Monthly Archives: November 2012

Drink These Beers: Oskar Blues Brewery

True, my quest to sample and write about good beers is both noble and important. The magnanimity can be overwhelming, but I do my best.

A rare roadblock has been overcome, and I’m thrilled to share the fruits of my labor: Oskar Blues Brewery. Yes, this is a very special edition of Drink This Beer; Not one, not two, but three spectacular beers from a single brewery.

First, though, a little back story:

In the summer of 2010, the family took a trip to suburban Atlanta, where I first came across Dale’s Pale Ale.

A very positive first impression

Having a lust for Pale Ales, it was an easy buy. Impressive from the start, with rich ale flavors and a wonderful hop finish. Who knew something so good came in a can? I couldn’t find it in St. Louis with minimal effort, but no matter – many other beers to try.

Fast forward to August 2012 and our biennial extended family vacation in the Florida panhandle. Glass bottles are a no-no on the beach, so how fortunate was I to find a glut of Dale’s in the overpriced beer bodega attached to the Winn-Dixie! Many were drank and good times were had.

Upon my return to St. Louis, I talked with the local beer store clerk who had some unfortunate news for me: Oskar Blues beer is not available in STL. I’m no beer distributor expert, but that’s goddamned silly. Saint Louis is practically on the way from Colorado to freaking Atlanta and Florida. Can’t they drop off a few cases? I promise to buy some.

So I went to the Oskar Blues website and emailed both the owner (Dale himself) and the sales director with just that sentiment:

Help me out here… I promise to buy a few six packs a month of this fine beer with an epic national reputation if you can just drop off a skid or two locally. I will avidly spread the word if you can distribute here. If you already distribute here, please let me know where I can go to buy some quality canned beer. Thanks!

They actually responded:

Thanks for reaching out! Unfortunately they are right, we still have not started distribution to St. Louis but it is on our list! We have started the process of opening a new brewery in North Carolina and this will help with our distribution on the east coast allowing us to expand to new markets! We wish we could, but we can’t ship beer from our brewery. … Thanks for your support and stayed tuned for Dale’s Pale Ale in St. Louis!

No lie, either. The website says I’m S.O.L. (it’s hard to read without clicking, but it says no Oskar Blues within 100 miles of STL):

Too bad, so sad. Times are tough in ABInBev country.

What’s a beer drinker to do? Then, just this past weekend, we drove to a family funeral in northeast suburban Cincinnati. On the eve of the funeral mass, I planned to knock a few back and watch Sunday Night Football. Then I saw this in the local beer and liquor store:

What great fortune!

New to Cincinnati but known and elusive to me. I bought three six packs to bring home: Dale’s Pale Ale, Mama’s Little Yella Pils, and Old Chub Scotch Ale. I’ll review each in turn.

Mama’s Little Yella Pils:

Briefly, I know that these are canned beers. I’ve only ever drank them from a can. But, for the sake of showing the full beer experience, I poured one of each into an non-frosty mug to understand the color, effervescence, and flavor more completely.

Nothing crushes bills and files like cold beer in a mug

As you can (kind of) see from the photo, Mama’s Little Yella Pils is an opaque yellow with a hint of brown, having a minimal head. It’s a crisp, refreshing beer with a hearty malt flavor and very mild hop/grain aftertaste. One of the more refreshing pilsners I’ve ever had. The grain flavors are full and smooth, and the 5.3% ABV is right in line with pilsners.

Why import some green bottle nonsense from Europe when you can get something better here? I consider myself a pilsner fan, but typically only the ubiquitous imports – Stella, Heineken, Amstel, etc. This, however, is superior to all of them.

Delicious, drinkable beer. As a BBQ man, I can see a cooler full of these resting comfortably next to some chicken wings and ribs on the grill.
Old Chub Scotch Ale:

Scotch Ales have been hit or miss for me. Each of Schlafly, McEwan’s, Sam Adams are good in their own rights, but I don’t reach for them amongst other beer styles. Snagging some Old Chub Scotch Ale is a little bit of a reach for me.

