Beer Review: “Brett the Hipman Hop” by Against the Grain Brewery

"Brett the Hipman Hop" by Against the Grain Brewery

Brett the Hipman Hop
Brewery: Against the Grain (Louisville, KY)
Style: American Sour Ale
ABV: 8.0%
IBU: 64.5

Apparently I’m a sucker for pro wrestling puns because I could not resist trying Against the Grain’s “Brett the Hipman Hop“, part of their All Funked Up Wild Series. I wasn’t aware of what I was getting myself into — all I knew was that it was a pale ale, and that it was brewed with brettanomyces. If only I knew what brettanomyces meant…

Expecting a standard pale ale of some sort, I was surprised when I saw a light yellow liquid pour out of my 22oz bomber. It did not look like a pale ale at all, at least not the type I was anticipating. It was then that I realized (thanks to Wikipedia) that brettanomyces is in fact a type of yeast used to provide sourness to a beer.

Now, I am not a huge fan of sour ales. I gained an appreciation of them while touring the legendary Cantillon Brewery in Brussels, but they are something I can only drink on rare occasions. That might have to change after trying “Brett the Hipman Hop” (is it sad that makes me crack up every time I write it?).

This is a damn good beer. One might even say it is “the excellence of execution” when discussing American-made sour ales (yeah, I couldn’t resist). The smell is off the charts; very funky, very complex. The taste is all over the place. It’s definitely tart, and I noticed some hints of lemon and grapefruit. It has a dry and bitter finish, and the aftertaste bounces around on the tongue.

Once you get over the initial funkiness, it’s quite the enjoyable beer. It has a ton of flavor, it’s unique, and it would make a great gateway for someone looking to dig deeper into the world of sour/wild ales. I wouldn’t quite say it’s “the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be”, but it’s high on my list.

8/10

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Movie Review: Drinking Buddies [2013]

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Drinking Buddies [2013]
Director: Joe Swanberg
Writer: Joe Swanberg
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston
Running Time: 90 minutes

From the day it was announced, Drinking Buddies seemed like a film after my own heart. Director Joe Swanberg’s latest “mumblecore” effort combines two of my favorite things: craft beer and the city of Chicago. Better yet, this was filmed on location at one of the city’s finest breweries: Revolution Brewing. Fans of good beer will appreciate all the little winks and nods at the Midwest’s many craft breweries (my own personal favorite, Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter, makes a cameo), but there is plenty to enjoy for movie lovers as well.

The film revolves around two co-workers at Revolution Brewing: Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson). They are great friends, always fooling around at work and then getting drinks afterward. Kate appears to be “one of the guys”, able to hold her own with the seemingly male-dominated brewery. Luke and Kate have an infectious chemistry and there is an undeniable air of sexual tension between them; the only problem is that their relationship is strictly platonic.

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Both co-workers are in separate relationships. Luke has been dating Jill (Anna Kendrick) for six years, and they have been talking about getting married. Meanwhile, Kate is in a relationship with music producer Chris (Ron Livingston). Everyone seems happy at first, but it’s awfully hard not to notice how much of a connection there is between Luke and Kate.

A couples weekend retreat to a Michigan cabin makes the differences especially glaring. While Luke and Kate are perfectly content to just sit around drinking and playing blackjack, Jill and Chris prefer to hike in the woods. These four couldn’t be more different, but then again, can a relationship really thrive if two people have all of the same interests?

This question and many more come into play in Drinking Buddies, and the “will they or won’t they?” stigma is always lingering. Yet what makes the film work is that it doesn’t go down the conventional route. While it sounds and even feels predictable, it isn’t. This film changes directions and takes detours before reaching an abrupt conclusion, one that is sure to split audiences.

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Through all of this, the film manages to remain incredibly authentic. All of its dialogue is improvised, further adding to the sense of realism. These characters all feel like real people, and hell, you may know some just like them. The entire cast here does a phenomenal job, and Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde deliver what may be their finest performances yet. The connection between the two is indisputable; they know it and we know it, but they also know it’s unacceptable.

Drinking Buddies is one of the better mumblecore films I have seen, and it examines male and female relationships in a way that isn’t usually realized on screen. While a bit more closure would have been nice, the performances alone make this well worth seeing (preferably with some craft beer on hand, of course).

