Thursday, September 16, 2010

BEERflections ~ Vine & Barley Dogfish Head Kegs Like Clockwork

“Off-centered ales for off-centered people.”
“Think global. Drink local.”

From the very beginning of Dogfish Head’s inception, these two declarations of individuality have stood proudly firm through good times and bad times, each in their own transporting Sam Calagione and his Dogfish Head family into our hearth and home. His philosophy of alt-culture and person-unique rang true for this beer geek and others during our meeting of off-centered ales and off-centered people at Vine & Barley of St. Lucie West. A hop skip and wee drive away, she is nonetheless a fine member of my beloved Treasure Coast. Judging by all the friendly faces, I am certainly not alone in this sentiment. For hours on end, we added further depth to Sam’s dream of drinking local and keeping it real within our own alt-culture of flavor diversity. Likewise, Sam and family added further depth to our Kegs Like Clockwork event by blessing unto our eclectic palates six equally eclectic beers: Festina Peche, Midas Touch, Theobroma, Raison d’Etre, Palo Santo Marron, and Sah’Tea.

Our divine dementia of off-centered ales rang true Monday, August the 16th as off-centered peeps and peepettes invaded Vine & Barley over a set period of one hour and thirty minutes. Did we linger longer afterwards? Yes. But more importantly, within that hour and a half, three separate tappings occurred in deuces while Dogfish Head 90 Minute flowed freely at a killer mark of $3.95 all day long. Our first deuce was at 5:45pm sharp, and as the minute chimed, two glorious Dogfish tap handles stepped onto the stage of beery celebration. One was decked out in Midas Touch regalia befitting the legendary king of lore, the other in tart peaches and wheat which could only be the playful Festina Peche. The second deuce rolled in at 6:30pm sharp as yet two more Dogfish handles joined their brethren to the whoops and hollers of an eager crowd. Taking the stage for this round was the mythical mystical Theobroma hailing from ancient Honduras to toast our special occasion. Following its own path of awe inspiring purpose was Raison d’Etre for to ask any beer sophisticate beer is the reason, meaning, and gateway to life at her finest. The third deuce graced our humble persons at the sounding of knell of 7:15pm. At this, our final hour of Dogfish Head beer bewitchment, darkness decadent slipped from the sultry covers of her Palo Santo Marron barrel into glasses of humble reverence. Equally gracious as she bridged local and global was the Sah’Tea, a quirky tribute to Finnish tradition and unadulterated deviance with some help from Asian Black Chai Tea and Juniper berries.

From 7:15pm onward it was everyone’s pleasure in whatever beery nectar filled their glass. At least, almost. See, Vine & Barley did things a smidge different for this particular event. Instead of working through the craziness of disorderly orderly crowds scrambling to lay claim to as many brimming tulips of off-centered tastiness possible, structure and a plan were put into place. Why? To ensure as best as humanly possible the chance for everyone to savor the special family of beers on showcase. To do this, a special Kegs Like Clockwork sign-up board was assembled and split into – tadah – three sections. Three separate tappings, three separate sections. Got it? Good. Each section was split into two numbered columns for you and me to stake our claim to the beer of our desires with a flourish of the mighty pen, not twice but just once per section. The number of blank name slots represented the potential number of pints that keg would yield before bleeding dry. Of course, some beerly minded peeps of clever genius grouped together to pool their beer quota in mutual matrimony of share and share alike. All was well in the long run though as these devious doers of trickery were figured into the master plan, a plan clear only to the level-headed wisdom of Mark Carbone and Tim Hebeler.

So how did Kegs Like Clockwork fair?
Unbridled success!
And how beautiful she tasted to one and all.

The process of each dual tapping was expertly executed by Mark, Kevin, Danette, Eric, and Joann. Unusual for a beer event was the notable absence of my Timmy-poo, but he had other unavoidable responsibilities to tend to that day, much to everyone's regret. No worries. We were all in capable hands and as names were boisterously announced, eager hands reaching for that holy grail of beer, I did my best to snap away with camera infamous while staying out from underfoot. There were a couple times I’m pretty sure some toes were stepped on, and for that my sincerest apologies. Overall though, I divided my time between eagerly reaching for my own holy grail of beer, lavishing love on said beers, and flashing away like a stripper without the pole.

Hm… a new calling perhaps…or perhaps not.

