Sunday, November 27, 2011

Las Vegas Beer Life: Battle of the Pubs

I had every intention of writing an exposé on the beer life of Vegas, complete with a play-by-play of the various beers I encountered while I was there. But, yeah...Vegas has a way of, well, distracting you. "What happens in Vegas", and all that.

So while I didn't get to the point of leaving mattresses on rooftops or wandering out of a nightclub as the sun rose, I was frequently in no position to remember the actual name of every beer I was drinking, much less writing articulate notes about flavor profiles.

But that in and of itself is a significant point - Las Vegas is, like every city you'd like a chance to visit for a few days, is increasingly a beer city. That is to say, pretty much every single bar or restaurant not only had a beer list but an impressive one at that.  Sure, there was your typical host of the average brews, which seemed to be the only options available if you were playing table games (though I don't know for sure, I didn't try), but the restaurants certainly had brewskis like me covered.

So, while I may not remember every beer I had (one of them had a turkey on it? I think?) I say with some certainty I know where I went. Probably. Here were some of the highlights:

Todd English P.U.B - Public Urban Bar 

Todd English P.U.B's very excellent bar. Picture from Vanrooy.

The first of two restaurants utilizing the self-titled naming scheme, Todd English PUB (Or Public Urban Bar if you prefer your restaurant names eye-rolly) was probably the culinary highlight of my trip. It's a great sort of environment, complete with all of the great bar staples like withheld lighting, exposed brick and polished brass, taken to another level of fancy flourish. It walks the line of fine dining and dive bar and lands somewhere completely different.

The menu features all of your bar menu staples - onion rings, soft pretzels, even pot pies and fish and chips - all taken to an exceptional new level you'd never expect of something deep fried.

And, oh yeah, there's a lot of beer. Not so many as the other Pub (we'll get into that in a minute), but the place does seem to relish in having a grand spectrum. From PBR (yes, they had PBR and, with a $6 pricetag, they treated it as some special beer gimmick that simply needed to be experienced, for some reason) to the elusive Chimay Cinq Cents (though it was out on draft, which almost ruined my entire trip in an instant).The menu also featured what they called "Beer Cocktails," concoctions that included two or more beers in lieu of a mixed drink. Most seemed too gimmicky to warrant a try in my opinion, but the rest of their selections more than made up for it.

Cleanly divided into simple categories such as "Crisp and Clean" and "Fruit and Chocolate," it was pretty easy to narrow in on what my mood dictated. I opted for a selection from the "Big Boy" section- more "advanced" beers with higher alcohol content - a fantastic Belgian Tripel beer called Bosteels Karmeliet, a medium-to-thick bodied beer with a great sweetness and balance that makes a perfect compliment to pretty much anything.

As an added bonus, all of their drafts are available in pitchers, too, though a pitcher of a Tripel isn't recommended unless you hate yourself and want to end your evening pretty quickly.

So there's not much to hate about P.U.B. It's a fantastic night out that feels both completely new while still being very familiar. It is, in many ways, the layman's fancy restaurant. Come for the beer, stay for the awesome mood and menu. Try the corndogs!

The Pub
Street of Dreams, Monte Carlo

The second place, again sporting the clever moniker "The Pub," doesn't try to be a fine dining establishment. No, The Pub, featured in one of Vegas's many indoor shopping "streets," called the "Street of Dreams" (which is an odd moniker, given that the other shops found here are an alcoholic slushie shop and a weirdly erotic candy shop, so I'm not sure whose dreams they're catering to) is quite content with being a very solid sports bar.

I had a great time watching the Ravens game here, and the tremendous space is riddled with a huge collection of screens with every possible game playing. It gets a bit confusing to hear intermittent rallies bursting out around the room, but it's kind of cool to be among such a wide variety of traveling sports fans from all over the country.

They don't make any attempts to be uppity, and while their nachos don't reach the next culinary level, The Pub features pretty darn good bar food. As a side note, I saw one man as I was leaving attempting to consume what could have only been one of those if-by-some-miracle-you-can-consume-this-in-an-hour-it's-free food challenges, so it's one of THOSE kinds of places.

As for their beer selection, though?