8/10

Beer Review: Mango Magnifico [Founders Brewing Company]

Mango Magnifico

Mango Magnifico
Brewery: Founders Brewing Company (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
Style: Fruit Ale
ABV: 10.0%

I would like to think I have tried most of what the beer world has to offer, but every now and then I find something new that catches my eye. Last night, I discovered the latest entry in Founders’s Backstage Series, something so off-the-wall that I had to pick up a 22 oz. bomber.

This bizarre beer, Mango Magnifico, is a “mango ale brewed with a hint of habanero.” Although I’m usually not a fan of fruit beers, that combination sounded too intriguing to pass up. The Founders label and 10% ABV were just the icing on the cake.

Unfortunately, this is one brew that might have been better off staying on the drawing board.

When poured into a glass, Mango Magnifico has very little head but has a nice, clear look to it. The smell brings out a bit of the mango sweetness, and the fruitiness is right at the forefront during tasting. However, this is quickly eviscerated by the spiciness of the Michigan-grown habaneros. The “hint” of habanero, as described by the label, is actually quite overwhelming. The heat from the pepper lingers afterward, delivering a very strong aftertaste. Fans of spicy beer may appreciate this, but I was hoping for more flavor rather than just a strong burn.

Mango Magnifico has a suggested retail price of $12.99, but my local shop is selling it at $14.99. Bombers are being distributed through many different states, so it may be available in your area. This could very well be the first Founders beer I didn’t love — Dirty Bastard is still my go-to scotch ale, for example — so this was a bit of a disappointing purchase for me. Still, it might be worth a shot if you have an affinity for spice.

6/10

 
* Also, it should be noted that my beer-snob girlfriend (as she likes to be dubbed) LOVED this. She’s shocked that I didn’t give it a glowing review.

Beer Review: Atom Smasher [Two Brothers Brewing Company]

Atom Smasher [Two Brothers Brewing Company]

Credit: Bluebird Chicago


Atom Smasher
Brewery: Two Brothers (Warrenville, Illinois)
Style: Märzen/Oktoberfest
ABV: 7.7%

While perusing a local grocery store earlier this week, I was shocked to see boxes and boxes of fall seasonal beers already being displayed. Now, this shouldn’t have surprised me too much because so many stores start putting out Christmas decorations in October, but it doesn’t hardly feel like autumn yet. Hell, there are still plenty of summer beers I didn’t get the chance to try! I’m not complaining too much because there are always some great seasonals during this time period. The transition is a bit jarring after all this 90 degree weather, but it’s a welcome change. One particular beer caught my eye — a new offering from a local favorite: Atom Smasher by Two Brothers Brewing Company.

Labeled as an Oktoberfest style lager, this brew was aged in French oak foudres, a fancy term for large casks. It doesn’t take much for me to get excited about a beer — if it says “barrels”, “bourbon”, or “aged in”, I’m sold. This local seasonal did not disappoint at all.

In a glass, the Atom Smasher has a golden amber appearance with very little lacing. The initial taste is a bit sweet but busts out some spices — namely, nutmeg and cinnamon — and throws in an aftertaste that reminds me a lot of a caramel apple. The oak aging gives it a unique complexion that makes it stand out from other Marzen-style lagers.

Atom Smasher weighs in at a potent 7.7% ABV, but it goes down pretty smooth. Normally I don’t go out of my way to pick up Oktoberfest brews, but I’m glad I gave this a shot. Two Brothers generally churns out consistently quality beers, and this one isn’t an exception. Highly recommended if you’re in the Chicagoland area.

8/10

Beer Review: Threadless IPA [Finch’s Beer Company]

Threadless IPA [Finch's Beer Company]

Threadless IPA
Brewery: Finch’s Beer Company (Chicago, Illinois)
Style: American IPA
ABV: 6.0%

We are in the middle of a ridiculous heat wave here in the U.S., just in time for Independence Day. What better way to celebrate our nation’s birth than by gaining a slight reprieve from the heat with an ice cold beer? A new brew from local Finch’s Beer Company caught my eye, most noticably because its cans were designed by Threadless, one of my favorite t-shirt companies. Threadless + a local brewery just seems like a match made in heaven. And better yet, this is an IPA, an absolute perfect fit for the summer.

According to Finch’s website, “Our Threadless/Finch collaboration IPA is a balanced experience of both perceived hoppiness and true bitterness.” This is an accurate statement, as the hops are quite present, with a finish that piles on the bitterness. This finish lingers on the tongue, and subsequent tastings bring out the prominent citrus notes. Orange is most noticeable, and overall it is a tad sweet.

