Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Merry Molé

Surviving two car wrecks and one study-abroad year in Ireland was all it took to uproot these two faithful beer-bloggers out of the Albrewquerque area. But don't worry, we're not changing the blog name, and we're still going to drink beer and write about it regularly. Only now we'll be posting from Durango (Colorado, not Mexico or Spain), which is not only not far away from what's brewin' in the 5-0-5, but also is a microbrew mecca in the four corners region.

The move north seems inevitable for a craft-beer-couple like us. Colorado's history is closely linked to beers and brewing. The state is the home of Left Hand Brewing, Wyncoop, New Belgium, and Rock Bottom.  Denver is not only the birthplace of Coors, but also the "Napa Valley" of beer. Heck, this state is literally ruled by beer. (Beer in the House! Beer in the Senate! Beer in the capitol! Beer makes bad decisions, but it sure makes fun laws!) After all, the good people of Colorado, with their malty-hearts and hoppy-heads, saw fit to elect John Hickenlooper as their governor. More than a fun name, Hickenlooper is also a former microbrewer and Wyncoop founder. (Oh... you mean... got it. If only a beer could actually be governor...)

And the concentration of award-winning breweries is a big part of why we picked Durango for our new beer-tasting headquarters. Also, we could not resist the stunning mountain views. The vigorous outdoor recreation. The diverse wildlife. Oh, and what about the quirky, old-timey downtown full of Victorian architecture and huffin' and chuffin' steam trains chugging back and forth with whistles a'tooting! Seriously, this town still looks like the 1890s fin de siècle is in full "siècle," only better caffeinated with a Starbucks. (And Durango Joe's. And Durango Coffee.)

Plus our old-timey downtown plays host to an oasis of breweries, from Carver Brewing Co. to Steamworks Brewing Co. Up the road is the HQ for Durango Brewing Co. and down the road is the pub and grub stop for Ska Brewing. Trek out from Durango in any direction and guess what you'll run into! Elk, deer, coyotes? No! (Well, yes, but the answer we were looking for was...) More craft brewers! There's Amicas, Bristol Brewing Company, Pagosa Brewing Company, Phantom Canyon Brewing Company, Silverton Brewery, Smuggler’s Brewpub, and Trinity -- just to name a few. 

That said, we've got our work cut out for us. So, with holiday lights strung from one end of the house to the other, a pagan tree bedecked with sentimental ornaments, and an eclectic mix of nostalgic December-only tunes humming through the living room sound system, we begin our Rocky Mountain brew-quest with Ska Brewing's Molé Stout. (Eclectic doesn't begin to cover this music. Some of this stuff sounds like you're in a ballpark elevator in 1967.)

This brew comes in a can depicting a wildly flailing skeleton costumed in funky Aztec garb, strung with necklaces of jingle-jangle-chili beads. The imagery is no doubt a warning for drinkers who ordinarily balk at chili-flavored, chili-seasoned, chili-inspired, or chili-hinted beers.

We were two such balkers once, and ended up being unfortunate victims. On a whim at the grocery store, we picked up a six-pack of Rio Grande & Sierra Blanca's green chile beer, dubbed the Pancho Verde Chile Cerveza. We found that we could only "enjoy" half a Pancho with the right kind of dinner (beans, tortillas, etc.). (At which point our tongues realized we were drinking green chile... which, as much as I love green chile, is actually pretty much blech.) In the end, the remaining bottles sat in our fridge until it was time to move to Ireland, at which point they became going-away-gifts! (In one family-member-who-shall-remain-anonymous's fridge, we found one of these gifts unwrapped and yet mysteriously un-drunk upon our return. Don't think we didn't notice! We're not bitter, just jealous that your self-preservation instincts are stronger than ours.)

So with some reservation, we sampled this seasonal stout made with peppers, cocoa, and spices. Ska calls it autumnal -- a word I had hitherto reserved for the "other half" of Jane Austen's novels. But if Emma can be adapted into Clueless, then I suppose a beer can be autumnal. That is not to say that this beer is for the snootiest of samplers. On the contrary! Cocoa, dark velvety and rich, greets the nose like the sweet fragrance of a chocolate flower garden. With every sip, it warms the mouth. Then comes the zing of those peppers. But in this beer, they do not get out of control. Instead, they are smoothed down to a not-unpleasant nub by the mingling spices. Coriander? Nutmeg, perhaps? Who cares? This beer is good. And the warmer it gets, the better it tastes--like all Aztecs, I suppose. This beer tastes deliciously and distinctively like the holidays in the southwest! (No disagreements here, for once. The cocoa really blossoms as it warms, all the while strolling the line this side of bitter and spicy-hot. It's smooth and prickly. Like running your hand the right way over shark skin.)

Sure, we all hold tight to our aptly formed conceptions and deeply rooted misgivings about the chili pepper's place in beer brewing. And this prejudice is not just limited to chili-beers. Even cities get a reputation that either attracts or repels. Take Durango, for example. Thought to be a ritzy and glitzy exclusive ski-resort town, Durango is actually much more inclusive and practical than we ever expected. Don't believe us? What if we told you that many of its public works projects were funded by hookers? (Well, a special tax assessed on brothel earnings. Same dif! No matter how you slice it, this park is brought to you by Betty's Boom-Boom Room. Your municipal water pump runs courtesy of your other municipal pumps.) (Oh-ho, two can play at puns, honey: The City of Durango hereby dedicates this here new train platform to Selma's Slam Shack & Saloon. Their beneficence means more people can now get off in Durango.)

So, we get it. We're human. We judge books by their covers in order to survive. And chili peppers can easily overpower an unsuspecting tongue, be they in a drink or in enchiladas.

But for this beer we ask you to set aside those notions and take a sip of the holiday season as it can only taste when distilled through the jewel-tones of a December sunset in the desert southwest!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

There's No Drink Like Home

Last night marked a sort of homecoming epoch for these two beer bloggers. In the span of a few hours, we were re-initiated into the American ethos after a year abroad spent walking instead of driving, and saying "cheers" instead of "thanks" and "grand" instead of "cool." Not to mention telling time by the sun instead of by the tides.

