleywine of Turtle Mountain Brewing Company to thank for adding the earliest kindling to our romantic fire.
For those who don't know much about barleywines, they.are.strong. They can range between 8-12+% alcohol, which is why at most places you are limited to two sniffers of the stuff. Sometimes, they taste like candy, or a rich toffee and at other times, they are much more fruity, or biting like a strong wine.
In the case of Blue Star's King William, the transparent beverage captured the color of mahogany wood, almost teak. The King has a bite at first and then mellows into a more fruity flavor that reminded me of Christmas in King Arthur's court. Before you run out to San Antonio shoutin' "All hail the King," I should first point out how subtle spices like nutmeg, frankincense, perhaps even myrrh danced around my mouth with every sip. Essentially, this particular barleywine might have been a bit more aromatic than I would otherwise prefer, I could hardly say it was a bad beer. Long live the King!
Ugh. I. Disagree. The barleywine was certainly spiced, but in that way that my kitchen experiments were spiced when I was six years old and threw every ingredient I could reach, including sugar sprinkles and ground black pepper, into a plastic bowl and insisted that it sit on the counter overnight. The alcohol was very present, but not warming, not complimentary. The alcohol kicked the back of my throat, and then rubbed the spices in the gash. Ick. If this had been the barleywine that tried adding kindling to our romantic fire, I'm not sure Jenny and I would be together now. And Jenny's a real looker without the barleywine. If you'd asked me if I preferred this barleywine or the liquid smoke... I would quickly change the subject. "My grandfather drove a tank in the war." Like that.
Or... like this: "Kids, do you remember that three-legged cat we used to have when you were kids? And how someone ran it over? Well, it wasn't someone. It was me. I backed over the cat." This was Jana's mom to her two daughters. She blamed it on the lager, despite being maybe five ounces into her pint. We lost it. Simply lost it. I'm not sure I've ever laughed so hard at another family. Jana and her sister immediately sent text messages to their other siblings. One said, "Call me ASAP. Our childhood was a lie." The girls proceeded to question the supposed deaths and injuries of their other pets. Their mom swore up and down she was not responsible for any others. But one was enough.
Already I can't remember that cat's name. But, being a cat, I'm sure it's grousing around in heaven right now about those damn humans thinking its gimpy strut was something so funny. But oh my goodness gracious stars above, I'm laughing again now.