It’s been just over a year that I’ve been using Untappd, an app that describes itself as “a new way to socially share and explore the world of beer with your friends and the world.” I’ve become more than a bit obsessed with it and as we’re in the midst of Oktoberfest, I though this would be a good time to take stock of the ramifications of this app. What does this entail? Over 900 beers and nearly three hundred unique brews. It’s also led to me looking into home-brewing and acquiring various accouterments.
I’m not a beer snob. However, I do love to savor and will not hesitate to vocally refuse the shitty status quo. Quite simply, I can abide domestic American beer–Budweiser’s rice vinegar, Miller’s corn slurry, or basically the dumpster juice of of anything called ‘light/lite.’ I imagine that to many and most this will make me a snob. I’m not going to begrudge anyone liking domestic beer, but I don’t and I want better quality.
Originally, I downloaded Untappd to keep track of the craft beers that I really enjoyed, to be able to find them around me, and in a small way to discover new brews. Having the app has lead me to really refine my tastes and to learn the lingo. What’s the difference between an IPA (India Pale Ale) and a Pale Ale? What’s the difference between a stout and a porter. What makes something ‘imperial,’ ‘extra,’ ‘American,’ or ‘West Coast’? I’m still learning and trying to fill out my vocabulary. In the course of experiential learning, I’ve discovered that my palate is staunchly hoppy and resistant to yeasty beers.
This hasn’t been a hard and fast rule. I went through a serious barley wine phase once we moved to Kansas and have discovered that I am entirely okay with a shandy. So let me give a quick rundown of the notables.
First off, there’s Rogue Dead Guy Ale, a maibock. Don’t really know what a maibock is? Well, here you go:
The Maibock style of beer tends to be lighter in color than other Bock beers and often has a significant hop character with a noticeable alcohol around the same as a traditional Bock. Maibocks are customarily served in the spring and are oftentimes interrelated with spring festivals and celebrations more often in the month of May.
I first discovered Dead Guy in New Haven, Connecticut some time around 2006, and it became my go-to beer if I couldn’t order a Sea Hag.
Next is a beer from my favorite brewery: Surly Furious. Few things are better than this beer. As a longtime supporter and sponsor of my favorite soccer team, Minnesota United FC, Surly often provided the supporters group (Dark Clouds) with free beer at tailgates and the Dark Clouds returned the favor by promoting the hell out of it. Unfortunately, Surly can only really be found in Minnesota. When I visit my in-laws in the Twin Cities, this is the beer I covet.
Furious is described as an American IPA, which is supposedly “More flavorful than the withering English IPA, color can range from very pale golden to reddish amber. Hops are typically American with a big herbal and / or citric character, bitterness is high as well. Moderate to medium bodied with a balancing malt backbone.” When they say “withering” they mean that an American IPA is weaker in its bite or, perhaps a more forgiving and popular term, would be smoother. In the Furious, I don’t really catch too much citric but the bitter is grand.
This leads me to the next brew, also from Surly, the seasonal Darkness. I tried this beer because of its bottle design done by the supremely metal artist Josh Lemke, who would later go on to give a design to one of the coolest Dark Clouds t-shirts.
This beer is a Russian imperial stout, one of the most potent styles. Disregarding taste, this kind of beer usually boasts a very high alcohol content; factoring in taste, a subtly charred malt that is dry velvet, this kind of beer is robust and aggressive. When this version of the brew was released, Surly did it right. Darkness is a supremely delightful craft brewery product, one that endears you to the company.
Following on the back of this, I needed to find a Russian imperial stout that I could drink regularly. I found that brew with Old Rasputin, a beer I discovered the year my wife taught at Oberlin College as a sabbatical replacement. I regularly forget just how potent this beer is (9% ABV or alcohol by volume), so evenings when I pull the trigger and order it I have to pace myself. It’s profoundly dark and viscous, coats your throat but doesn’t leave a harsh aftertaste. I’ve found that this is a fantastic beer to have alongside specialty burgers or straight up BBQ.
For practical purposes I need to take it down a notch, because a Tuesday evening is no team stagger home. My solution to this here in Kansas has been Tallgrass Brewing’s 8-Bit. Again, another beer that I first bought solely on its can’s design.