For those who need it, here is the recipe:
We went (drove) to a baseball game.
We ate (gorged ourselves on) over-sized and over-greased stadium food.
We watched (gawked at) a brilliant fireworks display.
We sang (howled) along to American rock standards spanning several decades.
And, most important of all, we picked up a couple of blondes to sit on our laps as we did all of the above! Don't I have the best woman in the world? The stuff she lets me get away with...

Actually, the blondes were a couple of Isotopes Brewing Triple A Blondes. Great debates transpire all over the web and at beer festivals challenging the definition and true character of a blonde ale. Are they a Kolsch-style or a hop-light I.P.A.? Or are they something else, wiggling and dancing between those standards? Wiggling and dancing? We should set up a pole... erm, I mean, take a poll. For our purposes, the litmus test is simple: Is the blonde an enjoyable beer to drink?

The Isotopes blondes absolutely are. They are quenching, meaning you can take a big swig and not feel parch-mouthed after swallowing. Some beers do this to great effect, but not the blonde. These blondes were also light, without being ditzy or vacuous. I could smell a hint of fruitiness, but could not pick it apart on the palate. The Triple A blends its hop-bitter with malt-mellow. Of course, you can only get so particular when you're drinking it out of a plastic cup... but honestly, that particular bit of Americana only adds to the enjoyment when you're lounging along the right-field foul line.

Equally enjoyable is the Isotopes Amber Ale, which we have posted on before. But on this night there was something more to the beer than just enjoyment. There was more to the ball game than the double plays, force outs, and home runs. There was even more behind those good laughs with the family members seated with us and more still within the sparkle, flash, and boom of the fireworks. There was a resounding click embedded and echoing through all of it.

Perhaps it was the click of one door closing on our year abroad. The completion of that chapter in our lives. Perhaps it was the click of another door opening. That next chapter waiting to be written in lands as yet unseen with beers untasted. It could have also been the sound of life as we knew it synchronizing back in to place, back into familiarity.

And then again, it could have just been the sound of that really weird guest mascot, Bird-Zerk, snapping his feathered fingers as he encouraged small children to sway their hips and swing their shirts over their heads (No joke! He did this!). Yup. We're back in 'Merka, alright...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Gimme a Pint with those Galoshes and Bike Chains

Sure, the whole point of drinking beer is to relax (Not get crazy and do wild stunts like keg stands? Interesting theory...continue). So you might think that the whole concept of "multitasking" is at odds with  proper beer drinking etiquette (Well chuh, it's why one never guzzles AND smashes the can on one's forehead at the same time).

Turns out, not even a little bit. Not when you multitask like they do in Dingle.

Earlier this year, with family visiting, we traveled waaaaaay out to one of Ireland's western fingers: Dingle Peninsula, in County Kerry. This little town has some renowned pubs that recall the ancient purpose of a public house as a place of cozy communal gathering (fortunately, so unlike the Branch Davidians, who had a different kind of cozy communal gathering). Dick Mack's may well have been an old house, with its multiple rooms and coal-burning fireplace and ancient woodwork (I think he means House of Usher meets the Shrieking Shack). Foxy John's could well have been the workroom of that same house. (And no joke, I think these pubs were connected by some labyrinthine network of hallways... and they weren't by any means next door.)

The most fascinating aspect of these pubs, though, wasn't the beer (mostly the Irish usuals - with one exception), and it wasn't even the inhabitants (though they might have come a close second). It was their multi-purposeness.

Dick Mack's may be a world-famous pub, but it's also a leather-working shop and a shoe shop from way back inna day (yes, when solid floors, walls, and ceilings were optional or even kitsch). Drinks may be their primary focus now, but on the shelves next to a painted portrait of Dick Mack himself (being served by a leggy waitress, no less), there are still bright blue Wellies and strips of hide and old cardboard shoe boxes with varying quantities of dust (Oh is that what that was? I didn't know dust could husk...). But unlike any Bennigan's you ever visited, none of the items was mere decor. Everything was for sale, and if you were lucky, you could still get your leather punched.

Foxy John's didn't bother to trade in leather and shoes. Nope. Instead, it decided to be your grandpa's garage combined with a bike shop. We only got to sit there for 45 minutes or so, and no joke, in that time people bought a bike chain, a flashlight, and some washers. More home repair must be attempted per capita in Dingle than anywhere else in the world - "Honey, the toilet's broken again, and I need a... er... a bolt to fix it! I'll be right back!" An hour later: "Oh shoot! I got the wrong size. I gotta head over to the hardware store again!"

Like I said, the beer was pretty much the usual at these shopubs. Foxy John's, though, carried the local selection from the Dingle Brewing Company: Tom Crean's Lager. It's named for the Antarctic explorer, and (like an Irish beer named for an Antarctic explorer) it defies your expectations of a lager. The head is wide and white -- fair enough so far -- but it's also thick, like you'd expect on a much stouter beer (and how apt for a beer from the land of thick-eternal-fog). And the lager itself is, in a word, creamy (like sarsaparilla, root beer, or cream soda creamy! I wanted to pour my Crean's over ice cream, it was that good!). I had to make sure my brain wasn't simply applying a misspelling of "Crean" to my taste sensations, because I hardly believed it. Sure enough, it's a creamy feeling and tasting lager. What a treat!

Dingle proved to be a tiny beer mecca (which was some consolation, considering your family went there intent on its stunning coastal views which were perpetually bashful and shrouded in that eternal-fog the whole time). If you should be there in the on-season (oh, late March to probably September), see if you can find the Canteen. The food was heeeeeeeeavenly (I've been craving pork and applesauce ever since), but the owners are also big supporters of Irish beer and cider. We learned about three or four different brands while we were there, and poof! our horizons were broadened. Not bad for a little town barely accessible by car!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Stirrin' Up Pub Trouble

One of the best parts of living abroad in Ireland is living in a small village with a neighborhood pub. While bars in Dublin city proper transform into seething, swilling jabberwockies by 5:30 p.m. (you should see the people inside!), the neighborhood pub is different beast altogether. Most nights the neighborhood pub is chill. Most afternoons, it sports the kind of quiet and lonely desolation that two desert dwellers can appreciate. But when Leinster is playing Ulster in a rugby tourney, or when Tipperary is going head to head with Kilkenny in a hurling final, the neighborhood pub metamorphoses. It swells with people, food, drink, and laughter. (Sports fans, you know to read that as collective groaning, whooping, cheering, and cursing.) Zach and I had the fortunate experience of relaxing in the pub when it unexpectedly transformed. We did not know a game would be on, but we soon discovered how lucky we were to have seats.

