Hi everyone, Swan Fungus (née Evan LeVine) here! I didn't take any new adventures this week into the scary remote wilderness of California. I did visit a brewery and a brewpub in San Diego last week and had a hell of a good time (read about it here), but I've been filling in for a co-worker at the record store where I work while he gallivants across Europe. So, my free time has been limited. This minor setback has momentarily curtailed my wanderlust, but it hasn't drained all the fun from my life. Without travel, I still have my precious record collection and my insatiable appetite for beer! The way I see it, if I can't spend a Thursday afternoon regaling you with stories from the road I might as well provide you with some beer recommendations. To make this exercise even more fun, I've gone and paired the beers with food and albums, so that you can enjoy them to their fullest potential. Of course, I should preface this blog post by saying I know next-to-nothing about "pairing" food and beer, and even less about food in general! I've always been a bagels and eggs kind of guy, which is to say those two food items accounted for at least 75% of my diet before I met my girlfriend. If there's one aspect of this little game of mine you should ignore, ignore the food pairings. Or, laugh at my immaturity and pathetic attempts to sound erudite. Whatever makes you laugh. I have no problems degrading myself for a few bonus chuckles.
Oh beer. You're my best friend. I love you so much that I keep track of each one of you I've ever tasted. Well, I've kept track of each one since I had the idea to start a list. Beer, you cure me whenever I'm down. You cure me whenever I'm up, too! I even have a self-imposed mandate that I need to drink five new beers every month, for the rest of my life! It's not really a problem achieving that goal, but -- like a moratorium on post-break-up pity sex -- it keeps me from falling back into depressing routines. So far in the year 2009, I've tried 86 new beers (or 10.75 per month), which is double my goal! Whoa, that's a lot of calories...
Of those 86 new beers, here are ten of the best, with links to RateBeer profiles (I prefer that website to Beer Advocate, but to each his/her own!), embarrassingly palette-unfriendly descriptions (I'm pretty sure my taste buds don't work), and the requisite food/vinyl pairings. Please enjoy!
- Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout - Brewed in Norway, from a place called called Grimstad, this is a serious dark beer. Jet black color, thick like tar, and deliciously flavored with cocoa, coffee, and a well-balanced hop/malt ratio. A 22oz. bottle packs a decent punch with its 9% ABV, but it's not enough to get you totally wasted on its own. The brewers claim it goes well with vanilla ice cream, but I ate it with Trader Joe's "Just Chicken" and a slice of toast. The "Just Chicken" was cold and slimy and awful, which makes me wonder if it would go better with a hearty bowl of Mac 'n Cheese. As for a record pairing, the beer hails from Norway so I could go with the self-titled Serena Maneesh record...but it's also really dark, so I could just as easily go with Tar's Roundhouse. Take your pick!
- Russian River Pliny The Elder - An Imperial/Double IPA (IIPA or I2PA) brewed in Santa Rosa, CA. Dark gold color with a bouquet of citrus flavors in the aroma. The flavor is all hops. Very complex and refined, and even I -- a self-proclaimed aficionado -- had never experienced anything quite like it. A sharp, bitter finish completes this testament to how great an IPA taste. I drank mine alongside a peperoni pizza from Foliero's here in Los Angeles, but I imagine any quality pizza from a wood or coal oven would suffice. There's something about crisp, hoppy beers and pizza or pasta that compliment each other. For its complexity and slightly above average (8%) ABV, I'd pair this beer with a psychedelic album...like, Easter Everywhere by the 13th Floor Elevators. If not, try the California band Ancestors' 2008 record, Neptune With Fire.
- Founders Breakfast Stout - The first time I tried this was at the Extreme Beer Festival in Boston back when I lived on the East Coast. This Midwestern brewery finally started distributing to New Jersey recently. I picked up a six-pack when I was in town in April and drank the shit out of those beers. Thick enough to eat with a fork, black color with a lasting head, delicious coffee/chocolate flavor and a not-too-shabby 8.3% ABV make this beer quite desirable for Imperial Stout fans. A beer this thick and deserves to be consumed alongside something that is both unholy and unhealthy. Why compliment the richness with something light when you can foul out and be a glutton. At first I thought jalapeno and cheese stuffed pretzels, but the I decided on fast food as a good pairing. McDonald's or Wendy's, unless you have something ridiculous like Fatburger available nearby. If you just want to sit at home and brood in your room with your record collection, a beer as heavy as Founders Breakfast Stout demands a Boris record, or Sleep's Dopesmoker.
