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!