Many a familiar face beamed, smiles stretched far and wide, laughter twinkled merry, and together we proved that while global is never truly that far away in our thoroughly modern world, local truly does matter. A toast from me to those of you (whom I can remember) for sharing a lovely night of memories:
Laura, Eric, Alyson, Kenny, John, Marc, Tom, Mark B, Randall, Allison, Melanie, Bryan, Phil, Eric C, Ty, Mathew, Aaron, Etienne, Rick, Gerry, John H, Nicole, Melissa, Kathy, Jason, and Aimee.
Now let’s pause for a moment to discuss me, Kristyn Lier, and names. Quite frankly my dear, we don’t get along even though I do give a damn. Thankfully I have the power of internet on my side, specifically FaceBook. So for those who smartly tagged yourselves in my photo album extraordinaire, thanks bunches. If you don’t see your name above, please don’t think that I love you any less. I heart all my fabulous peeps and peepettes. Truly, my life would not be as rich as it is right now if you weren’t a treasured part of it. Should I ever greet you with a knowing smile without the name, please offer it unto me so that I can even better cherish our life and times together. Should I still forget and there’s a good chance I will once or thrice, threats of public embarrassment works wonders.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Seeing that the early beer geek gets the beer, with the generous assistance of my lovely Laura and her trusty steed, Sir Focus, I made it safely to our own little Camelot of barley and hops without the spamalot. Our ride safely hitched, we wandered inside to find much to my expectations a solid showing of my beerly regulars who also like to show up early and leave late. Grabbing a table this time instead of a bar top, I acquired a West End Grille menu and much to the delight of thine sourful eyes, a Duchesse de Bourgogne on draft. Laura got her evening started with a Stone Ruination IPA and so beers in hand, food menu at the ready, we approached in reverence the sacred board of clockwork kegs. Pondering carefully our choices, I chose the Festina Peche to further soothe my sour tooth followed by Theobroma to tease my tastebuds with chocolate spice and all things nice and then rounded the bend with Sah’Tea, a beer I truly can never get enough of. Ever. Love it. Of course, I had special plans for the Palo Santo Marron, my dark and dreamy cigar accompaniment once the lights had dimmed and night risen. While not necessarily a full-time cigar aficionado, I do enjoy a good cigar with an appropriate beer to which Palo Santo Marron provided quite the pleasant tryst.

That was later though. Long before the festivities kicked into high gear there was food to be indulged and heavens to barley, a 1997 JW Lees Harvest Ale. Thank you Randall for sharing such a treasured treat; it is always appreciated. My impressions stood that while tasty her flavors were a bit weak, her body a bit thin, and any potential future was lost to our tasting. See, beer ages not in a straight line upwards before spiraling horribly downward into undrinkable mediocrity but in multiple ups and downs with various peeks, lows, and in-betweens. For me, the 1997 JW Lees Harvest Ale was inbetween. Whether she was on her way upward to a new and different tasting crest or on her way downward to a new and different tasting low will never be known…and that’s quite alright. Beer is an adventure much like life, and answers will not always be but the very moment of living within it will always be.

Tasting the Harvest inbetween starting my Duchesse and finishing her, I knew well enough to both cleanse and trust my palate. Practice rarely makes perfect, but with determination and wit it will make better. With my JW Lees all gone (what – you didn’t think I wasted mine did you?!) some water was supped before returning to the welcome embrace of my Duchesse once more. Named in honor of the very real Mary of Burgundy, sole daughter of Charles the Bold, she died after a tragic horse-riding accident at the tenderly wizened age of 25 but lives on in this most beloved Flemish Red Ale. It is a personal honor and selfish pleasure to indulge in her ruby-hued nectar whenever possible, so thank you Mary of Burgundy, thank you Flanders, and thank you Verhaeghe. Cheers!

Just as Duchesse and I parted ways, our West End Grille nibblies arrived. (Okay, I walked over and picked them up but same difference.) For yours beerly, their Wings!Wings!Wings!, mild, and for Laura their Cobb salad minus the tomatoes. Bellies full, appetites sated and thirst not anywhere near being quenched, the countdown commenced. As the clock struck 5:45pm organized chaos reigned and beers were dispensed with flair and finesse.

So…what about those beers?
What about Dogfish Head?
Huh? Huh? Huh?