The Threadless IPA is a bit of a complex beer, but it is one that is also quite easy to drink. At 6% ABV and residing in a tall can, it won’t take too many of these to make you feel good. Hop heads in particular will dig this one.

I love it when craft breweries collaborate with others, and this effort from Finch’s and Threadless is a real winner. Keep an eye out for it if you’re in the Chicago area.

8/10

Beer Review: Rogue & Voodoo Doughnut – Bacon Maple Ale

My birthday was last weekend (April 15, to be precise), and to celebrate I flew out to Portland, Oregon with my girlfriend. We drove out to the coast, stuck our toes in the Pacific Ocean, spent a day exploring the Columbia Gorge and its glorious waterfalls, and also took some time to gallivant around the eclectic city that is Portland. One of our stops was the famous Voodoo Doughnut — “The Magic is in the Hole!” — home to many odd endeavors.

Eric standing outside Voodoo Doughnuts

Eric standing outside Voodoo Doughnuts

Here, take a look at a few of their most popular items:

Captain my Captain: Raised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting and Captain Crunch
The Loop: same as above but with Fruit Loops instead
Triple chocolate penetration: Chocolate cake doughnut with chocolate frosting and coco-puffs
Memphis Mafia: Fried dough with banana chunks and cinnamon sugar covered in a glaze with chocolate frosting, peanut butter, peanuts and chocolate chips on top

But, to me, most intriguing was the Bacon Maple Bar (even Anthony Bourdain is a fan!): Raised yeast doughnut with maple frosting and bacon on top

It’s as awesome as it sounds.

Later on our trip, we stopped in at Rogue Ales Public House, the downtown brewpub for one of my favorite breweries. I couldn’t believe my eyes when, as soon as I walked in, there were a dozen large pink bottles of beer sitting out. Pink bottles of a Rogue & Voodoo Doughnut collaboration: Bacon Maple Ale! This sounded so ridiculous that I had to bring back a bottle home with me.

Tonight, I couldn’t resist the urge any longer.

Rogue & Voodoo Doughnut - Bacon Maple Ale

Bacon Maple Ale
Brewery: Rogue Brewery [Newport, OR, USA]
Style: Smoked Beer
ABV: 5.60%

The Bacon Maple Ale has 13 ingredients: (list courtesy of rogue.com)
Malts: Briess Cherrywood Smoked Malt, Weyermann Beechwood Smoked Malt, House-smoked Hickory Malt, Great Western 2 Row, Munich, C15, C75 Malts
Speciality: Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Pure Maple Flavoring
Hops: Perle, Sterling
Yeast & Water: Pacman Yeast, Free Range Coastal Water

Three smoked malts and applewood-smoked bacon… yeah, smoky doesn’t even begin to describe this beer. When poured into a glass, it doesn’t look much different than your typical ale (clear amber appearance), but the taste would be quite the surprise for the unsuspecting drinker.

Breakfast. That’s what this is. Bacon and lots of maple syrup. The syrupy taste makes this an awfully sweet beer, but the smokyness helps balance things out. It’s definitely a two-headed monster, however. The bacon/maple combo appears first, followed by a smoky finish. A hoppy aftertaste also lingers on the back of the tongue.

My initial impressions were glowing — I was surprised at how drinkable this novelty beer actually was. Subsequent tastings became a little too sweet for my liking, but not to the extent that I didn’t want anymore.

A bottle of Bacon Maple Ale will pour two tall pints, so it is a good option to share with another curious beer drinker. I probably won’t go out of my way to drink this again — it is available mostly in Portland, after all — but I am glad that I was able to try this unique brew. Bacon lovers, give this a shot.

7/10

Beer Review: King Henry [Goose Island Beer Company]

King Henry [Goose Island Beer Company]

King Henry
Brewery: Goose Island Beer Company (Chicago, Illinois)
Style: English Barleywine
ABV: 13.4%

I had a pretty good Christmas last year, especially when it came to beer. I received a four-pack of one of my all-time favorite beers, Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout, as a gift (review to come later), as well as Goose Island’s new and exclusive King Henry. The latter was a very limited release, with its bottles selling out quickly all over the city. Goose Island has a knack for delivering unbelievably delicious bourbon-aged beers, and everyone wanted to get a taste of their latest.