Great. Googly. Moogly.
Pictured: A mere fraction of their "We Have Pretty Much Every Beer Ever" Collection. Picture from Trip Advisor

While The P.U.B hosted a very impressive and well thought out beer collection, The Pub sort of brute forces it and features, well, pretty much everything. With literally hundreds of beers from every possible variety, their beer menu is nothing short of intimidating. But with some pretty exceptional menu organization, the flood of beer becomes a bit more manageable, though the huge list lends itself pretty well to frantically waving your finger over a page and picking out something random. Or, do what I did, and ask the waiter for what she thinks. I opted for a local brown ale that turned out to be pretty tasty.

And you'll want to keep the beer menu after your order is placed, if only because it makes some great reading, as each type of beer is given a succinct but very interesting description of what makes it what it is. The "oddities" here are especially fun; they have a $150 bottle of Chimay Reserve, for example, that was fun to talk about. There's also a mini beer "museum" near the front that features some of the more elusive and "important" beers from around the world (Read: Trappist Belgium).

So, which of the Pubs is better? They're too different to compare, despite their names, if you can believe it. Honestly, you need to do both.

If pompous French restaurants or stuffy steakhouses aren't your thing, then consider P.U.B for your fine dining training wheels, or start the night off there with a beer and order of onion rings at the bar. It's worth experiencing.

The Pub is the perfect place to watch your game of choice if you happen to be in Vegas for gameday, but it's also excellent for a beer enthusiast just to see the should-be-emanating-beams-of-light beer menu. It's the perfect place to be adventurous and try something you wouldn't otherwise.

Vegas is a beer lover's town. Who knew?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

La Goudale Blonde Ale

Last week I talked about France's knack for wine. That doesn't stop the country from venturing its culinary prowess into the realm of brewing beer, of course. And there's quite a few options out there that, while decidedly solid brews in their own right, tend to taste, well, incredibly French. La Goudale is one such beer.

La Goudale
Gebrouwen Door: Les Brasseurs de Gayant Brewery, Douai, France.
Blonde Ale, 7.8% ABV

They didn't even bother to translate the label. It's like Parisian Snobbery, bottled. 
I stumbled upon this guy in a grocery store (thanks again, California) among a small collection of unapologetically French beers. With nary a word of English on the entire bottle - save the typical government warning, of course - and a corked bottle, you feel compelled to save this one for a special occasion.

La Goudale "Biére  Blonde à l’Ancienne" (a "blond beer of old" - thanks!) and I'm sort of confused by that label. I've had plenty of European beers in the "Old Style,"- like Duvel or Chimay- so I figured there would be some elements in this one that I could probably comfortably expect - a particular emphasis, for example, on fruity notes, or a caramel color and a medium body. But what I got was something rather more unexpected. And disappointing.

The "problem," with Goudale, is that somewhere during the brewing process its beermeisters sort of forgot they were making, you know,  a beer, and steered unabashedly in the direct of champagne. Somewhere through your first class you realize that this barely registers as a beer at all, and that's where Goudale the identity crisis comes in (or, if you prefer, "le crise d'identité")

I've already mentioned that I'm no wine connoisseur (more French!), so the assumption that I hold champagne in a similar regard is a fair enough assumption. But based on my limited champagne experience, all those things you associate with that champagne experience is here and accounted for. None-too-subtle dryness- check. Excessive bubbling - check. Hell, there's even a blossom on this beer - a brief moment when you first sip it that may or may not be notes of honey and caramel that quickly subside into a generic bite of bubbles and not much else. 

That's the problem here. It's all so stereotypical. I've had champagne style beers that were exceptional (Sam Adam's Infinium, for example, is brilliant, and needs to be at your next New Year's party, but we can get into that later), La Goudale seems to go "by the numbers" and doesn't do anything exceptional. Two seemingly incompatible worlds - champagne and a white ale - come together to create crazy results! It's like the Katherine Heigel RomCom of beer. 

And no one wants to drink that.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bonus Post: PBR and Beer 30 Light

I appreciate that beer, to some people, is merely another drink. Some people treat it as a vessel to a drunken paradise, and aren't really concerned about the taste it takes to get there. The more watery the better, in fact, because what's easier to chug than beer flavored water?