On special from open to close was their 90 Minute IPA, an India Pale Ale of imperial proportions that are truly one of a kind. The original continuous hopper bit the dust after the first batch but after the success of the sessionable 60 Minute IPA came her majesty the 90 Minute. Besides being hopped for a continuous ninety minutes, her IBUs (International Bitterness Units) also tap out at a clean ninety. Big in both hops and malts, grab your tulip or snifter, sit back, let her warm just a bit, and savor the flavor.

As an aside, the 90 Minute is best enjoyed fresh (within a few months) so always be sure to note the bottling date on the neck of your beer bottle before purchasing. Thankfully, the kegs never last that long and can almost always be counted on to be fresh. When in doubt, ask the bartender. If they don’t know, then tis probably not a good sign of supping to come.

Crazy as it may sound to some, I can get 90 Minute on draft pretty much all the time at my local craft oases. What I cannot get on draft except for rare special occasions such as Vine & Barley’s Kegs Like Clockwork event are the few and the proud:

Midas Touch. We’ve all heard the legend of Midas and his curse where all he touched turned to gold. His lustful material desires once thought to be the bringer of joy and happiness instead quickly morphed into the bringer of remorse and suffering. Richness is not measured in gold (material wealth) but if the archaeological remains discovered in his pristinely preserved tomb are any indication, than beer may just be that measurable richness of heart and hearth. Teaming mad molecular archaeologist, mad brewer, and the scientifically evaluated remains of clay vessels that once escorted Midas on his road to that which awaits, the beer Midas Touch was born. Brewed with hops (of course), his story comes to life once more in the barley, honey, white Muscat grapes, and saffron used as they were used thousands of years ago to slake the thirst of a King.

Sour rules my world. Typically associated with Belgium and her Lambics, there is another little known sour beer of equally regarded pedigree: Berliner Weisse. As her name hopefully implies, the style originated/evolved in Berlin, Germany, land of lagers, pilsners, marzens, rauche, and Weisse to name a few. Weisse being wheat/white depending on who is translating, the Berliner Weisse is unique in a very certain and specific way: lactobacillus. A bit of a funky wild yeast, she likes to turn up the fun a notch by adding a bright tart-sour character to any beer she touches and Berliner Weisse is no different. The wheat enhances the freshness and thirst-quenching character of this stylish beer that is thankfully experiencing a resurgence of interest. A quirky beer needs a quirky brewer to which the Dogfish Head family is most suited. Bringing the Neo to the Old, Festina Peche was born with wheat in one hand, peach nectar in the other, and an extra dosing of lactobacillus to keep the funk. The end result is a seasonal revered the world over, Treasure Coast included, when each Spring she graces our fridges and hopefully our local watering holes.

Since the only thing more fun than science is mad science, the devious duo of that molecular archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern and Super Sam Calagione hooked up once more at their secret base of brewy nefariousness. Based once more on a chemical analysis, this brew hails to us sunny Floridians via Delaware from Honduras, specifically Honduras of right around 1200 BC. Yes, that’s Before Christ though most certainly not before the very first discovery of man’s love for beer and beer’s love for man. That particular historical tidbit would stretch us all the way back to around 6000 BC with further archaeological and sociological rumblings pushing that date back even further by a few thousand years. Phew! Can’t wait to taste that beer! But first let’s taste some Theobroma. Literally “food of the gods”, she is quite the particular ale brewed with Aztec cocoa powder, local cocoa nibs from Delaware’s own Ashinoise Chocolate, honey, chilies, and annatto. When I first read about Theobroma last year annatto was as foreign as foreign can be to me. A wee bit of research later and it turns out that annatto is quite simply a seed of the achiete trees commonly found in the tropical regions of the Americas. What makes annatto seeds unique are their distinct flavoring attributes, peppery with a hint of nutmeg, and to some extent, coloring. How much coloring it may have lent to Theobroma is not knowledge privy to this beer geek, though it is a curiosity. Our end result is a privileged balance of sweet, spicy, chocolaty, earthy, and nutty with a tickle of heat in the back thanks to the chilies.

Still with me? Good. Only three more beers to go and they are not to be missed.

Raison d’Etre is obviously a play on the popular philosophical musings of “reason d’etre”, or for the lay person, the reason of life. Is beer the reason for life? Quite possibly yes, and maybe not just for the beer aficionado and novice but for all of humankind. Hallelujah peanut butter. Bring out the bottle openers, crack a cap, and savor a glass rich in a brewery’s philosophy and hope in life. One of Dogfish Head’s early beers, she has stood well against the ebb and flow of craft beer consumerism. Her Belgian yeast offers complexity, depth, and sophistication to her cauldron of green raisins, beet sugar, malt, and hops for a beer of complex musings. Liquid bread in fine form, she may be savored fresh or she can be left to age in cool dark mellow silence to reemerge a few years later all that much wiser for her years. You get to decide which quite frankly is half the fun, though I personally enjoy sharing the love over months on into years so be sure to save a few bottles.