Holding down the penske file

Right away the deep brown color and thick head jump out of the can with the very mild Scotch Ale aromas. Compared to the aforementioned Scotch Ales, Old Chub has a restrained aroma, though the flavors are deep and strong. Whatever grain they use provides a strong smokiness and super-subtle caramel flavor, without any noticeable sweetness. I can’t place the extremely satisfying aftertaste, but it coats and lingers on the top of my palate and the back of my tongue.

I’m both pleasantly surprised and kind of impressed how much I enjoy this beer. Better take it easy, though – 8% ABV. I honestly didn’t expect this beer to be this good. Wow.

Dale’s Pale Ale:

My white whale Dale; The Oskar Blues beer that started my journey to this blog post.

Among the many benefits of a home office – the paperweights get interesting late in the afternoon

Ten years of making great beers. I’m excited to open a can of this in Missouri. Did I break some interstate commerce law or violate a union contract importing this stuff across a few state lines? Who cares. Time to drink.

The color is amber but with an orangeish hue, with a frothy, thick foam head that clings to the edges of the glass. I got a little sloppy with my pour.

Classic hop aroma, something a little heavy-handed for a pale ale instead of an APA or IPA. Really, the most predominant note is the hops. They are present in a big way, but not overwhelming. It tastes like literally adding one more hop cone makes this an IPA. It’s a remarkably refreshing beer that I have enjoyed on the beach and at pork-laden BBQs. A canned beer for people who like good bottled beer. A pale ale for people who prefer IPAs.

This was a wonderful beer drinking experience that will continue into the evening. I doubt many remain tomorrow.

Unfortunately it seems that my next chance to experience Oskar Blues will be some kind of road trip, but, until that time, I will recommend that you Drink These Beers.


BBQ Baked Beans

Incomplete Truth: I won a BBQ competition this past Saturday

More Complete Truth, But Missing Some Context: I won first place in BBQ Baked Beans and fourth in BBQ Ribs at the annual parish Rib Run event.

Reality: I won first place in BBQ Baked Beans in a field of four competitors, and fourth in BBQ Ribs in a field of eight. The other beans were… not good. The guy who finished fifth in ribs had never made them before.

Yes, last Saturday was the annual OLP Rib Run. You start with a 5K in the morning (and I mean the royal “you”… I sure as shit didn’t run a 5K) and then a rib and bean competition the rest of the day.

Incidentally, I’d like to point out that this is the very same event that I won two years ago by parboiling my ribs. I’ve learned the error of my ways and set out to make actual competition-style St. Louis cut ribs. I have to say that they were really good, though I could have sauced them a little more. The tenderness was nearly perfect and the seasoning was spot on. I didn’t have much of a smoke line and I failed to garnish my box. The first place guy is a pro BBQer; second place is a caterer who baked her ribs in an oven (don’t get me started on that); and, third place was a very skilled and experienced rib BBQer.

Who did I beat? Well, let’s see. Fifth place went to a guy who had literally never made ribs before. He showed up at 12:30pm with an 18″ Weber kettle and a rib rack in it’s original packaging… a rib rack too big for his grill. He wound up setting the lid on the rack and wrapping the kettle in a column of foil to get a seal. Seventh place went to a guy who made a sauce out of blueberry jam, chipotles and stout beer. Sounds interesting, but the judges didn’t seem to like it.

So fourth place is unimpressive given the field. Plus, adding insult to injury, over a dozen people came by asking about or looking to get a sample of the apple parboiled ribs that I no longer make for competitions. Lots of disappointment.

On to the beans! I started with olive oil, half a chopped white onion, and minced garlic in a sauce pot over hot coals.

A good start to many dishes!

Once that got nice and brown, in went a chopped pound of uncooked hickory smoked bacon.


