Review: The Brewer’s Art Birdhouse Pale Ale

In January, some friends encouraged me to check out a fun Baltimore-area event. It’s called Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School and it’s a combination of a burlesque performance and some life drawing time with the performer acting as model. I was lucky enough to come the night that they featured Kiki Allure, who put on several performances (one with a grinder, which was a lot of fun!) and sat for both short and long drawing sessions. There’s a small cover charge and a cash bar to enjoy during the event. I hope I can go again soon!

 

I grabbed a beer by The Brewer’s Art, a local Baltimore brewery. This was Birdhouse Pale Ale, which I hadn’t had before; I believe I’ve had their Belgian-like Beazly in the past, but this was different. Poured from a can into a pint glass (which I had to ask for because I’m a beer snob at a dive bar), this beer is a pretty gold-amber color with no head and a little lacing. Perhaps the color as I saw and photographed it was a little off due to the dim bar lighting and the warm stage lighting being set up.

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The nose is sweet, not really hoppy, and a little Belgian in profile. Sort of… yeasty. There’s no clove or banana smell to me, though. The taste is balanced and has some sweetness from the malts. I really liked it right out of the gate. I detected hops that, to me, tasted like the noble varietals. But after a few sips, there was something off about it. Something almost metallic in the back of my throat. There’s a slight dryness that picks up steam in tandem with the metallic taste. Maybe it’s a batch issue, maybe it’s the recipe, but I don’t know that I’d gamble on spending money on this beer again only to end up disappointed.

Review: Deschutes Black Butte Porter

Black Butte Porter is the flagship beer of Deschutes Brewery of Bend, Oregon. They call it “the beer that started it all.” For me, it was one of the first west coast beers that I’d ever had and so, in some way, it started a lot for me, too.

I had this beer on draft at Dar Salam, an Iraqi restaurant in Portland, Oregon.It was their only draft option (they only had one tap in the Alberta location) and it was on happy hour special, so it was an easy choice.

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It poured a dark, almost-black brown with a small, light tan head. It didn’t offer much in the way of aroma, but that may be because it was served extremely cold. Cold was fine; Black Butter Porter is a very easy-drinking beer and this temperature works just fine with it. It tasted of roasted, toasty malts. It was not dry (as some roasty porters can be) and a hint sweet. There were subtle notes of chocolate to it.

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Black Butte Porter is a strong, sturdy beer without being overwhelming. It’s an excellent, well-balanced porter that people who want to learn about dark beers should definitely try. It paired well with the strong flavors of the Iraqi food. Flat bread and a fig dip, a salad with feta and sumac dressing, a big falafel sandwich (which was delightful, by the way) – the porter held up. I could definitely still taste it after I’d eaten my flavorful meal.

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Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, several Deschutes beers are readily available in the D.C. area. They travel far to come and bring us east coasters joy. I’ve absolutely seen the Black Butte Porter and the Mirror Pond Pale Ale in local pubs out here. I’m so grateful for the craft beer movement that has made such a variety of beers easier to find with every passing year.

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I’m writing this from home, having returned from Portland a week ago (though I’m still working on a backlog of beer reviews from when I was out there) and I’m pretty determined to live out there in about a year. I’m in a very tumultuous time in my life (divorce, my own health issues, a very sick parent, job hunting), but this blog gives me something to look forward to and enjoy doing. it gives me joy. It gives me hope.

Craft Beer Beginnings

Beer as a part of pop culture is nothing new. It’s been deeply tied to sports culture for decades and plays a big role in poker nights and movie nights everywhere. The idea of a cold brew paired with some kind of entertainment is etched deeply into our American brains.

Frat parties and beer chugging didn’t originate with the 1978 movie Animal House, but the parody of Greek culture popularized the idea of wearing a bedsheets toga while shotgunning a beer. Cheers let us know that there’s somewhere where everybody knows your name and where you can get a cold brew. Budweiser dropped memorable commercials full of clydesdales and people shouting waaaazzzzup at one another during big events like the Super Bowl.

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The thing is, most of these examples come from an era before the craft beer movement was even a twinkle in most brewers’ eyes. Generally, frat parties, Super Bowl parties, and neighborhood watering holes have featured – and continue to feature – sub-par swill from the biggest brewers and distributors in the world. These watery, additive-filled beers are best served icy cold (so you can’t taste them) and drunk quickly (so they don’t get warm, so you can’t taste them) while paying attention to something else.

But there’s been a shift in the past 20 years, and an even more rapid progression toward craft brewing and wide distribution in then past 10. It was only in 1982 that Hilton Harvest House in Boulder, Colorado, hosted a mere 20 breweries (serving only 35 beers) for the first Great American Beer Festival. Today, the annual event features more than 2,000 beers. I’d call that a turning point in the trends of what really mattered to beer drinkers.