Back in Philadelphia, PBR - Pabst Blue Ribbon for those few of you who have somehow remained uninformed - was the favorite brew of the masses. Not because of its taste obviously; because it was cheap. More than once did I see vagrant hipsters at my favorite beer haunt - a great little beer bar called Prohibition; go there if you're in Philly - reaching into their skinny jeans and pulling out a few wadded up dollar bills so that they could order a PBR.

Never mind the amazing selection of rotating craft beers they had - it was PBR for them. It was revered as some sort of magical elixir for the downtrodden masses (which, incidentally, is how it's marketed in China), despite how damn awful it tasted. But that can of mediocrity transcended being simply a bad beer. It became a symbol of an entire culture - the hipster. Because, in addition to rejection of materialism and consumerism (which seems to cost quite a bit, if the hunt for my "Dirty Hipster" costume of last year's Halloween was any indication), hipsterism also consists of completely and entirely hating their own taste buds.

Oh, PBR. I drink you for your price tag and social pressure.
Yes. I am a beer snob. I'm at peace with this. I just couldn't get into PBR. Not even on a casual-its-what's-in-the-cooler-just-drink-it-you-asshole level. I'm not so far gone that I'll whine at a bark yard barbecue that opts for a limited selection of of Bud Lite and Coors (what sort of heathens are you!?), I really do have a hard time getting through a PBR. In Philadelphia, many bars offered a city-wide special - a PBR and a shot of  cheap whiskey for a very reasonable price. In these situations, I would often find a friend to trade my PBR for their shot. The taste was about as pleasant, but at least it was far briefer.

As my group of friends moved west, so did many of their beer tastes. Some evolved past cheap beer. Others did not. "If I never drink good beer," explains my friend Dan, "my taste buds will never know the difference." I suppose there's a depressing sort of logic to that. PBR is here (sadly), but it doesn't seem to have quite the prevalence it did in Philly. It's ok...there are substitutions, such as the one we're about to discuss courtesy of, of course, my buddy Dan. 

Beer 30 Light Premium Beer
24 oz.
Melanie Brewing Co., La Crosse, WI
ABV: Unknown. Probably a bit more than your average Snapple.

Yes. It's actually called "Beer 30." 


Yes. I actually exist. 

I imagine two of the most exceedingly white dudes on the planet sat around a table, wondering what they should call their atrocity of a beer and, after many rounds of shots, they landed on Beer 30. They then presumably pounded fists. 

Additionally, it's available around here in 99 cent Only Stores - supermarket sized stores that offer a wonderful combination of great deals and dubious produce that may or may not have fallen off of some truck somewhere. So, yes, this thing is 99 cents.

And I kind of want my money back. 

It comes in a big gaudy purple can and tastes almost kinda like beer. A little bit. If you imagine the sort of beer that you use for a game of beerpong with people you don't care about, and then leave that beer out in the rain overnight, you have a concoction that probably tastes like Beer 30. I'm sort of done here. Think about a beer you'd buy at the dollar store and ask yourself how good it tastes. 

But hey, you know what? I kinda like it better than PBR. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Wine People and Beer People/New Belgium 1554 Enlightened Black Ale

Hey! I'm mobile now. Check out my blog from your new-fangled i-whatevers! Thanks Ryan :)

How about something a bit more sophisticated, shall we?

It is said that the best wines come from France. I'm not sure who says that, actually, I don't drink wine. But it's a stereotype very much ingrained into my psyche by movies and fancy restaurant menus (and really, what more reliable sources are there?)

"Ah, this is a very good year," ye olde wine snob doth proclaim, though I always question whether or not they really have any clue at all. I can appreciate that the grapes were especially flavorful for that crop, or perhaps the balance of the barrels was just right. I don't know. As I've said, I lack the interest to really figure all of that out. I'll take a beer, thanks. And shouldn't something you love just be good? You know, despite the year? Is there really someone out there who can look at a bottle's date stamp and dismiss it as inferior? Kudos to you, good sir or madam, if you really exist. Maybe that's why I like beer (well, reason number whatever out of a very high number); if I have this beer here, now, in a glass, I can assume that it's going to be an amazing experience despite how well the crop of malts turned out. This is a gross oversimplification of course, as a large variety of factors exist that can make a beer experience differ wildly, but I like the, well, reliability, of my favorite beer.

