Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dirty Girl Scouts Make Good Beer Floats

Your dedicated beer bloggers have been swamped under piles of work that get us out of bed before sunup and keep us working well past decent darkling hours. I keep saying we should be MORE dedicated to our vicarious beer-drinking readers. We’ve had few chances to go out for a beer, let alone go get groceries. Dinner sometimes consisted of whatever could be scrounged from the pantry. Fruit cocktail-Grape Nuts-sautéed onion surprise! Just kidding. We'd never pair fruit cocktail with cereal.

But on a particularly sunny afternoon, I escaped to the fancy li'l mini-mart up the road where they (mercifully) stock lots of craft beer. Elated to be out of the house for the first time in days and perhaps in need of something dramatic to snap me and Zach out of our zombie-like states, I grabbed a pack of Ska Brewing Co.’s Vernal Minthe Stout. The comical psycho Barbie-gone-toga-party image on the front caught my eye. What’s a minthe stout, you say? As did I.

Well, one day, peppermint and spearmint meet up with cocoa and vanilla beans. They have a few drinks, they go to a bar, and then wind up having an orgy with a batch of dark roast malt. And oh what a time they have. It’s probably appeared in a Tom Robbins novel, somewhere in a sloshy, sloppy chapter. You need to be more specific, darling.

When I got to the register, a bit of my whimsy was wearing off. I worried that maybe I was not in a suitable state of mind to buy such an odd beer. Ska is a solid brewer in these here parts. I’ve yet to try something I didn’t like from them. I’m pretty sure their quirky, zesty Molé Stout will become a regular in our fridge every holiday season (assuming they make it again).

I must have looked trepidatious when I put the beer on the counter because the clerk—a wizened old man who needs only a monocle to look like the Monopoly guy with a wicked white goatee (he's named Rich "Uncle" Pennybags. Everyone knows that. Right? Anyone...?)—volunteered his take on the Minthe. “Oh, I’ve had this one. It’s good. Have you had it?”

I admitted I had not but was curious.

“It reminded me of a dirty girl scout,” he said.

I blinked. “You mean like one who hasn’t sold all of her cookies?”

He blinked. Then he laughed. “I mean the drink.” He rambled off the blend of liqueurs and hard liquor that make up the tincture, then we both enjoyed a good laugh. That's it? Not a hearty guffaw? Not a convivial chuckle? Man. Laughing standards have gone down since Uncle Pennybags' day.

I got the Minthe Stout home and lured Zach out of his work chair. It was a bit like coaxing a zombie with the promise of, "Brains. C'mon. Brains." Only I was taunting with, "Beer. C'mon. Beer."


We sat out on our porch looking over the Animas Valley with micro-explosions of green. Spring has come late to our area with a few lingering snow storms, but the blossoms are bursting and the magpies are nesting and there was something in the air Zach and I have not felt for at least two years. I think you call it warmth....

And in that alien-feeling "warmth" we sipped our mint beers, which tasted just like a liquified version of Girl Scout thin mints. We didn't say ewww, but we didn't say oh.my.god.i.love.this.beer, either. Mostly I just made more zombie sounds. It was good, better than you might think beer with mint could be. Ska is reliable like that. Where most beers go wrong with additives like chili, Ska balances it out and make it work. What we found was that the mint comes on super strong while the brew is cold, but let it warm, and the cocoa tones regain a little self-esteem. This helps put the mint in its place and you get a delicious blend of bitter, cooling, and sweet. 

This beer would make the perfect accompaniment to a night on the patio supping desserts. In fact, a few nights later we poured the beer over some vanilla bean ice cream and had beer floats! Now those were YUM. The super-sweet ice cream brought out the bitter cocoa and muted the mint just enough. And as an added bonus you don't usually get with root beer floats, we were drunk when our mugs were drained! Speak for yourself. I wasn't drunk. I was simply floating.

