Thursday, July 14, 2011

Trapped in the Land of Mock-Bocks, or "Alt"ernately titled: Good beer, I stoutly maintain, gives Albuquerque a better discerning.

To understand the dueling titles of this post it is important to know that I am writing (and concurrently drinking) in Montpelier, Vermont for the next week or so, while Zach is posting and drinking in Albuquerque. And we are all impressed about how little Zach is drinking, considering just how lonely and


delightfully busy he has been.

To comprehend why I am in Vermont we must back up to a time called "April" which is also referred to in our household as "still-waiting-for-these-frigging-grad-schools-to-either-accept-or-reject-us-month." It was at about the middle of this month when both Zach and I were finally notified of our acceptances to Trinity College Dublin, and when I also discovered that I had been accepted to the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I accepted the prestigious and rare opportunity to pay tuition at both institutions and thus here I am. (She should spin issues for the Obama administration.) I realize this explanation does not account for the apparent insanity involved in doing two graduate programs at one time, but in the words of Tony Soprano, "Whuddaya'gonna do?"

By this logic, she will indeed shoot someone by the end of the year.

While here in the land of luscious-overgrowth-spilling-south-from-Canada, I am supposed to be attending lots of lectures and readings, workshops and meetings. ButI found I could not force our readers a two-week wait on a beer post. Additionally, Montpelier is situated in a formerly, albeit partially, Italian and German-settled area. Heck, Berlin is not that far away! (Apparently, Berlin IS that far away. Keep reading.) I reasoned there had to lots of good local beers to try. Thus inspired, I made may way down the steep hill that sequesters campus from the "town" of Montpelier. I ambled down tree-lined sidewalks and manicured lawns with a variety of colorful flowers, ivy, and bushes arranged in hulking clusters the likes of which I can only see in my desolate desert home at the Home Depot garden center. I even saw a woodchuck--or some species of not-really-a-beaver-not-really-a-groundhog!

(If she really were writing spin for the President, this would be the new way to refer to Republicans.)

I reached Montpelier's Main Street only to discover that I was "thus inspired" too early for any of their three bars to be open!

What--the good Vermonters don't drink at 9:30 a.m.?? Ok, well neither do I, but I did scour the local grocery store for some local beers to haul back to campus and enjoy later. I found several local brews available and finally settled on Long Trail's "Double Bag" because they advertised this as an "alt" bier which they used to save and serve only to those faithful beer-lovers who ventured to the brewery. This had to be good, I remember thinking.

The label on the bottle is intriguing. There are two cows standing "utterly" in the center of the label, which I think accounts for the name even though this beer is neither a milk stout nor a dubbel. And I thought it's what the grocer did to ensure your bottles didn't fall out. I conversed with my fellow writers and classmates about the beer and its label as we gathered for the usual nightly swilling of alcohol, which they call here the "wine pit." I like to think of it as an informal panel discussion where students can come and hone their more Hemingway-ian skills. Yes, good readers, even aspiring children's authors need to improve upon these capabilities.

You practice chauvinism and brevity and fishing? Oh, wait... you mean drinking. You could have chosen the Inklings. Or maybe that's just what's on my brain.

Upon first sip of the Double Bag, my tongue cried out "Bock! It's a Bock! Feel the fur!"

Either Jenny is playing here on the fact that Bock in German means "goat," or... yeah, I'm missing something, too.

Odd. Altbiers, as they are known in Germany, are usually just dark amber lagers, and Zach might be able to fill in more detail here as he lived for year very close to, if not directly in, the heart of German Altbier country. All you need to know: the Meter of Beer. They use darker hops and strive for flavors akin to caramel or tame nuttiness. This beer, unfortunately, possessed neither. What it had was that distinct Bock-style of robust, semi-sour...fur. Yes, this beer had some occasional glimmering hints of fruitiness, but overall with every drink, I felt as if the brewers had used some kind of rare and woolly, long-horned hop. Used, but not sheered. This can't be the isolated fault of the Long Trail brewers, though. Any time I have ever had Bock beer, like AmberBock, I feel as if my mouth gets full of fur. I know of no other way to describe the sensation. And...this might be TMI, but for me, the other definitive trademarks of a Bock beer are the raucous, burbling, old-man belches (*co-farts-ugh*) they incite!

(Okay, yes, fine! You caught me admitting to having drunk a Michelob AmberBock, but I was young and in college and experimenting with a lot of new things! Beer just happened to be one of those things.)

In the end, there were several among my classmates who thoroughly enjoyed the bottles of Double Bag which I shared with them. As frequenters of the Vermont and New England area, they swore that overall Long Trail's stock was good. I would however have to think long and hard before I schlepped back down (and consequently back up) that huge hill to go get more. There are, to be sure, plenty of alt style beers worth drinking until the cows come home, but I'm afraid Long Trail's "Double Bag" is not one of them.

And I, being for once in my life the one less traveled, turned to an old favorite: the Oatmeal Stout from Marble Brewery, one of the finer microbreweries in Albuquerque (and certainly the best distributed -- their distinctive color-balled taps are approaching ubiquity). The problem here was that like an evening with any old, dear friend, I felt happy and comfortable -- but I failed to pay particular attention to the details. The Oatmeal Stout (which is good every which way, but particularly when served in-house) was savored and enjoyed to the last sip... but I can't say I took notes.

In hindsight, when I was trying to explain this fine dark beer to Jenny over the phone, I said it reminded me of something warm, something delicious... something like cocoa butter.

She said, "Eewww."

Then I realized that I never have actually sampled cocoa butter. But the Oatmeal Stout is like cocoa, and it's like butter. Warm even when it's cold. Just rich enough without approaching an extreme. And it certainly is not your usual bouquet of flavors in a stout.

I think many breweries would call this one a porter. While some brewers will tell you otherwise, there is no real difference between a stout and a porter -- mostly brewer preference. Guinness has given stouts a tendency toward creaminess, with the sort of opaque head that can be rendered in a black-and-white Sharpie sketch. This Marble stout is much heartier and savory than its famous distant Irish cousin. Its head comes out brown and bubbly, the perfect gaseous vessel for releasing the warm, comfortable flavors into your nose before you even set tongue on the liquid.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show of beers: a cult favorite that cannot remain cultish because it is just too unique and, if you're into that sort of thing, just too good. I'm already thinking that Jenny and I will have to get a growler of the stuff to celebrate her return... and if we do, I'll get back to you on that whole specificity thing.


  1. In my last summer vacation i have been to this place Montpelier and i do find some great bier brauerei. Since i m basically from germany i was able to find great difference in taste and brewing of beir.

  2. I love you two...I really do. I've been snorting and giggling at the snark the whole time :D

    While I have to admit that almost everything you guys talk about (in terms of beer) is Greek to me, it's great fun nonetheless.