But I suppose as I consider it, there's some innate differences from a "concept" standpoint that make the markets of fine wine and fine beer significantly different beyond the obvious realm of merely taste, mouthfeel and the like.

For one, wine, based on my perceptions, doesn't have much of an expiration date. Which I suppose is why certain years can be celebrated and revered ("Ah, 1954 was a good year, terrible shame that it expired 20 years ago. Missed quite an opportunity there, didn't we?") People of affluence include wine cellars in their homes, while others dedicate a shelf in their kitchen to hosting a more humble collection; they save the them for use at an appropriate celebration, be it a wedding or a Friday evening well-spent in front of a television. Either way, they may sit there until they're needed.

The (recommended) shelf life for beer is not so indefinite, with your average bottled brew lasting a few months or so before its flavors fade into vaguely beer-flavored bubble water. Breweries remedy this through two rather opposite tactics:

1. Producing an absurd amount of a beer
2. Producing a very small amount.

Sam Adams is a great example of this model. They have their standard Lager circulating year round. They also have their seasonal mainstays - Noble Pils, Summer Ale, Oktoberfest and Winter Lager - that resolutely shift every year. Taken a step further, they offer a smaller host of "small window" beers - such as summer's Coastal Wheat - available for smaller time frames than even their seasonals.

For me, that beer embraces this "limited time only" structure. Sure, I can have my Lager year round, but as the seasons and holidays shift, it's nice to have something tailored to that event. There's something very comforting about having a Winter Lager with my family on Christmas Eve. The ingredients of beer seem to lend themselves more readily to being wildly poked and prodded into fitting the flavors of the season. Pumpkin to Peppermint, Lemongrass to Grains of Paradise, that basic beer formula embraces them readily. So, drink your wonderful 1992 Pinor Noirs. This beer seems to fit this moment a bit more perfectly.

Brown Cow: Chocolate and Wine. Things get weird when wine gets adventurous.

But I digress. Quite a bit. Sorry about that, you wanted to hear about a new beer, I suppose. Remember how I said France has Wine? Well, "The France of Beer is Belgium" (man, that's a stupid sentence). Let's try one, shall we?

1554 Enlightened Black Ale
New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, CO
Black Ale. 5.6% ABV
Look at how pretty that is. You're automatically more sophisticated for having read this blog, too. Congratulations. 

The theme of this post is sophistication. While that shouldn't suggest that the beers reviewed up to this point haven't been "sophisticated," there's something special about this one-- the label itself recalls a Renaissance still life. It's a "Black Ale" - a style evocative of beer's origins, the sort of the style they were pumping out way back when (it's an interesting topic, but we'll revisit it some other time). The brewery, New Belgium, claims that the recipe comes from "an ancient, crumbling library book." I can't attest to the truth of that (it sounds like something that would maybe give you a bonus to your magic attribute in a video game, not a recipe for a beer, but either way it's sort of win win), but I can tell you New Belgium has a wonderful beer with its version of a black ale.

What is a black ale? If you've had a Guiness, you're in the right ballpark but you're not quite there. BeerAdvocate denotes a black ale from its "roasty notes," a description that is on point. It's dark - nearly black - in color, with a medium body and thick head. It's not quite stout thick or porter intense, and it actually much sweeter in flavor than its appearance might suggest. It's best served above ice cold- around 45 degrees recommends the bottle - and be prepared for a very dry finish. Refreshing it is not.

But it doesn't need to be. The beginning of the sip is a sort of one-dimensional crispness followed by an awesome "after gulp" that proves to be the source of all the great flavors found here. There's a burnt flavor here, which in the world of beer, isn't nearly as unpleasant as it sounds; notes of coffee and chocolate hit you, but they've been soaked in the delightful charred taste of a campfire - which is where it makes me want to be, really.

So, beer drinkers should love this. The fledging? You know, maybe. It's just sweet enough and the hops are roped in so that this could just possibly be a good choice for just about anyone.

I hope I kept all of you up to this point! I know this was wordy, what with the essay of sorts preceding the beer review, but that seemed like a great way to stand out. Beer blogs may be a dime a dozen, but how many wax philosophical about the organic significance of beer? Or something?

Don't forget to follow me! See you next week guys, thanks for reading.