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The Boston Beer Company was founded in 1984 and, better known as Sam Adams, it revolutionized the kind and quality of beer that was being made readily available to drinkers in the U.S. While it is now debatably too big to be called a “craft brewery” any longer, it was undeniably a huge influence on the movement as we know it. Love it or hate it, the Boston Beer Company shaped the way we drink today.

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Photo from phillymag.com

The United States is now home to over 4,000 breweries and that number is growing every month. Not all will survive. Business is booming for craft beer, sure, but it’s not sure thing. Remember: closings are a sign of competition and not necessarily a problem or a brewing “bubble” that might soon pop. Competition is good. It’s healthy. It pushes those businesses that do survive to be better, smarter, and more dedicated to their craft.

Still, let us raise a glass to fallen friends (and fallen breweries) and hope that we can all be as hard-working and successful as those who continue to thrive.

Review: Grupo Modelo Negra Modelo Lager

Go on, laugh if you’d like, but this particular beer was offered to me by a friend while she was building her annual Dia De Los Metros shrine to honor her grandfather and other friends who have left us. I can’t think of a better reason to accept the gift of beer, especially when it’s one that I’d never tried before in my life.

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As a middle-class white girl of dubious European heritage, I had almost no knowledge about Dia De Los Muertos, other than the translation to “Day of the Dead” and a vague understanding that it was to honor those who had passed on. There’s a lot more to it than that, or than just sugar skulls, flower crowns, and pretty skeleton face paint (we can talk about racism and cultural appropriation more another time – that’s a mighty big idea to conquer in a beer review post).

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Dia De Los Muertos, as it is today, has come from a mix of indigenous Aztec beliefs like the month-long festival of Mictecacihuatl, the tradition of The Lady of the Dead (which corresponds to the modern La Calavera Catrina), and Spanish Conquistadors Catholic traditions of All Souls/All Saints Days. One of the very common ways to observe the Day of the Dead is with an altar that combines both traditional and Catholic imagery, honoring those who have passed through the veil to the other side. It has nothing to do with American/European Halloween traditions.

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Perhaps the most popularized image of Dia De Los Metros is the fancy, painted “sugar skull” image. This originates from the the Calavera Catrina, which, in itself, was actually based in a piece of art by José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican Artist. Posada created the image of a beautiful skeleton woman as a sort of dig at the Europhile Mexican elite class during an era of dictatorship. It became a symbol of the Mexican Revolution in the early twentieth century.

The Calavera Catrina – the beautiful skeleton – is now a highly commodified and generally misunderstood image that makes companies quite a bit of money at this time of year. Even Starbucks is getting in on the profit-train. It’s not wrong to buy these things, exactly, but it is important to understand their cultural significance.

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Right. So. Beer.

Negra Modelo is technically a Vienna Lager style beer, but it is a darker red-brown color thanks to the roasted malts used to flavor it. It is, as the color suggests, malty and roasty. It’s a well-balanced beer that isn’t sweet and isn’t dry. It falls well into the category of easy-to-drink.

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I drank this one straight from the bottle, forgoing a glass completely. Maybe it was the gold foil over the cap, but the bottle felt sufficiently luxurious to drink from this time. It’s different from what Americans call a cerveza-style beer, even though the Mexican-Spanish word for beer is just straight-up “cerveza.” I enjoyed this beer with friends and a feast of fajita burrito fixings that myself and my friend prepared.

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As for me, I’ll take beer, a cultural lesson, and some burritos any day of the week.

 

Beginnings

It’s all James’ fault. He convinced me (admittedly, it didn’t take much convincing) to start a beer blog and, so, here we are. Honestly, I’d thought about having one before. I love trying new beers and making notes on them, and have for some time – turning this into An Official Thing really only made sense.

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“Know What You Drink” by drywell

We were out for lunch yesterday and, over a pint, we got to talking about writing and beer and art. I’m presently in Portland, OR, visiting James and a few other friends and I always enjoy the thriving craft beer culture out here. It’s different from the beer scene back in D.C. (which is fine, no judgment here) and feels somehow warm and personable. Maybe that’s just the Oregon way, though; I could swear that people here are just more friendly and polite than they are back home.

Anyway, our conversation turned to the intersection of art and writing and alcohol. Could I somehow hit all of these topics on a writing/beer blog, he asked. Well, I was sure willing to try. And so, a day later, here we are, writing our first post. This is the royal “we,” kids – Beerily Thus is a solo project. James can go get his own (still his) idea if he wants one!

My plan for this blog is straight forward (but plans often change, as we all know): beer reviews, discussions of art/alcohol cultures intersecting, art about beer, brewery reviews, etc. But if I’ve learned anything from my years of writing (and drinking) it is that things so very rarely go according to plan. Let’s just see, shall we?