This American pale ale has a good, pungent hoppiness, a very clean taste. Order because of the sweet design and because I was at a quasi-hipster event–a burlesque show by Lawrence-based Foxy by Proxy where I got to see Scarlet Harlot perform to Prince’s ‘Partyman’ from the original Batman movie soundtrack
opened by This Way to the Egress
at a not-really dive bar that is perhaps one of the best bars in Lawrence, Frank’s North Star Tavern.
As you can see, this was my fun-pretentious beer. My intention with this bit, so to speak, of a tangent is to show how Untappd leading me to look for new beers helped fill out an evening that was quite fun. And that’s what I like about quality beer, it augments a night out rather than just being something used to make a dull event tolerable, which is a bit of a bastard thing to say.
Speaking of, let’s talk about Stone Brewing. I’ve yet to have a bad beer produced by this company. In fact, my consistency purchasing it lead my wife to pick me up some Arrogant Bastard pint glasses. My discovery of barley wine was facilitated by Stone’s Double Bastard. A strong ale, which is a catch-all term for a beer with an ABV between 7%-25%, this lead me to find my favorite barley wine, Old Ruffian from Colorado’s Great Divide Brewing.
I had never heard of barley wine. But once I tried it, I became obsessed with finding as many varieties as I could. Always potent (8%-15% ABV), the barley wines I tried was amazingly complex flavors. This was the first time conscious swished a brew, letting it linger on my palate longer than is probably necessary so that I could figure out its full spectrum of taste. Usually I drink fast, I find myself sipping with barley wine ales, really taking my time with them. I could try to describe what I like about Old Ruffian some more but it would just be ham-fisted. Instead, I shall defer to the company’s description:
Old Ruffian is a hefty, hop-forward Barley Wine. Seemingly mellow at the start with subtle fruit aromas and complex caramel sweetness, it quickly becomes aggressive with its bold hop flavors and huge hop bitterness. Ultimately, the big body, succulent sweetness and massive hop character come together to work wonders on your palate.
What’s been great about these beers have been the two pint bottles I’ve been able to get. Perhaps the perfect size for watching a soccer match or for binge watching Netflix or whatever streaming you have. For a lot of us, that streaming is Game of Thrones. When the New York brewery Ommegang started creating brews based on the HBO series, geeks like myself salivated. When I learned that a local bar/burger place, Dempsey’s, was going to have Ommegang’s Take the Black stout on tap, I was giddy. I pressed my wife to go as soon as possible. We showed up a day or two after it was listed and it had already been drunk dry. It was a low moment. Thus, when they released Fire and Blood Red Ale I made it a point to get the bottles the minute I saw them.
Creating three different designs was a marketing decision that guaranteed me walking out of my Cork & Barrel with three bottles when I had simply come to get a casual six-pack. A red ale is simply an amber ale that has more of a rust hue to it and an amber ale is the counterpart to a lager, which most American domestic are. At least, that’s how I think of it. This beer was middling at best, immediately I realized that I wouldn’t have bought it if it hadn’t had the GoT theme. Similarly, I would never have had the only chile beer I’ve ever had, Ghost Face Killah, if it hadn’t had a Wu-Tang Clan theme.
In all honesty, I could finish drinking this beer. It melted my tongue. In fact, I could only manage three swigs because my mouth was in searing pain and I was teary-eyed. It never occurred to me that someone would want this in a beer. Beer is what you drink when something is very spicy, the beer works better than any other drink to neutralize the heat. To give someone this beer would be a cruel joke. Having said all this, for a half second it tasted pretty good.
I end this ramble with the best beer I have ever had,
Samichlaus Classic Bier
When I read this label and saw that it was considered a malt liquor I was surprised. But I guess the 14% ABV makes sense. This Austrian beer is apparently only brewed once a year and aged 10 months before its bottled. At least, 10 months I suppose. Were I a gourmet, this would be my tiny glass with a late supper beer. As it is, I am not so this became my watching Manchester United in the early morning, Chicago Fire in the afternoon, and Minnesota United in the evening beer. Stay classy, Daniel.
I wouldn’t have found any of the these beers or dozens others without Untappd to prod me on. For that reason alone I like the app. But it has been a problem. I’ve had beers solely to earn a badge and I’ve let myself indulge too often to not get a bit pudgy. Thus, a terrible cycle of beer and burgers leading to going to the gym and trail biking has emerged.
At least I get to collect grown-up toys for my beer hobby