On November 9th, we asked K.B. Gould and Henry Phillips to make a fall pilgrimage to the Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury, Vermont. The closing of the brewery’s retail operation loomed just days away. Joined by driver Dave Watson, the two accepted their assignment: visit the home of Heady Topper, one of the highest-rated beers in the world, to pay homage to its brewmasters, enjoy a taste and a tour and scrounge a rare case. This is the chronicle of their trip.
An American Road Trip for a Great American Beer
The everyman's Champagne
In that casual game of preference, Would You Rather, we’re often faced with important decisions, like raising a child at 15 or never having kids, or losing a pinky toe or never eating steak again. During one of these games, when asked about giving up beer for eternity, we came to a realization: while undesirable, the parting of ways wouldn’t be the end of the world — and we could do it without becoming a hard-hitting liquor drinker. How? With a lifetime supply of sparkling wine, and specifically, a style of sparkling wine called pétillant naturel. One glass of the 2012 Lily’s Cuvée Chardonnay ($28) from California’s Donkey & Goat winery and you’ll know what we’re talking about.
In [hot] vino veritas
Mulled wine is the perfect drink for the holiday season: just pleasant and alcoholic enough to warm everyone up, but not like handing out rounds of high-octane Manhattans that could turn Thanksgiving dinner into an episode worthy of Jenny Jones. We tapped the expertise of Jane Elkins, former and current barkeep at some of New York City’s best cocktail haunts, for three variations of mulled wine, each rooted in tradition and brushed up with ingenuity from behind her bar.
When In Russia...
You ever have one of those ideas that seems really good at the time? Like, let’s drop these broken speakers down a flight of stairs, or let’s jump into the mosh pit at a Machinehead concert, or let’s see if we can lure that deer into the car? Just last weekend, I thought it would be a good idea to taste-test a whole load of Russian Imperial Stouts. If you’re not familiar with the style, it’s characterized by high ABVs and huge chocolate, coffee and malt flavors.
Although they’re monstrously strong and typically expensive, Russian Imperial Stouts push the flavor intensity spectrum, offering a look at the sultry, heady, muscly side of beer. For those willing to experiment, they offer a variety of smells, flavors and textures found in few other styles of beer. But take note: if you’re going to try them, don’t make it a marathon. Give them the credit that they deserve. Still, from the pain of my hangover emerged this list of our favorite Russian Imperial Stouts.
Gifts He'll Actually Remember in the Morning
What to call a man who obsesses over alcohol? A connoisseur? A fanatic? A drunk? We call him The Mixologist, and you know him well. He’s the man whose cupboards are stocked with more bitters than spices, whose basement is reeking of homebrew, whose glass is always half-full — at least. And yours too, for the Mixologist prides himself in the cocktails he makes and the beer he serves. He’s an enabler of fun, an anti-Scrooge, a Holiday MVP. He’s every character in Billy Joel’s Piano Man — in fact, he does a mean Billy Joel if the night goes late enough. So cheers to The Mixologist. Here are a few gifts he’ll cheers to.
For relaxing times...
Last week hummus and yoga were “in”, and while they’re not out yet, there’s a new top dog in Popularville: Japanese Whisky. Notice the spelling — that’s whisky with a -y, like Scotch whisky, not whiskey with an -ey, the spelling used for U.S. and Irish varietals. Yes, the Japanese whisky industry was modeled after the Scottish single malt industry’s practice of distilling and blending under one roof, but it’s since taken on a life of its own. As a result of several recent victories over Scottish whiskies at blind tasting competitions, Japan’s best-kept secret escaped, and the world is eager to test the hype. We tasted five of the best 12-year-old Japanese whisky offerings, and we can assure you that the hype is warranted.
Big beer for Bigfoot
Great beers — really great ones — have of late fallen into two categories. Big IPAs make their impression with complex hop mixes, while big stouts levy another piece of the puzzle, malt, for a savory warmth of chocolate, toffee, vanilla, smokiness and even bourbon notes. Great Divide Oatmeal Yeti Imperial Stout ($10) comes from a family of “big” beers, but the simple inclusion of rolled oats and some raisins (among a few other tweaks) in its brewing process makes this beast a different breed. This Yeti went to Yale.
Oldies but Goodies
There’s something to be said for a little maturation. Age yields refinement, which more than compensates for lost youth. Poetic, eh? We think so. Anyways, one only has to look at Bowmore’s 12 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky and their 15 Years Old Single Malt Darkest to see the effects of age in action. We tasted both side by side.