Bacon makes everything better

I learned from prior bean experiences that you don’t need a heavy hand with the brown sugar. These beans have a similar beginning to my brussels sprouts.

Once this got brown and the bacon began to crisp, I added red beans along with two PBRs for a reducing liquid. The prior night, I water-soaked a dry pound of red beans and changed out the water a few times, careful to rinse out any gunk.

Beans beginning their magical journey

At this point, I mixed in about a 1/2 cup of brown sugar, a tablespoon or two of full flavor molasses, and a small squeeze of Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce.

Every 15-20 minutes, this concoction needed a good stirring. I didn’t want the beans to burn and I wanted even saturation of the beans. As needed, several more PBRs were added. The fire was maintained a few times with fresh coals as well.

In parallel to these beans, I happened to make a massive 6-7 lb. brisket on the smoker. Before foil wrapping it, after four hours of smoking, I carved off the burnt ends from three sides, chopped them up, and tossed them in the beans as well.

Eventually, the beans thickened and darkened.

Finished product, worthy of beating inferior competition beans

For service, we were each given six little plastic ramekins and lids. I placed a generous slice of brisket along the side and bottom and a scoop of beans on top.

In the space next to me, where the eventual rib winner was cooking, I wandered over to spy on my competition’s beans. This guy had four pork shoulder bones, pork shoulder meat, carrots, celery, onion and stock all reducing in a cast iron dutch oven over a propane flame. He mixed in some navy beans and tons of seasoning. The aromas were unreal, and I didn’t feel very good about winning next to him.

However, he had a little problem. His son had gone to New Orleans and returned with some local seasonings, spices, rubs, etc. for his father. Maybe seven or eight tablespoons of some kind of seasoning went into the beans. We all sampled it and… woah. About the saltiest thing I’ve ever tasted. In a panic, he added cubed potatoes to soak up the salt, but it was too late. The beans were hyper-salty and I could only manage a few bites. This guy came in second.

Third place? A team that literally opened two cans of Bush’s Baked Beans and poured them into an aluminum pan on the grill. I can’t even fathom what the fourth (and last) place team did.

So, pretty much by default, I won this trophy.

Not worth bragging about after all

I took the photo from a down angle and close up to make it look more impressive, though it’s kind of pathetic given the context of how I won.

On the plus side, the parish made some money and I spent the day grilling, eating, and drinking beer with a bunch of guys who share my passion for grilling, eating, and drinking beer. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

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Drink This Beer: Lagunitas Brown Shugga’

Lagunitas makes good beer, as I’ve discussed twice before. Today I sample yet another of their creations: Brown Shugga’.

A college friend on Facebook mentioned that he was “thankful” for Lagunitas Brown Shugga’, which checks in at a whopping 9.9% ABV. I’m excited to pair this with some Thursday Night Football,

Quick Aside: This friend is competent in few things, though I tend to trust his taste in beer. Like me, he has the portly physique of a beer-drinking pork lover. As a Kansas resident and KU fan, his taste is inherently questionable. “Wait,” you’re undoubtedly thinking, “KU fans have both the palate and cognitive capacity of fruit flies.” Yes, you would be right most of the time; Many do have a brain stem resembling a drought-stricken string bean. However, despite being mired in a rectangular wheat plot commonly known for bigoted “churches”, the curious absence of evolution, a 6,000 year old planet, the most obnoxious college sports fans in the world, an inferiority complex, and the Wizard of Oz, some people there have grown (dare I say… evolved?!) to appreciate fine craft beers. My dear, dear friend is one of them.

As we prepared to sail off into the sunset together…

Thank you, Bryan, my precious darling, for this recommendation. (He’s the short guy in the absurd camo shirt with the awful facial hair and very heterosexual thingy in his right ear.)

Back to the beer…

The local grocer didn’t have any, and when I called Friar Tuck the guy on the phone said they didn’t have any. Dammit!