Recently we squeezed our way into the local pub, Fitzgerald's, when the Euro Cup was on the telly. Ireland's team had already been tragically, embarrassingly eliminated early on (I hear they mistakenly sent their Gaelic football team to play soccer), which meant that the mood in the pub was a little more dour than usual. But Germany was up against Greece, and for the locals, this was the perfect opportunity to cheer on underdog Greece and boo the evil Sith Lord of the Euro Zone (Germany). (Yeah, if the Sith were... shit, you're right! They ARE the Sith Lords of Europe!) To be clear, Germany is not evil for dumping hundreds of millions of euros into the coffers of struggling countries like Ireland, Greece, and others, but from the perspective of those struggling, they do feel as if Germany has them by the short-hairs. (Darth Pube?) So how better to exorcise those frustrations than to raucously ring a big leaden bell every time Greece scores against Germany?

I say all this as preface to the following: Zach is a huge Germanophile. He lived there for a year, teaching English on a Fulbright (I know, he's such a smarty). And public attitudes in Ireland be damned--there was no way he was going to sit through one of Germany's games and not cheer each and every time they scored. Loving him devotedly as I do, I lent my voice to the cause.

Happily, I can report that while we were the only two people cheering for Germany in the whole pub (I now know how awkwardly delightful clapping loudly in a silent pub, and following it up with a German cheer can be), we were never threatened, slugged, clobbered, or refused service, which was handy because we were very keen to try some of the local Irish brews newly available.

I had the Currim Gold Celtic Wheat, made by the Carlow Brewing Co. Being the rapscallion he is, Zach ordered trouble...that is to say, he got the Dark Arts Porter by Trouble Brewing. I'd like to give a glowing, perhaps even golden, review of the Currim, but there was just something not right between it and my taste buds. The smell rising up from the thin head was fishier than a barrel of trout. The taste was metallic, reminiscent of, well, the top of a 6-volt battery (you know the big block kind with springs on top; the ones your prank-loving dad or uncle is always trying to get you to lick when you're young and don't know any better) (ahem. Some of us always knew better), which was a doubly-unfortunate way to taste given the copper-top color of the brew.

Knowing that not all beers are best at an icy cold temperature, I decided to let my Currim warm up a little. This proved a moderately worthwhile decision. The warmth turned my fishy Duracell into something almost akin to a lager, a bit like Red Stripe. Because it was not enough of a change to turn this frothy frog into a pintly prince, I let my tongue and Currim part ways--both citing irreconcilable differences--and asked the barman for a Stonewell Cider. Somehow, perhaps magically, the Nohoval Brewing Co. out in Cork has managed to bottle the crisp taste and feel of a dewy, apple-harvesting autumn sunrise in New England. Now, there are plenty of wonderful Irish ciders worth trying when you're here, but unlike a lot of others, the Stonewall does not candy-coat the mouth. It drinks dry like a good wine, only it bubbles with the fun of an even better champagne.

I stuck with one of my Fitzgerald standbys: not the Beamish, though I do prefer a pint of the southern stout to Guinness, but the aforementioned Dark Arts Porter, reportedly named for the mystical part of the brewing process not quite explainable by science. The Fitz has Trouble bottled, rather than on tap, so I also get to enjoy their sense of humor on the label (think cartoonish voodoo doll). Being bottled, it's not overly carbonated; nor does it have the nitrogenated head people expect from an Irish stout. (I've never tried it on tap, and would be curious to know what the head is like on one of those.) This porter is a strong example of what a stout can be when it's not afraid to have flavor; some may not like it, but those who enjoy their beer leaning toward the chocolate, coffee, and toffee side of the spectrum will enjoy the Dark Arts. Sometimes by the end of a bottle it's a bit too sweet for my preference--not too much of the ol' bitterness by any means--but not so sweet that it can't be enjoyed with a meal, or on its own. Though it would be an excellent dessert beer...

And it was in the midst of enjoying this cider, cheering yet another of Germany's goals when the kingly old gent sitting beside us on the built-in wall-bench took up a sudden cussing-finger-flipping contest with another man on his way out of the pub. Now, I say kingly, because up til then, this benevolent ol' chap had sat in the corner, sipping his pint of the black stuff, leisurely reading the paper. He'd even leaned over a few times to consult Zach on the score of the match, the state of German affairs, and occassionally practice speaking the language. (Personally, I think he was 90% of the reason why we weren't thrown out for cheering for Germany.) Besides that, the chap flirted with the young waitresses, coaxing them to bend over and count his change (verifying he was paying enough for each beer) so that he could indulge in the wonders of their young cleavages. He was right ol' sovereign, a regular who clearly conducted court. Indeed, none of the other locals could leave the bar for the day unless they had stopped by this gent and paid their respects. And so it was that as one such local man was about to leave, he spotted the sovereign, smiled, and flipped up his middle finger. The ol' gent responded in kind, giving the bird the European way, which is to flash the back side of your peace sign. (He leaned over to Zach to say, "He gives me one finger, well I'll give him two!") Then there was playful repartee, along the lines of:

Local Man
You bleepity-bleep-blank-blank!

Ol' Gent
Where have you been all evening, you blankety-bleeper?

Local Man
How long were you sitting there all by y'self? Oh, sorry, miss (to me), I don't mean to cuss in front of a lady, but I was going to call him a bleepity-bleep-blank-blank and a bleep with bleep's blank, until I saw you sitting there. (Everyone laughed then.)

This is all so accurate that I can't add anything. He was bleepity-bleep-blanking hilarious. And the buxom waitresses didn't seem to mind him, either.

It was a funny moment to get caught in the middle of, but otherwise, it so encapsulated the magic of the neighborhood pub.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Landlubbers Beware (of B.O.) and an Ogres' Ode

Last summer, while Jenny was at her grad-school residency in Vermont and I was basking in the heat of an Albuquerque summer, we did a duel-post a bit different than the Albrewquerque standard. We proved in the process that we can snark each other from two time zones away (yeah, we're awesome like that)!

Now it's time to raise the bar. Can our snark (and our love of trying new beers) bridge five time zones and an ocean?

