Thursday, February 04, 2010

3 Short's tales

Took advantage of our time in Michigan to try out some new offerings from Short's Brewing Company.

I love Short's beer. Sadly, it is really only available in Michigan (as far as I know). In fact, when we were living in MI, their beer was pretty much only available on draught in bars. Things have evolved, it seems, and you can now find bottles of Short's beer in a handful of spots in MI. Apparently, though, it is still produced in relatively small batches (hurray for craftmanship!) and the bottles fetch quite a price for traders online.

The brewery is based in Bellaire, MI and run by a former Western Michigan University student who discovered he was far more interested in crafting beer than studying (right on!). There are plenty of interesting details about the company on their website, but I'll give you the brief rundown here. They've been around since 2004 and started selling beer out of their Pub/Brewery in Bellaire. That location lacked space to bottle, so other than the beer they served, they sold kegs of beer to local restaurants/bars. Early business was a bit bumpy, but they stayed afloat and that led to my first encounter with their beer at the Red Mesa Grill in Boyne City, MI in 2007. In 2008, they bought a manufacturing building and after a year of work, they are now bottling six packs of both their annual and seasonal brews. With their jump to bottling, I ended up stumbling across some of their beer at the Main Party Store in Ann Arbor over the holidays.

One of the great things about Short's beer is that they aren't afraid to experiment and try bold new things. They have an annual line of beers that is quite good and represents many popular brewing styles. They also have a line of seasonals that range from your typical seasonals (winter stouts and the like) to some really weird stuff. For example, I spotted, but didn't try, their PB&J ale at the party store. Yep, that's right, peanut butter and jelly. Not sure about that one. Anyway, I did end up selecting 3 interesting brews (all seasonal) that I found unique and tasty. Some thoughts below.
  • Good Humans dry hopped double brown ale - Pleasant dose of hops sets this brown ale apart. (Cascade?) Hoppy initial taste makes way for a more typical caramel brown ale flavor. Still manages to finish with another kick of hops. Quite different and yummy. (8/10)
  • The Liberator double IPA - Wholy hoppiness! I like me some hops, but the first taste of this made me think I was in over my head. Fortunately, the hoppiness isn't overwhelming and by the third sip I was enjoying a pleasant mix of hops with a touch of citrus finish. Not my favorite IPA ever, but it is Short's... (7/10)
  • The Mystery imperial oatmeal stout - Enough flavor to knock you over, this imperial stout is serious. Loads of chocolate flavor (and smell) with a touch of coffee at the finish. Quite good, but even one bottle was hard to finish. Perhaps a bit too much for my taste. (6/10)
The Liberator and The Mystery soon after their arrival in Halifax. The Good Humans brown was gone before we left MI (and before I was able to grab a picture).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Past due #4: Jolly Pumpkin Café and Brewery (Dec 29, 2009)

Made a quick stop at the Jolly Pumpkin Café and Brewery in Ann Arbor with Alyce.

Somehow in our super busy holiday visit in MI, we found time to wander into a new spot on Main St. in Ann Arbor: The Jolly Pumpkin Café and Brewery. Ron Jeffries and the Jolly Pumpkin folks have been brewing some unique beer for a while now out of their shop in neighboring Dexter, MI, and the new Main St. location represents a clear step forward for them. And it apparently isn't the only step they've taken, as they now also have a restaurant/brewery/distillery in Traverse City, MI and plan to replace their Dexter shop with a pub. Excellent!

After finding our way upstairs to the bar area, I mulled over the menu for a bit before deciding to ask about their cask special. Glad I did. As far as I can tell, I had a Jolly Pumpkin Bog Beast Porter, described as a blend of porters with a hint of cranberry (although I don't recall the name ever being mentioned by the server). It sounded delicious, and didn't disappoint (as detailed below). I love porter in cold weather, and this ended up being a precursor to the nice evening that lay ahead. While I was enjoying my porter, Alyce opted for a (n/a) berry mojito and we split their grilled flatbread with a trio of dips. I managed to grab a few sips of the mojito and can say it was pretty damn tasty. Tangy and flavorful; rich in lime juice, blackberries and a touch of basil. The flatbread and dips were also impressive. A large serving of walnut-red pepper, edamame and hummus dips accompanied a decent serving of warm flatbread. The edamame was true to the flavor, but nothing special; the hummus was nice and lemony, without much garlic; and the walnut-red pepper tasted quite peppery at first, but was cinnamon-y by the end. Combined with a fairly relaxed pub atmosphere, we came away impressed and very pleased with both our food and drinks. Certainly will be stopping in again next time we're in the area.

Our flatbread with dip trio, the (n/a) berry mojito, and my tasty porter. Note that I overexposed the picture in iPhoto to make the drinks visible.