I still went by to get some other beers and wound up putting my name in a drawing to win a Magic Hat electric guitar of all things. Next to the entry box, completely by chance, I saw a display case of Brown Shugga’. Sadly it was at room temperature so I had to tide myself over with Trout Slayer Ale whilst the Lagunitas chilled. Would it be worth the wait?

Lots of talk leading to this moment. Will it deliver?

The inhales you take after your sip, while you roll the flavors around your tongue, definitely give the high alcohol hints. Sugary and hoppy/bitter at once. Almost no malt or grain flavor at all, though the sweetness is much more of a hint than a star. Hops, which control the palate here, are very lightly floral and fruity. It’s a unique sweet / bitter that I’m not used to, though the sweetness is almost subtle. I found that inhaling deeply as I sipped provided a very enriching flavor.

What a wonderful creation!

As to the color, it’s a wonderfully rich brown color. Not a brown ale, mind you, but that of a proper English strong ale. I really find the color, head, mild effervescence all very appealing and inviting.

The story apparently goes that this seasonal beer wasn’t made in 2011 due to some capacity or other issues, and the true Lagunitas lovers have waited an extra 12 months to get another taste. In my opinion, it’s worth the wait. I’m quite impressed by this beer, though more than two in a short period of time (especially after a couple other beers) would have most people on their ass.

If you find yourself looking for something unique with a kick and high ABV, then get yourself some Brown Shugga’. Definitely Drink This Beer.


Brewery Restaurant Follow Up: Granite City Brewery

Back in May 2012, Granite City Brewery, with it’s pedestrian beers and mediocre-at-best Cuban sandwich, earned low marks in my inaugural Brewery Restaurant Review.

A return trip wasn’t really in the works, but a work group wanted to take some out-of-town (really, out-of-US) guys to get some beer and food. Guess what they chose? Here is my GCB Epilogue:

Back in the land of disappointment, the waitress told me that GC’s special beer was Oktoberfest. Since it could only be better than their stock beers, I ordered one up.

Will you disappoint me, like your brothers before you?

I am both shocked and thrilled to report that their Oktoberfest is a really good beer! Wow!

Rich, malty flavor with all the color and aroma you expect from an Oktoberfest. But they didn’t get cute and make it too heavy or add goofy seasonal flavorings. Straightforward, drinkable, enjoyable.

My only complaint is that they served it too damned cold in a frosty glass. This isn’t a beer meant to be hyper-cold. A regular off-the-shelf pint glass would work much better.

Could they get a simple sandwich right also?

And would wonders never cease? I ordered a turkey burger and waffle fries. If you mess up a Cuban, you would think you could at least get a turkey burger done correctly. Amazingly, it was juicy and flavorful and large. The waffle fries were a good call, too.

Granite City Brewery has, at least in this instance, redeemed itself. Good work.

Missouri Proposition B

Today is Election Day in the USA. I voted like a “good” citizen.

This is not a political blog and almost certainly never will be. My politics are both evolving and my own.

In this one rare instance, however, Simpson BBQ endorses voting NO on Proposition B in Missouri.

Prop. B would raise the state tax on a pack of cigarettes from 17 cents (lowest in the USA) to 90 cents (close to the national average). Of the funds raised, estimated to be at least $283 million per year, the money has been “earmarked” – 50% for public schools, 30% for higher education, and 20% for smoking cessation. Here’s the P-D editorial in favor of the measure, and this is the actual proposal.

Let’s start with the famous quote from Martin-Niemöller:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

What the hell has this got to do with a cigarette tax hike? Perhaps some creative liberties with the quote will illuminate.

First they came for the marijuana users,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a marijuana user.

Then they came for the sugary soda drinkers,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a sugary soda drinker.

Then they came for the cigarette smokers,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a cigarette smoker.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

I like beer. I mean…, I really like beer. I drink it often, along with other alcoholic beverages. It’s regulated and taxed as much as anything else.