Vermont, I imagine, is much the same summer to summer. Here in Ireland, I'm still waiting for a hint of a taste of a drop of that New Mexican summer. So, to console myself, I visited the Brew Dock in Dublin with my friend and classmate, Katie.

The Brew Dock is a new establishment right across from Connolly Station. It's run by the same folks who operate Galway Bay Brewery, and in the spirit of microbrewing, their bar features dozens of craft beers from Ireland and around the world. (Fifteen or twenty are actually on tap -- the rest bottled.) Since it was a Galway Bay establishment, I opted first for the Galway Bay experience. I ordered their Stormy Port porter and sipped it while leaning against the wall, reading a book, waiting for both an open table and my friend... on a Friday night. (Yeah, I was *that guy* in the bar.) (What? The same guy you always are: smart and smokin' hot?)

In many ways, the Stormy Port is the inverse-Guinness. (Man, I really don't like comparing every Irish stout or porter to Guinness. But what other universal point of comparison is there?) There was not an ounce of creaminess to this beer's head. It was one of the hoppier porters I've ever tasted, lively and tingly without being too bubbly (though of course, any fizz is more fizz than the fizz of that other Big Biz brew). Some of the flavor, I feel, was masked by the coldness of the beer on tap -- shockingly cold, even for an Irish summer evening. I would say that I'd love to try this beer warmer sometime, say at room-temperature. (Well perhaps you either read or drank too fast....)

But (there was clearly a but, wasn't there?)... I fear that this beer is like a German bus (Punctual? Shiny? Crowded?); the heat inside is directly proportionate to the degree of body odor (Ooohhh, gotcha). Yes. German transport is a blessing, but not in your drink. As my hand warmed the glass, and as I continued exploring this drink for flavors, there was an evasive flavor that I could not quite pin. It grew more unpleasant the warmer my beer became. At one point I might actually have checked my own shirt sleeves to make sure I wasn't somehow smelling myself in the beer.

It wasn't me.

Maybe it was just a bad batch; who knows? Maybe the mid-range of temperatures for this beer is as awkward as middle school was for me. Maybe once it reaches the adulthood of temperatures, the unpleasantness mellows out into something more palatable. Maybe; but I won't be the one to find out. (Incredible! That pretty much sums up why I didn't date any guys in middle school or high school!)

So for my chaser, I ordered a beer from a different microbrewery, a beer I've been anxious to try for quite some time: the Metalman Pale Ale, from a very new brewery in Waterford. Oh, what a godsend this beer was!

Jenny may or may not like it; the hop content is high (oh, c'mon, have some faith. I love hops...sock-hops), as you might expect in a beer described as an American-style pale ale, but not nearly as high as in a standard IPA. And I have nothing but good things to say about this beer. It too was served cold, but that works well for a pale ale. It has a rich tawny color, and a decently thick (but not overdone) white head (like Mozart?). Some pale ales like to kick you in the back of the throat with their hops; the Metalman rolls over your whole tongue, giving you a bit of citrus here, a whiff of floral notes there, the light bubbles cavorting the whole time like crickets at the Ugly Bug Ball (Metalman, if you're reading this, I'm sure Zach does not mean to connote that your beer feels like bugs dancing on the tongue). Of course, there's the bitter finish characteristic of a hoppy beer, but this one doesn't make you wince.

Despite the variety I had at my fingertips (were you behind the bar helping yourself, or what?), I ordered a second Metalman to go with my dinner, a Thai noodle salad. The spices in the food invited my beer over for a play date and had a grand ol' time. The Metalman Pale Ale proved itself worthy of my repeat business, and I enjoyed it down to the last drop. (And that was when his friend Katie showed up and had to roll him home in the wheelbarrow. Just kidding.)
Now for my (Jenny's) journey into Vermont and its beers (which are plentiful and diverse). I should preface this section by saying that I love barley wine. L.o.v.e. it. What do I love about a barley wine? (Try fer shtarters that it getsh you pished rully fasht.) Start with the name. According to The Naked Pint (a fantastic read for any beer lover), barley wine arose in England at a time when they were pissed off at the French and did not want to drink French (grape-based) wines. So, they set about making their own "wines" and dubbed them barely wines. 

Beyond mere history, for me, the name evokes olden times when men's fashion boiled down to cloaks and swords, and women wore low-cut green velvet wench-ware (those times still exist on Saturday mornings at your local park's SCA gathering); times when inns weren't out and tables were thick slabs of oak. In a time like that, thou woulds't ordereth a barley wine and play high stakes card games with yon ogres and dwarves! 

For me, barley wines are all about merriment and mystique. They are imaginative and magical. Evocative and definitive. Thus there was no better beer to bring along when my classmates at Vermont College of Fine Arts gathered for a reading. You see, we are children's writers and we take great pride in our wild and vivid imaginations. We possess that unique ability to travel in and out of alternate realities, fantasies, middle school memories, and the horrors of high school at any given time. Thus, we gathered to read excerpts from our worlds and I sat back to Drink and Thoroughly Enjoy (note the A. A. Milne style "Pooh capitals") a Rock Art Brewery Ridge Runner Barley Wine. This was right on par with the Ol' Oku b.w. from Turtle Mountain back in Rio Rancho! It was sweet and zingy, floral and oaky-smokey. And like the stories, it was sweet and playful on one level, with deep, dark undertones. The Ridge Runner made for a perfect accompaniment and several of my classmates enjoyed a bottle or two. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the folks who write the books your children read.

And that really is the wonderment of genuine craft brewing. It is creative and imaginative and sometimes, if you're really lucky, that brew can transcend the ordinary world! 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Pimmseldon, or Wimblepimms

While queuing for tickets for Wimbledon, one must be always congenial and always ready for conversation. Easier said than done. One is outside before dawn -- which, in England in June, is EARLY. The queue for tickets is long (tens of thousands -- though only about a thousand brave souls camp the night) and the wait can be grueling (dozens of hours), but the people around you are more excited than tired. This, however, says nothing of yourself... no matter how excited you are. They want to chat and they want to know just how much you play tennis or don't, and just how many times you have been to Wimbledon.