So the lesson may be: you don't have to sell all your cookies in order to reward yourself with a beer. And, don't be afraid of the novelty seasonal, especially when it comes from a brewery you trust! That said, I'd be curious to hear from readers who bought a novelty seasonal that didn't exactly float their boat. Did you find a way to make the beer worth the bucks or did you have to dump it down the sink or ladle it to the dog/cat/parakeet or pawn it off on unsuspecting neighbors/friends? We've never pawned off birdie bogey beers. (Meaning worse than par. Not feeding it to parakeets. Why is sub-par a bad thing everywhere but the golf course, anyway?) Not once. And especially not with a green chile beer that tasted like the bottom of a roasting drum.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Closed for the Winter

How many times can we point out that, despite the drought that's becoming the norm, we live in one of the lushest corners of the world? (Zero -- it's rude to point.) Good beer flows ever more freely than water 'round here. Never mind that Albuquerque is a mecca frequently on top-ten-beer-cities lists (it's numero uno according to Livability.com, and numero cinco on AMOG's "wort"while vacation stops); Durango and its environs must have one of the densest brewery populations per capita in the world. (Just to clarify, I think he means "dense" in the mass-per-unit-volume way, and not in a these-people-chew-bowling-balls-like-Bubble-Yum way.)

That includes Silverton, a tiny mining town-turned-tourist locale. You think Durango's doing well with four five breweries to its 17,000 folks? Try Silverton's two breweries to its 531 residents.

Yup. This little town at 9300 feet has both the Silverton Brewing Company and the newer Avalanche Brewing Company. And we had tried neither of them. So when family came to town last week and wanted to take the scenic drive north, Jenny and I grabbed our muy-expensivo growler and wondered all the way up the winding road: which brew would come home with us?

The decision was ultimately simple: No beer. (And, for the record, it was not because we are two helpless, habitual dithering debaters. We are, but that's not why we went home with an empty growler.)

See, the Durango & Silverton train doesn't resume service to Silverton until May. Until then, apparently NO ONE visits the tiny town. No one. The main street is boarded up, the lights are off, and you'd be hard pressed to find five hundred people anywhere.I think we saw one gift shop and two cafes/restaurants open for business. In both establishments we entered, the only employee inside asked, "You folks just passing through?" (Which was probably a polite way of asking, Are you idiots lost?)

You should have seen the looks we got when we admitted we were willingly visiting for the afternoon. (Walk up to a stranger, hand them a rubix cube, and demand they solve it, then you'll see a close approximation.)

Unfortunately for us, the brewing companies follow a similar schedule. Silverton Brewing's windows still have painted decorations from Christmas, as well as a proclamation that Oktoberfest beer is now available. At least the wind and the dancing snowflakes made the signs feel seasonally appropriate during our visit. Avalanche's exterior looks remarkably colorful and inviting, but for the sign in the window that declares they're closed until May. (Ah, so that's where the distress signal "Mayday! Mayday!" comes from....)

Our tongues were dry (and our beer-hearts were broken), but that didn't stop us from having a good time. Our little troupe walked the length of the main street from the near end to the far, where the rust-colored Cement Creek runs through town. (I was fascinated by this part, as I had just written about the creek here.) (The rest of us made moronic attempts to push each other into the mustard-yellow river. Oh, Freud would have a field day with my family!) We poked around in the gift shop and gave the smiling attendant someone to chat with for a while (yeah, like my ten-year-old nephew who wanted to know the price of every single coonskin cap and wood-carved doodad). We enjoyed coffee and chili cheese fries under old-school Budweiser mirrors adorning all the walls (not in the gift shop -- he means down the street at a cafe). And, perhaps best of all, we got to enjoy the high-peak scenery while it was still snow-capped and windswept (he means blizzarding and gust-scraped).

Up there, this time of year, you can feel isolated in the best kind of way (like, I'm-running-around-naked-and-no-one-can-see way. No? Ooohh, you meant in a peaceful-I-am-one-with-the-world way. Oops.). Folks visit Silverton by the trainload all summer long, thinking they are stepping back in time, which is ironic because mining towns were never intended to be tourist traps. But now, what they see is what the town presents them (like how to chew bowling balls). We saw Silverton without her makeup on, and the experience was a treat in its own way (yeah, I'm sure that's what Christine Daaé thought when she saw the Phantom of the Opera without his mask on). We might not have found beer during our early April visit, but I think we experienced the town a little closer to reality.

This summer, we'll go back and find out how she compares after a couple high-mountain brews.