I don’t, however, use marijuana. If I am drinking soda, it’s Diet Pepsi. And, no, I don’t smoke cigarettes. I indulge in one or two cigars a year (then regret it the next day) and I have probably only smoked, in aggregate, perhaps two packs of cigarettes in my entire life.

Cigarettes aren’t my vice, so why should I care about this tax hike?

It’s easy to vote YES on Proposition B because cigarettes aren’t your vice. The enticement of “extra” tax revenue (a dubious claim, as I will speculate below) is appealing, especially in a state that could use some more revenue during a recession. Getting our lowest-in-the-land tax raised to the national average makes sense, if you are feeling conformist.

But, what about the things that are your vices? Lots of people drink beer and spirituous beverages and wine… why not tax them next? Why not start taxing fatty foods, in addition to the sodas? Bacon, pork ribs, cheeseburgers, fried foods, frying oils, candy… all potential sources of revenue for a cash-strapped state.

I married an educator, and I believe in the value of education (if my crippling student loan debt is any indicator), but I am highly skeptical that the state education system sees a windfall. Sure, $100M+ may be “earmarked” for public schools. Who says it’s spent wisely, fairly, evenly? Who says the existing funds for schools won’t be reallocated to other expenditures now that extra revenue is coming from cigarettes? What about the revenue from all of the out-of-state smokers who cross into Missouri to buy cigarettes, and then buy food, gas, etc. while they are here?

Yes, I believe cigarettes are vile products made by heartless multinational conglomerates who have lied and will continue to lie to us all the time. I also believe that it’s your right to smoke and face the horrific consequences of your actions.

I don’t, however, believe that adding tax is going to get people to stop smoking. I don’t believe the state government will stop at cigarettes. I don’t think the money will be used as promised.

All that being said, my gut reaction is that this measure passes and the smokers of the state will pony up a few cents more per pack. Then when the alcohol tax hike comes along, they’ll vote for that, too… it’s only fair, right?

Don’t Drink This Beer: Lobster Lovers Beer

Let me quote my lovely wife: “If you are pouring out a beer, it has to be a really bad beer.” I poured out my Lobster Lovers Beer.

A few weeks ago, I was perusing the Friar Tuck beer cooler and saw a provocative beer label of a massive lobster covering up the backside of a nude woman. Reading the title of the beer, I thought, “Yes, I do love lobster” and picked up the bottle. Hey, a robust 9.5% ABV? Things continue to look up. Plus, the price was right… I made the purchase.

Out came the frosty mug and in went the brew.

Bad beer

It didn’t have any head at all as I poured, and I tried some aggressive pour to get some froth. Nothing.

The smell was kind of sour, unfortunately indicative of the eventual aftertaste.

First, I’ve never heard of Rinkuškiai Alaus Darykloje, the makers of this beer. Second, no one seems to have reviewed this beer very highly. Third, I won’t be buying Lithuanian beers just based on labels anymore.

I took a sip and it was just biting and metallic and sour. Not inviting, not refreshing. Just… blech. Perhaps it was the interaction of the kids’ Halloween candy mixing with the beer.

I cleared my palate and took another sip. Yucko. Kind of a headache-inducing foulness. I am overwhelmed by the unpleasantness of this beer. Bad beers are best cold, and I put this one in a frosty mug.

There’s a rotten fruit / chemistry lab set flavor paired with a spoiled milk aroma. I made it through four big sips and had to pour it down the drain. This might be one of the worst beers I’ve ever had in my life. Putrid. Repellent. Acrid. Feculant. Garbage.

And I love both lobster and beer. I can’t imagine why you would drink this with lobster. You need, in my opinion, a crisp and refreshing beer with lobster. A lager or pale ale, but not a barely effervescent high-alcohol alchemic witches’ brew of scuz in a bottle.

If Captain Hadley had given this beer to the prisoners after tarring the roof of that prison building, Andy Dufresne and his peers would have had a good case for cruel and unusual punishment.

My recommendation for Lobster Lovers Beer is: Under no circumstances should you drink this beer.

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