Feeling like an unofficial envoy and goodwill ambassador, you respond to all questions with a smile and an answer that doesn't make you look out of the loop or entirely stupid. In the loop and partially stupid is entirely acceptable at all pre-dawn hours. You know to be careful because by being an American -- more importantly, being an American abroad -- you know that Americans always get a bad rap for being rude or a little slow because we just talk louder than anyone else.  

"Well, I don't play tennis, so much as dabble and enjoy it on the weekends," you say. "Actually, this is my first time at Wimbledon" (nothing wrong with a little humility after all). Unless you're Jenny, then you try to avoid talking about that invitation-only international tournament that brought you to Wimbledon back in high school. Sense of modesty, or some such.

But then when the Aussies on either side ask you if you've had a Pimm's, you can do little else but gawk, shake your head, and ask, "What's a Pimm's?" Or act affronted and say, "I beg your pardon!" Just for a laugh. The question goes off like a bomb! The Aussies press their hands to their cheeks and foreheads in shock and dismay. How could you not know or never have tasted a Pimm's?

Well, that was more or less the situation we found ourselves in over a week ago (for a full description, see our Writers blog). It was just after dawn, and we had been queuing for tickets since about 3:30 a.m., when our neighbors in the line brought up Pimm's. They made such a convincing case for it that Zach and I resolved to have one as soon as there was a decent break between tennis matches. 

We got our break and, even though we'd spent more than 8 hours in a line already, got in another line at one of the refreshment vendors under Court No. 1. We got our beverages and sat on the sunny knoll known as Henman Hill to drink them. Dear American readers: "Sunny" means something different in a British dictionary. According to more knowledgeable sources across the internet, Pimm's is a fruit cup. American readers are probably thinking of chunks of fruit in a cup (I was), or maybe even along the lines of jungle juice, but that's not the case. Fruit cup, here, means a specialty drink, or a summer cocktail mixing a fizzy drink with a hard alcohol and other flavorings. 

As a drink, Pimm's originated in the 1820s in England and is named for its maker, James Pimm. James was mass-producing by the 1850s and even managed to turn out seven styles of his fancy fruit cups. The brand was picked up by super-corporate drink-conglomerate Diageo in the 2000s, which is why it's getting only a quick mention on this blog. 

(If you ever want to get me and Zach going on how the big, corporate Behemoths are wreaking havoc on anything good, from music to drinks, just say the word "Diageo." Or "Clear Channel." Look them up and you might just be surprised at the brands under their belt. We sure were!) 

The Pimm's (mixed with lemonade, as is tradition at Wimbledon) was refreshing. It looks like iced tea, but it tastes a little sweet and a little dark, like figs. Or a soda pop, light on the fizz, heavy on the flavors. Maybe these comparisons are heightened because we drank it with a straw... Mix in the zing of lemons and the bite of gin, and you've got yourself a fine summer cocktail. 

Now should you ever find yourself abroad, and are asked if you've ever had Pimm's, you have some options. You could pull out your own soapbox and unload on the inquirer about the dangers and downsides of corporate brand acquisitions.

Then again, you could just admit the truth and soon as you're able, shell out the four or five pounds, and have a sip for yourself. 

Or, you could give thoughtful pause (as if searching your auxiliary memory databases), use our description to signify you know what they're talking about, and then riposte with your own question, a recommendation, perhaps, for a local beverage. That way, everyone walks away a winner. You look smart--even for an American. The "big guys" don't get your money. And, in the best of worlds, a new friendship arises between a couple of "little guys" having conversation about some other "little guys" who make good brews, good music, good whatever!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Teeny-Tiny Woman and Her Teeny-Tiny Pub

This post is more about the location than the beer (though don't get me wrong, I'll cover that, too).

We have more on the rest of our visit to Moneygall over on our traveling writers' blog: Writers Gone Isled. But we just have to talk about one of the more memorable Irish pubs here.

To set the stage: Moneygall is a teeny-tiny town with one main street (now for the fairy-tale remix: Once there was a teeny tiny woman in a teeny tiny town with a teeny tiny pub...), and no one had heard of it until Barack and Michelle visited it in May of 2011 (after they discovered they were really the O'bamas). Our friend and host Eimear just happens to have grown up there. It has precisely two pubs, as far as we could tell, and they are right across the street from one another (huh, maybe that's where Starbucks got the idea...). The larger of the two is more or less what you expect out of an Irish pub (leprechauns dancing on the tables? CCR and Bob Dylan cover bands?).

The smaller one is exceptional. Here it is from the outside:

Instead of dim iridescent lighting, J Hayes Bar has a strip of bare fluorescent bulbs across the ceiling. The counter is Formica-topped, and just high enough that you feel slightly small leaning against it. There are two beers on tap (Guinness and Smithwick's) (pronounced Smith-icks...emphasis on the "icks"), a mini-fridge with bottles of Miller and cans of Heineken, a row of whiskeys and such along the back mirror, and a paper Obama mask above a small Obama bobblehead. The wall has framed pictures of various get-togethers that might have been in 1987 as easily as 2007.

All this might be strange on its own (or potentially creepy). The woman behind the bar, though, turns it all into the most remarkable pub we've ever visited. Her name is Julia, she's about 81 years old, and she is the sole proprietor and bartender. (To hear her tell it, she got behind the bar when she was 16 and basically never left that post!)

She greeted everyone who entered by name (their real names, not the generic "Hey...guy" or "Howdy partner"). I've never seen any barkeep do that for reals, or outside of Cheers. (Everyone except for Jenny and me, of course, but straight away she got our names down. I imagine for weeks she'll be talking about the two Mexicans who visited her. Sharp as a tack, Julia is, but deaf to the word "New," it seems.) Her handshake was firm, her smile genuine, and straight away you knew this woman was anything but doddering, no matter how much her pub resembles your grandma's kitchen (yeah, if grandma left the liquor cabinet unlocked).

She poured and pulled our selections. She was adorable with the condensation on glasses and bottles -- for whatever reason, she could not stand a single drop to smudge the glass, so she would run her hands firmly down the sides until the unmarred glass glistened. My Guinness might not have been pulled perfectly to the Guinness corporate standards, but I've never seen a beer pulled more carefully or more caring. She got every drop into the glass that would fit, and with a slow and steady hand delivered it to my section of Formica.