Better Than Average Joe
For those who believe that little things make good coffee, the Brazen Brewer ($199) offers a mid-range drip machine with technology and temperature accuracy most often found on higher-end models. We put it through its paces as our office brewer for a week.
A new expression from Johnnie Walker
Johnnie Walker presents a good lesson in the way the world really works: the rich drink Blue, the working man drinks Red, and in between there are rungs on the ladder of purchasing power. If you can make it to Double Black, you might just be able to claw your way into a bottle of Johnnie Walker Platinum Label ($110), now available in the United States.
It's the end of the world (as we know it)
Seventeen years is a long time to experiment. That’s evident in Stone’s 17th Anniversary Götterdämmerung IPA, a beer with a name that means “the twilight of the gods” (in this case, meaning “the end of the world”) and shares its title with a Wagner opera. This nomenclature lends an impression of serious clout, and in many ways it’s warranted.
Gimme some sugar(cane)
In the final throes of summer each year, before we dust off the leather boots, get out the lambswool sweaters and prepare to toss the first curse at Old Man Winter, we spend a little extra time with Old Man Rum. Pretty good company, this guy: a spirit distilled from sugarcane juice or molasses, with few other rules to govern its production and aging. That makes for a drink that varies greatly in style and provenance. The five rums we’re enjoying now reflect that variety of tastes.
Cold Off the Presses
Iced coffee has been a longstanding warm-weather alternative to the hot stuff since forever, but there have always been drawbacks. As you’d expect, brewing hot coffee and then putting it on ice leads to a watery, acidic brew with as much flavor as Chuck D’s solo career. The answer is cold brew. Using cold or…
A Capitol Brew
DC has its downsides. It’s not a state. Traffic is depression inducing. The city is built on a swamp and has the clime to match. The poor folks who reside there have to deal with the assholes who run our country. But add to the list of good things (it really is a long list, despite our recent pessimism) DC Brau, the home-town brewery for our nation’s capitol, which besides this one, has surprisingly little beer to offer. We recently got a chance to try all three of their flagship brews.
There’s nothing like a bottle beach plum liqueur to conjure even totally made up memories of summering on the Atlantic coast. The only such spirit with a commercial release? Greenhook Ginsmiths Beach Plum Gin Liqueur ($50), made in Brooklyn, NY, by the young distillery whose American Dry Gin we’ve also sampled.
A bottle of The Glenlivet Alpha is, well, a strange prospect. We got our hands on a bottle of this limited release Scotch — a spirit with no details as to age, cask conditioning or tasting notes, mind you. Our gimmickry alarms bells were ringing, but fortunately, it came through in the taste department, big time. Read on for our full tasting notes.
Same country, new port
Pike Creek Whiskey was available stateside in the 90s. Slow sales soon put the importation experiment to an end, despite a budding cult following. Now, Pernod Ricard is reintroducing the spirit back to select American markets. Unlike typical Canadian whiskies, Pike Creek is finished in Port barrels, and left at the mercy of the elements in unheated warehouses. But is it really a different? Read our full review to find out.
Full body, full wallet(?)
You know the pinnacle of wine-making remains in France. Well, so do all those newly minted Chinese millionaires, and they’ve driven the price of Old World red wines sky high. This is especially true for top-end Bordeaux, which carry the highest cache among French wines. Those of us without a state-sponsored fortune, trust fund, or impending Wall Street bonus, however, have to look elsewhere for quality wine. Here are two splurge-caliber choices, made in the same style, of the same grape — merlot — though one comes without the inflation of appellation.
Canadian flag, Caribbean taste
Angel’s Envy’s latest creation, a rye whiskey finished in Caribbean rum barrels, supposes to pair a contrasting set of spirit flavors. We take a few sips and find out for ourselves.
[Cacao] farm to table
Back safely in the U.S., I removed the cacao ball from my running shoe. I unwound the plastic wrap from the dark brown orb and sniffed it. My best friend, Mycah, and his wife, Ashley, had picked it up at a cacao farm in Baracoa, a small town on the eastern tip of Cuba. This was the good shit. I pictured myself shaving it over ice cream to impress a date or using it to flavor chili. Oh, this chocolate here? I got it from a guy in Cuba. Chef François Payard showed me how I could actually use it.
Con-cidre it tasty
To begin: someone made a mistake in this assignment. I don’t like ciders. They’re sweet enough to send me into shock. They have a flatness that makes my tongue feel ashamed. They attract large numbers of bees. With those prejudices in mind, I gave Stella Artois’s new Cidre a taste.