As far as the beer is concerned, I would say that I generally enjoy and appreciate Jolly Pumpkin beers, but they're not usually my style. Most of what I've tried shows clear Belgian influence, with nice blends of fruit and spice. Sometimes just a bit too much fruit and spice for my taste. Their beers actually remind me a bit of my favorite French beer from the Brasserie Sainte-Colombe, just south of Rennes. If you can put two and two together, you've probably deduced that I had a hard time finding good beer in France. Yup, wine country. Anyway, I'll leave you with a brief description of the porter I tried, in case it's still around.
  • Bog Beast Porter (cask) - Smooth and creamy, but not too heavy. Nice coffee and chocolate finish. Didn't really get much cranberry flavor, but it was quite good otherwise. (8/10)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Better beats #2: RJD2 - Chicken Bone Circuit

Chicken Bone Circuit by RJD2 (off the album Deadringer)
Yes, I know it's late Tuesday night (or Wednesday, really) and I've fallen behind on my weekly Friday music posting after only one week. I do feel a bit disappointed, but I must say that I find this far easier to swallow than what happened in Massachusetts this evening. Plus, I have some good reasons to have waited to post the latest better beats.

The artist this week is RJD2, a DJ and producer who got started with his music career in Columbus, OH (boo!) as part of a hip hop group called MHz. I suspect that many of you have not heard of him before, but I bet you've heard his music. Where? Well, if you tuned into the Golden Globes on Sunday, and you enjoy their selection for best television series - drama, then you've undoubtedly heard RJD2. That's right, the opening credits for the show Mad Men feature an instrumental track called "A Beautiful Mine" off the RJD2 album Magnificent City Instrumentals. I never much liked the show, beyond the first season, but I love the opening credits. They're fantastic. I'd even say that the choice of RJD2's music was perfect, as I often find myself picturing scenes to accompany his songs. I don't know what it is, but he has a way of blending instrumental layers and building intensity that shows a true artistic connection to life happenings. He's good. Why else did I wait to post this? Today marks the release of his fourth major solo album, The Colossus. I hit that up this morning, and if you're interested, the album sounds pretty good so far. He's also just starting a US tour, so you could even catch a live show, including some sweet drum machine Donkey Kong.

Alright, enough blathering, here's the song. "Chicken Bone Circuit" is off RJD2's first major album, Deadringer, and features samples of live Led Zeppelin, Mongo Santamaria and Lovage. It's drum-heavy, slightly haunting and loaded with energy. The video (which is not official, but very cool) shows scenes from San Francisco, with several filmed on the fringe of the Tenderloin, along Market St. This is one of my favorite spots in the city, where I feel you can really take in the true diversity of SF. I love the city, love the footage and the song speaks for itself. Hope you like it.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Better beats #1: Slum Village - Get Dis Money

I doubt I'll keep up on this, but each Friday I plan to post a new entry with some music I like. The genres will be all over the place, and will likely center on (real) hip hop, funk, jazz and rock. It's my hope that not only will you be inspired to try some different beer after reading the blog, but that you will also discover some new music. I don't really listen to the radio, so perhaps you'll encounter something different here. Which brings me to the first better beats entry...
Get Dis Money by Slum Village (off the album Fantastic, Vol. 2)
Why this for the first entry? Well, I think it is representative of my musical interests in a number of ways. First, the group hails from Detroit and features songs with beats by one of my favorite hip hop producers of all time, J Dilla. Sadly, Dilla passed away in 2006, but like many artists, the regard for his work has only grown following his passing. In fact, my interest in his music only really took off after seeing a tribute concert led by Mos Def and his band ("Watermelon") at the Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor on MLK day, 2008 (full concert audio here!). Second, as part of a sick instrumental background on this week's song, Dilla samples Herbie Hancock's "Come Running to Me" off his 1977 album Sunlight. Hancock will definitely make another appearance in the better beats, but suffice it to say he was a fundamental player in the electronic funk/jazz scene. Lastly, this song caught my eye as it was featured on the soundtrack to the movie Office Space, along with a number of other excellent selections. I'm not wild about Slum Village lyrically (which is normally damning for hip hop artists, in my mind), but it's hard to argue with underground hip hop from Detroit and beats by J Dilla. Enjoy.

Past due #3: Rockbottom Brewery (Dec 22, 2009)

Sampled a few beers and some food at the Rockbottom Brewery with the ultimate folks.

Tonight (note date in title) we headed over to the Rockbottom Brewery for some pre-holiday-break food and drinks with a few players from my fall ultimate league team. The pub is down in the basement beneath the bar/hangout named Your Father's Moustache in Halifax. It looks pretty new and has a cozy atmosphere, a bit like an upscale pub. Not a bad place for drinking some beer.