Best Guinness I've ever had. It wasn't just the atmosphere, either. It was smoother, richer, less bitter. However Julia takes care of her draft lines, or whatever grandmotherly tenderness goes into her pub, the results shine through in her pints. Anyone going through Ireland and seeking the best Guinness can just skip the official Storehouse tour and go straight to Moneygall. (This is a certifiable fact, as far as I'm concerned. I sipped that Guinness and could not believe my tongue! For once, this big-business brew did not taste flat or stale, as it usually does in any other pub! And here we thought we could go a whole year without blogging on the behemoth of dark barley...)

The back door opened at intervals so that some fellow (no idea who he was) could give us updates on the European soccer championships (Greece advanced, Russia was eliminated) (the interruptions were delightfully surreal, like the cut-aways on Family Guy). Eimear's former coach, a swell guy named Rody, popped in for his usual, and he ended up buying us all a drink. (He missed his chance to say, "A round for the house!" You always say it when there's fewer than five folks in the pub.)

We chatted away with Rody, with Julia, and the whole evening was my first true experience of truly small-town life. Julia knows Eimear's family better than Eimear does, and the moment Eimear ducked out of the room, Julia leaned over and assured us in the most confidential of tones that you couldn't find a better family than the Ryans. (Actually, Julia possessed that admirable quality of being able to talk honestly and openly about anyone in the room or absent. She mostly referred to everyone as "lovely," but I genuinely believed that's just how she sees the world.)

We could have stayed in Julia's pub all night (and might have if Eimear never stood up and put on her coat. Julia's atmosphere, though fluorescent and odd, is hypnotizing. The whole occasion zooms in on the microcosm of families, stories, and the mysteries of the human heart one can only properly discuss when under the influence. You settle in and never again think of the outside world again. Kind of like going to Neverland. Now, isn't that what having a neighborhood snug is all about?)

Eimear, being a good tour guide, wanted to show us the competition across the street, and in fairness we wanted to see it -- the pub where the Obamas famously pulled and sipped a Guinness. But before we left, we were sure to capture the true spirit of the evening in a photograph:

Note Julia's death grip (a.k.a. grandmotherly love-grip) on Jenny's arm, and how Jenny is only one centimeter shorter than the President. (oh, does that mean I am tall enough to be president one day?)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Backyard Holiday, or Dwarf-Roasting

Earlier this month, Jenny and I seized on a special summer opportunity -- we ATE OUTSIDE (like deer! No, wait something polar bears!). All of you back in Albuquerque are snickering right now because eating dinner on a back patio is a totally regular and normal activity. In Sandycove, if it's not raining, it's windy, and if it's not windy, it's cold, and if it's none of those things, then there are two (hungry-and-adorable-beggin'-for-scraps) dogs and various small children (also adorable without beggin' for scraps) in the backyard, not to mention the patio table and chairs are the favorite home of island spiders (polar bears don't like spiders). We love the dogs, and our landlords and their family are wonderful -- but their backyard is not always conducive to dining.

So when we had the chance, we grabbed it. The "neighbors" were out of town with their dogs, and while the night might have been cooler than we prefer (W-w-w-what is he t-t-t-talking ab-b-bout? It-t-t-t was f-f-f-f-fine...), it was at least clear and dry. So we took our homemade stir-fry out back, sat our own spider-free dining room chairs on the patio, and popped a couple brews that had been waiting in our fridge for just such a moment as this one.

On this night I sipped a Ginger Beard (Fiery Alcoholic Ginger Beer, 4.2%). The Wychwood Brewery of Oxfordshire, England proudly proclaims they are Brewers of Character. So with moral qualms aside, I was able to relax as the beer rolled over my tongue.

I'll admit my expectations were high for the Ginger Beard (ironic, considering there's a dwarf on the label) -- Wychwood is known for its Hobgoblin and Scarecrow beers, both of which Jenny and I have enjoyed on particularly fine Albuquerque summer evenings. And this one lived up to standard. You won't like it if you really don't like ginger (what's not to like?) -- but if you're only opposed to the harsh face-puckering bitterness of strong ginger (oh yeah, that), this beer takes care of that problem (oohh, sounds so...mobster). The ginger element was spicy and snappy -- honestly not as fiery as the label suggests, though I was perfectly fine with that, having recently tried a non-alcoholic ginger beer with enough fire to roast a dozen dwarves (now that would be an episode of the Soprano's worth watching!). No, this ginger was smooth, like a well buffed car. You could run your finger over the polished taste of this one, and you wouldn't produce so much as a squeak (oh yeah? well what happens when you start the beer's engine?). It was an excellent complementary beer for the right meal, which the stir fry was. Yummers!

Jenny also branched outside of the Republic, though she at least stayed on the island with her selection. Only she can do this oddly-named beer justice:

I partook of the Clotworthy Dobbin from Whitewater Brewery in Northern Ireland. Yes, I know it sounds like I sat out back sucking on something from a hospital cabinet, but the Clotworthy's taste is worlds away from its name. According to the bottle, Mr. C. Dobbin was an old-timey brewer, ca. 1800s, and this beer was named to honor his legacy.

And what an honor it is! The Clotworthy is definitely drinkworthy. It was smooth like a nut brown ale, only with a bit more bite. Not much more. Maybe as much as puppy teeth. 

Were I recommending this beer to my fellow-female bookish types, I might make the following comparison (in keeping with the spirit of the past, the British Empire, and all things literarily smooth and brown): (and please say this in your own snobbiest accent) If the Santa Fe Nut Brown is Rochester, then Whitewater's Dobbin is nothing short of Wickham! 

Okay, enough snooty references for now. Back to Zach and his dwarf-roasting! 

The meals disappeared too quickly
(chattering teeth chew quicker is all), and the trace heat from the day's "sunshine" dissipated (jeez, guess we should have kept those dwarf-fires burning, eh?). We stubbornly remained outside, sipping our beers and enjoying the pleasures of an Irish evening (dwarves thinking of visiting Ireland: be warned). We whistled tunes on our beer bottle flutes, accompanied by the matchbox-castanets of cackling magpies scheming to steal... well, anything they could lay their beaks on.