Only good things in store
A decent drink can be hard to find, especially when you’re at home. For the do-it-yourselfers who would rather the “do” simply be mixing the strong stuff with the not-so-strong stuff, we’ve compiled a list of the top five mixers you can find in your friendly neighborhood high-end liquor store. All you have to do is add booze, ice and maybe a wry wink as you drop in the cocktail straw.
Beer o'clock comes early this summer
A true hot-weather brew is not necessarily easy to find. We won’t knock macrobrews — their simple refreshment is enhanced all the same by hot weather, scantily clad women and baseball games. Those (the beers, not the women) are easily snatched from the corner store shelf, though. This list tackles the summer micro brew, a trickier topic, if only because there are so damn many. Pop the cap off the right one of these beauties and any summer activity can be filled with crisp, carbonated, slightly buzzed pleasure.
Bee open minded
Putting honey into alcoholic things has a bad rap. It’s effeminate, it’s weak, it’s a cop-out. The parallels to shitty, girly strawberry-kiwi-whipped-cream-lip-gloss vodka are overwhelming. But everyone’s doing it. Now Dewar’s (a Scotch!) has joined in. We’re here to tell you: their take isn’t wrong. It’s just… different.
As American as the Mayflower, and twice as fun
Most honest Americans of drinking age know bourbon as the national spirit. But there’s another drink for us to enjoy in the warm weather that, like bourbon, has a uniquely American story: rum. We’ve overlooked it for some time; meanwhile, there’s plenty of new, excellent, American and Caribbean rum coming to market, and rum-specific bars are opening in cities across the country. Rum, for now, is a little less serious than Scotch or bourbon, but what it brings to the table is no laughing matter — unless you’ve got your pinky dangling.
A voyage to Midleton Distillery in Cork County, Ireland
There’s a published sociologist somewhere who said integration is the key to acceptance. Maybe we’re just paraphrasing Costner’s journal in Dances with Wolves. Regardless of who penned it, whisk(e)y makes a convincing case for the theory. Various cultures, united by their admiration of the caramel liquid’s charms, have each honed their own rituals for conjuring the spirit — and we, the imbibing people, have reaped the benefits of these diverse forms of worship.
Irish whiskey is one tradition that many beyond the Emerald Isle scarcely know, despite the island’s profound role in molding the drink into the revered male favorite it has become. But this wasn’t always the case. At the height of its glory, the product of Ireland’s distilleries was once the favored drink of the British empire, and its most notable ambassador, Jameson, was the world’s favorite whiskey. What happened next reads like a lost Dumas manuscript, complete with revolution, religion and economic turmoil all ending in the drink’s unjust imprisonment. The good news for drinkers is that after patiently biding its time for well over a century, the era of Irish whiskey’s redemption is finally arriving, and it’s easy to spot if you know where to look.
Poring over coffee's simplest method
Occam’s razor: A philosophical principle suggesting that simpler explanations tend to be better than complex ones. It has broad application, from medicine to ethics to proofs of the existence of God. Now if we apply the razor to our morning coffee, as the thinking men of Gear Patrol are wont to do, we can scrap our fancy drip machines and super-automatic espresso makers and still get a world-class cup of coffee without doing much more than pouring hot water over coffee grounds. We’ve assembled a pour over kit with all the basics to get you started — at a very affordable price.
Hail to the King, Baby
It felt good to finish a successful 64-beer tournament. Partly because our bladders were feeling the pressure after lots of beer samples, but mostly because we got to crown a winner. 64 beers — Vienna-style lagers, IPAs, imperial stouts, wheat ales, barleywines, pale ales — under one bar’s roof is chaos (delicious, delicious chaos). But picking one as the absolute best is as singularly satisfying as the tick-hiss of popped bottle cap.
The final two competitors prove we did something right. Founders Breakfast Stout and Victory Prima Pils make drinkers happy, and they make brewers happy. They’re delicious, complex, drinkable and extremely accessible to beer fans; they’re also the epitome of two foundational styles, perfect examples of what excellent American craft brewing can create.
Good tequila? Aqui
Last Cinco de Mayo you ended up in the gutter with an extra-large sombrero shading your bloodshot eyes. Ready to grow up a bit for this year’s celebration? May we recommend Qui tequila ($57), sipped straight while you fight the waves of heartburn your taco feast brings on.