The 2011 release of King Henry utilized barrels that were formerly used for Bourbon County Rare, and its final ABV clocks in at an impressive 13.4%. This barleywine is not for the faint of heart.

When poured into a glass, King Henry has a dark brown (nearly black) appearance. Its aroma brings notes of vanilla with a major bourbon kick. The bourbon is the first thing that is noticed upon tasting, and then hints of vanilla and caramel start pushing through. Ultimately, this culminates in a sweet aftertaste not unlike brown sugar.

King Henry is a remarkably smooth barleywine that any beer aficionado will love. It is a doozy, but it easily ranks as one of Goose Island’s best. King Henry will surely be hard to find in the very near future, so if you are in the Chicagoland area you should really make it a point to seek it out. This is one of the best beers I have had in a while.

10/10

Beer Review: The Chairman [Half Acre Beer Company]

The Chairman [Half Acre Beer Company]

The Chairman
Brewery: Half Acre Beer Company (Chicago, Illinois)
Style: Imperial Red Ale
ABV: 9.5%

When I bought a growler of Half Acre’s Thanksgiving beer, Avena Sativa, I made sure to pick up a 22 ounce bomber of their previous limited release: The Chairman, an imperial red ale. Released as a celebration of local Chicago zine Lumpen‘s 20th anniversary, the Chairman is a thick brew with an ABV that will creep up on you if you’re not expecting it. It’s a pretty damn good complement to their English Bitter.

When poured into a glass, the Chairman has a hazy burnt orange appearance. The beer smells very ‘malty’ with hints of toffee. The taste brings out a surprising amount of hops that leave a bitter aftertaste. While this lingering taste may not appeal to some, I love it.

For a 9.5% beer, this goes down real smooth. The alcohol content is noticeable, but it is never overwhelming, unlike others at this level. Imperial red ales are not something I see very often, so I am happy that Half Acre has delivered a satisfying brew in this style. If you’re in the Chicago area, stop by the brewery and pick up a bottle before this bad boy runs out.

8/10

Beer Review: Avena Sativa [Half Acre Beer Company]

Avena Sativa [Half Acre Beer Company]

Avena Sativa
Brewery: Half Acre Beer Company (Chicago, Illinois)
Style: English Bitter
ABV: 5.0%

Man, it sure has been a while since I wrote about a new Half Acre release. Fortunately, tonight I was able to pick up a growler of their most recent brew: Avena Sativa, an English Oat Bitter. This was released during Thanksgiving week, and I had given up hope on acquiring any since many of the brewery’s latest offerings sell out in a matter of hours. They must have made more than enough this time around because I was told there are at least two kegs left.

Avena Sativa is bright in appearance, with a light, hazy gold color to it. Its aroma is predominantly of grainy malts, and this carries over to the taste as well. This beer is a little sweet (and bitter), but it is ultimately refreshing and goes down real smooth.

Half Acre doesn’t really brew much in this style, so I am pleased to say that their Avena Sativa is a tasty success. While everyone else is stockpiling on stouts and winter ales, these local Chicago guys have released a light beer that is surprisingly well-balanced. For something a little more drinkable during the winter season, you can’t go wrong with Avena Sativa.

8/10

Beer Review: Lager Town [Half Acre Brewery]

Lager Town [Half Acre Brewery]

Lager Town
Brewery: Half Acre Beer Company (Chicago, Illinois)
Style: Märzen / Oktoberfest
ABV: 6.0%

It’s been a while since I have reviewed a new Half Acre release, so it’s very appropriate that I come back with a look at their return to lagers: Lager Town. According to one of the guys at the brewery, this is their first lager in years, as they have been focusing heavily on ales since their initial days. It’s nice to see them go back to their roots, even if it is temporary.

When poured out of a growler and into a glass, Lager Town has a hazy, dark amber appearance. It has a pleasant aroma of caramel and toffee, and this translates to the taste as well. This is a malty, sweet beer that also brings out hints of rye bread. Hops are modest, with only a slight lingering bittnerness.

As far as Oktoberfest-style brews go, this is one of the better offerings in the Chicago area. Lager Town goes down smooth and is very drinkable — a wonderful fall beer. Hopefully Half Acre continues to experiment with more lagers in the future.

8/10

Lager Town is only available in growler pours at Half Acre Brewery. It won’t be around for long!