With the little birds providing the entertainment, and Jenny providing the company, the beers were almost inconsequential (a shame when you think of all the Gimli's who gave their lives...), despite how much we enjoyed them. (Hey, I said nearly!)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

the Perfect Pint-by-Number

We are celebrating! My parents have traveled all the way to Ireland from the arid biome of southern New Mexico. This marks their first visit to the Emerald Isle and their first time in Europe! As such, we are celebrating. We are also restricted to a very brief beer-post because we are busily chasing those desert-dwellers from glen to glade! Though we do try to give them head starts.

However, a beer-post there must be because what better way to welcome my folks than with a fine pint from a local brewer? "With sunshine might be nice," the folks murmur in opposition.

We looked for just the right snug around 7 p.m. knowing the Irish summer sun would continue its dozy gazing until well after 9. "Sure bet those clouds enjoy getting a tan," bemoan the less-pale desert dwellers. Plenty of time to enjoy a round or two! Our dogs were barking after hiking Dublin city's hinterlands. (Actually, the dogs here are remarkably silent; maybe our foxes were keening?) We had traveled out to see the splendors of St. Patrick's Cathedral only to step into a choral rehearsal, courtesy of the Indiana University Chamber Choir. It was a dazzling experience to hear the voices soaring into the stone-carved vaulted rafters, where they mixed with the rainbow-splicing light of the stained glass windows. After that we ascended to the summit of the Guinness Storehouse where my parents pulled their own pints. We enjoyed views of the city and its surrounding hillsides from the 360-degree bar before making our way to the Temple Bar district.

Knowing Dublin as we do, Zach and I decided not to settle down in any pub in Temple Bar. No offense to the district, which is lovely and always so full of life, but it is touristy and consequently plays host to the usual big-brand taps that tourists expect. So, we navigated over to the Liffey and made ourselves at home among the cushy nooks of Messrs Maguire, craft brewers since at least the 1830s. On their regular rosters, they list a Haus Lager, a Rusty Red Ale, and a Bock.

I ordered the Haus. Zach got the new Golden Ale (celebrating the Olympics). And my Mom joined in the fun and ordered a half-pint of the Rusty. I guess we all balked at the Bock. Knowing Zach will jump in anywhere he likes to talk about the Golden Ale, I'll just start Mom's Rusty--respect fer'yer elders and all that fal-dee-rall.

Messrs say of the Rusty that it is a fruity auburn red ale, mixing malty caramel with citrus. And their assessment is not wrong. To Mom, it tasted "warm" even though the beer and its vessel were chilled. When I sipped the Rusty, I knew what she meant. It was not so much "warm" as "warming." My tongue warmed in response to the spice. It's like breathing in the aroma of cloves or eucalyptus. Sometimes, there's a physiological response to certain scents and flavors. Cells expand. Capillaries fill up. Who knows? Regardless of chemistry, this beer is a warming beer.

As Mom enjoyed her Rusty half-pint, I turned to my own Haus, which was in perfect order. This pilsner-style beer tasted...well, like a pilsner-style beer ought to taste. Nothing exotic. Nothing shocking. Nothing out of place. It was no less delicious or refreshing; no less crisp or subtly nutty. It was a paint-by-the-number pint, but I can hardly fault it for that. How many times have I tried a lurid, experimental brew only to be disappointed? Some brewers get bedazzled by the limitless combinations of hops, malts, roasts, quick or slow fermentation. They play with flavors and splice styles until their beers are like Sid's toys in Toy Story. (Misunderstood, yet willing to help a fellow misfit escape certain exploding doom? Oh, right...)

That said, my Golden Ale might not have been a mutant toy, but it kicked like a Mutant Ninja Turtle. It was darn good; I feared that the Golden, like so many beers of the name, would be too honey-sweet and lacking in the more bitter and bready tastes that I prefer to sweetness in a brew. My fears were far from realized. In fact, the beer was complex, and as diverse as the Olympic opening ceremonies. I honestly could never put my finger on the flavors: they were spicy, but not autumnal; they were full without being overly hoppy; they were tingly without being fizzy. The opening salvo was different than the rich finish, and the relationship between the two was one of the more balanced I can recall tasting in Ireland. Too bad this is a seasonal (and perhaps only a quadrennial!) offering.

Now, back to how Maguire avoids beers-like-mutant-toys brewing fiascos:

Messrs just don't mess with beer that way. If you order their pilsner, it will taste like a pilsner. Order a bock and it will not mock. You, dear thirsty wander, can drink easy here. Order what tickles your taste-buds because the beers will be guaranteed not to sneak up on you like some eyeless-baby-doll-head-with-Erector-set-crab-body. Though that would make for a pretty bitchin' beer bottle label.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Too Smooth with a Galway Hooker

We have loads of good Irish beers to write about (more than you could shake a shillelaugh at) -- but rather than start at the beginning (of our time in Ireland, that is), let's flash back all the way to last weekend. Jenny and I spent it in and around Galway (ostensibly for the launch of my program's anthology), but of course we sampled a couple new brews while we were there.

In all honesty, we were too busy flying hawks and leaning over cliffs to spend much time in the pub our first three days in the west. However, after a harrowing day of driving Mario-Kart style (invincibility star full insurance), Thursday evening called for a pre-dinner relaxation. We popped into Richardson's on the north-east corner of Eyre Square, and I ordered a beer I'd never heard of before -- a Caledonia Smooth.

I asked the bartender if it was a local brew, and he had no idea. One of the fellers (let's just call them regular they could help themselves to drinks and crisps) at the bar sounded off pretty quickly that it must be Scottish because of the name, but no one (granted, there were all of six people in the building, and two of them were us) knew much of anything about the beer. It came in a handsome enough glass, one side lightly etched and the other side with a touch of gold leaf, and the clear ale certainly had a pleasing mellow tan look to it (the kind of tan women long for in a new pair of springtime loafers).