When we arrived, a few pitchers were already gracing the table and I didn't hesitate to jump on that. After a glass of the nut brown ale, we ordered up some food. I opted for a salsa panini with chicken, salsa and some veggies. Not bad. Came with sweet potato fries that weren't super crisp, but tasted pretty good to me. Pretty sure the sauce they served things with was mostly Open Pit BBQ sauce...yum (sarcasm). Alyce had a turkey burger and fries that she thought was just OK. With the food, a pitcher of the stout arrived, which was followed shortly thereafter by another of their IPA.

Overall, the beers were decent, but nothing special. A quality I found in all of them was drinkability. It isn't necessarily a good quality, but for me, it means the beer is easy to drink without overwhelming my tastebuds. I had 3 glasses without thinking about it, which would be unusual for the stronger beers I normally prefer. Here are my thoughts with links to ratebeer reviews.
  • Nutbrown Ale - Fairly sweet, but not too much. Drinkable, in part because the flavors were pretty weak. In fact, quite a mild brown. (6/10)
  • Stout - Not really a stout, but more of a strong brown ale. Pretty meh. Again, muted flavors. If they called this their Nutbrown, I'd probably give it +2 in my ratings. As a stout... (6/10)
  • IPA - The waitress claimed this was very hoppy, and that got me excited. In reality, I'd call this more of a pale ale. Too weak. (6/10)

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Past due #2: Clancy's Amber Ale (Dec 19, 2009)

Had a 12 ounce mug of Clancy's Amber Ale at The Maxwell's Plum in Halifax, NS.

Ugh, this wasn't pretty from the start. Attracted by the advertised 60 beers on tap, Alyce and I stumbled into The Maxwell's Plum to escape the cold and wind after checking out the Christmas tree in the Grand Parade downtown. Immediately after opening the door, my visions of an authentic English pub were shattered. It appears that although this place would like to call itself an authentic pub, it is more accurately described as a dimly lit, poorly decorated sports bar. The carpets reeked of stale beer, TVs adorned many of the walls and a brewtender sat upon nearly every table. Throw in a bunch of middle-aged men yelling across the tables at each other and you've basically got the scene.

Alright, now back to those brewtenders for a second (I'm only linking to that stupid site once). I'm willing to believe that serving beer in different types of glasses can affect the experience, and am confident that temperature is important for properly serving beer, but brewtenders are stupid. A tube full of ice with a tap on the bottom offers nothing. Does your pitcher of beer really get that warm sitting there? Do you feel like pouring your lager out of a pitcher just doesn't give you the same taste that the brewtender can impart? Is the pitcher too heavy? Are Canadians lazier than Americans? If you want draft beer, just get a pint from the bar and skip the $80 ice tube.

OK, now on to the beer (it doesn't get better, sorry), again with a link to the ratebeer review.
  • Clancy's Amber Ale - Struck me as a typical Canadian beer, and that's not good. Very smooth, but bland. Basically it tasted like a watered down amber. Come to find out, Clancy's is the Moosehead "craft beer" line. Nice try, jerks. (3/10)

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Past due #1: Sea Level Brewing (Dec 13, 2009)

NOTE: These past due posts are from before the blog's existence. They're recent, but a bit hazy in memory and thus will lack a bit of detail included in future posts.

Tried a sampler of some Sea Level Brewing beers at The Port Pub in Port Williams, NS.

The group consisted of four of their standard brews, a specialty beer and a seasonal. Overall, I wasn't terribly impressed. I wanted to be, as the location (riverside) and feel of the pub were great, but the beer was pretty mediocre. I suppose I should have known better when their guest book consistently mentioned great food, but had almost nothing about their beer. Some thoughts below (with links to the ratebeer reviews).
  • Planters Pale Ale - Bit malty for my taste, lacking a nice hoppy finish that I've come to expect from American pale ales. (5/10)

  • Blue Heron ESB - Best of the bunch. Nice balance with a clean finish. I'd drink this again if I found it. (8/10)

  • Rojo Mojo Red Ale - Nothing memorable (literally, can't remember this one...). Not bad, but not good. (5/10)

  • Port in the Storm Porter - Drinkable, but I prefer a finish with a bit more chocolate. Better than the bottle of it that I tried a few months back that had a foul sour milk aftertaste. (7/10)

  • Crossing Muddy Waters Brown Ale - Nicely balanced and quite drinkable, but I felt the flavors were a bit muted. (6/10)

  • Hoppy Holidaze Winter Ale - Seriously? This fruity, confused ale was barely drinkable. Yes, that's right. It was hard to finish a 4 ounce glass of it. Also, I don't enjoy names that are misleading...there was nothing 'hoppy' about this. (2/10)

Sadly this sampler wasn't nearly as good as it looked... At least the price was decent (less than $5).