It can be typical in a beer centric event to highlight the flavorful array of tastes and aromas from lesser complexity to BAM! in your face complexity. Because all Dogfish Head beers are uniquely flavorful in directions where no others boldly go, there really is no need to exact such an order when the beauty of unique flavorful beer is solely in the interests of said unique flavorful beer and the people who appreciate it.

This passion for flavor regulations be darned is equally evident in the Palo Santo Marron, a sultry brunette aged within the comforting embrace of Palo Santo wood. Her heavily dense and oily decadence pervades and persuades the brown ale within to achieve a supple sophistication while remaining close to the Earth which gave her purpose. Palo Santo literally means “holy tree” and once one wraps reverent lips around her generous curves, the heavens open, angels sing, cherubs harp glorious melodies, and all is right in the world. Melted caramel, oils, a sense of aged earth and time unspoken, fudge, spicy cigar leaf, and so much more reveals a flavor exploration as layer after layer unravels, twists, turns, and blends into the other in languid beerphoric bliss. As if her flavor alone wasn’t big enough, the large barrel custom cut and coopered from the Paraguayan Palo Santo wood is the largest barrel in America since the repeal of prohibition. Considering her generous personality, I find it strangely appropriate than that on an everyday basis she should grace my presence within the simple trappings of a standard 12oz beer bottle, brown glass of course.

And thus I come unto the Sah’Tea, a tribute to the drink of her people, the original and still very native Finnish Sahti. Fermented from a variety of grains both malted and not, the additional flavoring components of juniper berries and hops almost complete this family favorite. Once fermented and before bottling, the complex brew is then filtered through a bed of juniper twigs for an extra kick of floral-herbal character. Long a beverage of hearth and home, much like beer and homebrew was for centuries before the gradual rise of industrialization and commercialization, native Sahti is only just now experiencing a limited insurgence of commercially produced brands for purchase. Overall though the majority of Sahti is still a time and family honored tradition. In place of my eventual trip to Finland, here in the USofA and my sunny state of Florida do I enjoy Dogfish Head’s Finnish tribute, Sah’Tea, thusly named for the off-centered addition of Asian Black Chai Tea. And why not?! Different? So what! Tastes amazing and for this flavorholic that is pretty much all that matters. There are always exceptions after all, but tis no mind. Taking that extra laborious step of love to make their Sah’Tea uniquely traditional, Sam and family throwing into the wort white-hot river rocks to stimulate a further fermentation even as the rocks caramelize the residual sugars for an extra special flavor treat. Complimenting her sweetly caramelized personality are the addition of Dogfish’s own Asian Black Chai blend, cardamom, ginger, cloves, black pepper, and a dash of je ne c’est qoi for a timeless work of art.

So, are you thirsty yet? Is Dogfish Head on your brain? Have you cracked open a brew yet?
Psshhh. Glugluglug. Sip. Savor.
Hits the spot, yes it does.

The clockwork frenzy long past, peeps familiar and new mingled long into a night well spent. I know I had zero regrets, a shared sentiment felt all around me and within me. As the number of stragglers slowly dwindled, I lazed away on my cigar, Palo Santo and friends by my side, until the sly creep of sleep started to wrap her arms around me. Sated in mind, body, and soul, there was no other place I would rather have been than at Vine & Barley that evening of August 16th, 2010. My thanks to all the fine folks who made my night perfect and my thanks to Dogfish Head for thinking global to allow my drinking local. Stay off-centered my friends.

Even though I wasn’t driving thanks to the gracious deeds of lovely Laura and her trusty steed, Sir Focus, a party is never fun when appreciative responsibility is forsaken for disorderly drunkenness. In no rush, we eventually moseyed out of there around midnight. Grooving to the soulful tunes of Koko Taylor, home eventually crawled atop midnight’s horizon to welcome me in. Good nights exchanged, Mr. D greeted me at the door with a purrfect smile before I slipped into sleepy comfort, my own reason d’être fulfilled once more.

(an original written work by Kristyn Lier. plagiarism is not tolerated)

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