We sat in our little nook and I eagerly sipped the beer (I opted for a hot whiskey hoping to raise my temperature and lower my blood pressure). The beer was, as advertised, smooth... too smooth. (You mean like a baby's bottom or a bald guy's forehead?) The posters around the pub which advertised this particular brew pitched it as "triple hopped," and there may well be three kinds of hops in this beer. There's just not any significant amount of any of them. I'm no hophead (isn't that what they all say?), but I appreciate the snap that they add to the back end of a good beer. The flavor on the front of the tongue was crisp and hinted at warmth (much like a date with a bank teller), but the taste going down was flat, watery, and disappointing (yeah, that's what she said). My particular glass was cool, and I wondered if the taste might grow richer as the ale warmed -- after all, most ales aren't meant to be chilled. Yet we sat there for an hour, and the beer hardly raised a temperature. I almost wonder if the glass was made to hold the cold. I'll be fair -- the flavors became slightly more noticeable as my tongue acclimated to the liquid (kinda like insisting on holding your tongue to the prongs of a 9-volt battery), so that the swallow was not quite so bland. But it was still nothing remarkable. I suspected at the time that maybe this was a beer made to appeal to the masses: enough flavor to be different from the usual Irish offerings, but weak enough to be inoffensive to most (Oh, like the Labor Party, says our Irish friend Katie).

My post-trip research proved that I wasn't wrong. The beer was made to seem craft-brewed (a disturbing if not at all shocking trend in brewing -- the big boys pretending to be craft is happening all over the place), but is really made by the same folks who produce Bulmer's, the ubiquitous cider. That is to say, it's not exactly made by two people risking their day-jobs to follow their passion. (It's what I'm labeling a "glamour-craft." A crummy beer disguised as craft, but made and distributed by a multi-million dollar company to trick the craft beer lovers and supporters.)

Caledonia is currently only available in Ireland (and only since about March of this year), though it is made in Glasgow (guess that barfly did know something after all--besides where the crisps were stashed). It's brewed to appeal to the 28-44 age group who want a better session beer -- and based on the language from Bulmer's Director of Marketing, this beer was indeed made to be middle-of-the-road: not too gassy or too flat, not too bitter or too sweet. They were actually looking to brew a beer "somewhere in the middle" -- which to me means it may not be anyone's favorite, but it certainly won't be anyone's least favorite (Oh, like Ron Paul?).

Now that I read that again, this beer sounds like many politicians (he says before I've snarked this post--amazing!). And it may work well for marketing (or running for Congress! Vote Caledonia 2013) -- just like so many politicians manage to get elected -- but it's not what I want in a beer (yes, but would you have a beer with...oh...hey, wait a sec...).

Saturday evening after our book launch proved to be at least a bit more interesting. To celebrate, my lovely Jenny decided to treat me to a Hooker of my very own (I'm a firm believer in positive reinforcement!). I think everyone else in the group was averse to trying a Hooker (in their defense, they are grad students), but I'm learning that most people are pretty bland in their tastes and their experiences, unwilling to branch out into the unfamiliar (again, in their defense: grad students). Why give up what's comfy and familiar for a Hooker that might not go down so well (or more than once)? Whereas my attitude is that you don't know how a Hooker'll work for you until you try one (or four).

In Galway, Hookers always stand out -- they're so much taller than all the other options, top-heavy and nicely tapered. I don't remember the name of the place where we all went after dinner (not the alcohol's fault -- I never knew the name) , but the band was playing decent covers of John Cougar Mellencamp and we were all cozy in one dark-wooden corner near the stage and no one seemed bothered by my enjoying the Hooker. There's not many feelings quite like celebrating on an evening out, one arm around your lady and your lips to a Hooker. When I finished, I saw that everyone else was still enjoying themselves, so I got greedy and opted for a second Hooker -- Jenny didn't treat me this time, it was all up to me (like I said, positive reinforcement). Unfortunately, by the time I returned, I realized that everyone else had moved on to their glasses of water and were preparing to pack it in before heading to some other part of town. So I had to rush -- and the slow pleasure was ruined by having to pound my second Hooker so quickly.

Okay, I've had my fun -- Galway Hooker seems to be one of the better-known craft breweries in Ireland, though we were disappointed to find that it's actually brewed in Roscommon, not Galway, so we weren't able to visit the brewery itself on this trip. It's named for a famous type of ship that traditionally sailed out of Galway, not for nightwalkers at all (though the brewers certainly have fun with the name, too). And... I have to be honest, the Hooker isn't for me. It's better than a lot of the usual options in an Irish bar, if only because it's made locally, freshly, and doesn't have all the chemicals and preservatives. But think about it: it's a Pale Ale served in a Hefeweizen-style glass (what's that, like Brittney Spears in a chautauqua show?)... and that's sort of the combination of the taste, too. It tends to carry a nice, frothy (if not too thick) head, and has a good range of flavors to look for. But the particular combination of hoppy-and-fruity just doesn't quite cut it for me. (Jenny's had bad after-the-fact luck with this beer, too, though my system didn't seem to have trouble with it that night or the next morning.) (He's being polite, but I'd pull out my soapbox on this issue in a heartbeat! Not enough talk or time or effort goes into the serious prevention of bad-beer farts. Note where that hyphen is, people. Bad beers cause bad-beer farts, and well, friends don't let friends suffer the Dutch-oven rumblers! And another thing -- oh, Zach's telling me I have to put my soapbox away now...sigh.) 

Boy, does it feel good to be posting about beer again. We'll have to do a post soon on our favorite Dublin brewpub... but gee, to refresh my memory on all nine or ten of their beers, we might have to conduct some refreshing refresher research...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Back in the Sud-Saddle (You Mean Suddle)?

Most people would not believe the amount of work that goes into doing a graduate program...or three. We certainly didn't until we enrolled, moved abroad, started classes, had lots to read, made friends, went out for drinks, had more to read, turned in some essays...and on and on it went. (That's the academic grad student version. Mine is more like, "started classes, did fun writing, read lots for fun, fun writing, start calling my favorite pub 'the library' to justify all the 'work' I did there, fun writing, Christmas, mess with my program's expectations of what I write." Oh yeah, and I finally had a real assignment due this week.)

But the key word in all that is "drinks." Yes, we've been out to many a pub and guzzled many a pint while on the island, and we're nowhere near through, either. No, we haven't forgotten our civic duty (heh, she said "duty") to drink beers and report back to you, our readers, who want to know what to have when you're thirsty, when you're curious, when you're feeling just a bit dangerous.

So hang on to your hats and get ready for some updates. We're brewing up a whole heap of posts on the beers we've tried in Ireland. We've pulled ourselves back into the sud-saddle (I'd call it a suddle, but the spelling's too subtle)! Our puns might be rusty, but our pints are still brave! (Or maybe I meant that with minds and hearts... eh, oh well.)