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!