- Harviestoun Ola Dubh (30 Year Old) - There's an amazing 711 near where I live with a standalone "rare beers" fridge in the back of the store. No joke, the woman who works the front counter looks like Nico. It's like an alternate reality 711. The manager of the store and I often talk about beer when I shop there, and he recommended I try this Scottish Old Ale whose name means "black oil". Aged in 30-year-old malt whisky casks, this is one strong-tasting beer. Light carbonation, smoky and sweet. I've tasted a lot of "oak aged" or bourbon barrel beers, but this one had the most wood in the taste. It's not for the faint of heart, that's for sure. Since this is such a refined -- dare I say snobby -- beer, I'd pair it with a steak, or a nice aged meat. As for your music of choice? Glenn Gould, The Goldberg Variations.
- Stone 13th Anniversary Ale - An American Strong Ale from one of my favorite California breweries. Aroma of caramel, hops and citrus. Flavor up front is light fruits and malts, finish of strong hops. I've yet to have a bad beer brewed by Stone, and they are responsible for crafting some of my favorites, like Double Bastard Ale and their Imperial Stout. The Stone Brewery in Escondido has its own eatery, the amazing World Bistro, which uses only local, organic, free-range ingredients. When I was there, I ate Spud Buds (garlic potato balls battered in Stone beer and fried) and BBQ Duck Tacos, which were heavenly. This Strong Ale goes great with exactly that dish. If it went with any other possible food pairing (and it doesn't), it would go with ginger snaps. As for music, I'd pair this beer with King Crimson's In The Wake Of Poseidon.
- Hair Of The Dog Doggie Claws (2008) - I was told that this Barley Wine from a very reputable craft brewery in Portland, Oregon would taste best if left to age. I don't have that kind of time, so I consumed it immediately. I normally hate Barley Wines, but this was definitely the best I've ever tried. Citrus aroma and sweet caramel malts. Fresh hops up front and finishes sweet with a slight hint of alcohol. As a holiday beer, I'd say it would go well with turkey or ham, but could also go with a $5 foot-long from Subway that includes either turkey or ham. No, Subway is not paying me to type that. As for music, I'd pair this classic holiday brew with Booker T. & The MG's In The Christmas Spirit.
- Westmalle Dubbel - I'm somewhat new to Trappist beers. This one was first brewed in 1856 by monks in Belgium. Often I find Belgian beers to be too sweet, and while they are certainly historic and beloved, in my younger days I deemed them too weird and unconventional. What can I say? I was reared on American craft ales. Now that I am older and wiser, I can appreciate Westmalle, Chimay, and Rochefort. The beer boasts an aroma of dark fruits, yeast and a hint of alcohol. The flavor is very floral, with well-balanced hop bitterness and malt sweetness. Great carbonation. Good, full body. I'd pair this beer with chili cheese fries. I don't know why, but I'm really in the mood for some chili cheese fries. Although I thought of suggesting Belgian waffle fries, chili cheese fries really are better. As for a vinyl pairing...if you're going to get down with some monastery-brewed beers, accept the holy spirit and listen to one of the early Spiritualized records, Pure Phase or Laser Guided Melodies.
- North Coast Old Rasputin Anniversary Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout - I think the name says everything...no? Aged for 9 months in 12-year old bourbon barrels, this small batch offering from California's North Coast brewery was phenomenal. You've probably had Old Rasputin before, which is a great, great beer. You might have had it as part of a "beer float" at 8 oz. Burger Bar on Melrose here in LA. Now imagine that beer combined with all the added flavor of bourbon barrel aging. Delicious. 11.6% ABV. Pours black with a thick brown head. The aroma is rich with coffee, chocolate, caramel and vanilla. Huge oaked flavor with roasted malts, vanilla, bourbon, mocha...it’s an amazing combination. Very soft and easy to drink. I'd pair it with whatever your absolute favorite meal is, because this beer will take it to the next level. So, in my case, I'd pair it with a bacon, egg & cheese combo on a bagel. And I'd listen to whatever album is currently the best at making me feel giddy. Amon Duul's Yeti, The Zombies' Odyssey And Oracle, or Pink Floyd's Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.
- AleSmith My Bloody Valentine - Another of my favorite California breweries. AleSmith created one of my top-five all-time favorite beers, Nautical Nut Brown (the best session beer I've ever loved, well past my point of intoxication). My Bloody Valentine is an Amber Ale, but it's not like Fat Tire or any of those bigger, commercial (shittier!) Ambers. It pours dark red/brown with a thin head that leaves excellent lacing. MBV features a rich aroma of hops and pine, a smooth, malty body with notes of caramel and citrus, and a great, lasting hop finish. The folks at AleSmith have not yet done me wrong. If you can find any of their beers near you, you would be wise to buy 'em all. I'll await your "Thank You"s. I ate this with a vegan jackfruit "carnitas" burrito at a local joint. It was okay, but I'd rather eat it with a real mission burrito, preferably from Qdoba, Chipotle, or one of those gross chain restaurants. The paired music, obviously, would be My Bloody Valentine. Isn't Anything. Not Loveless.
- Avery The Maharaja Imperial India Pale Ale - A fantastic brewery in Colorado, Avery has served up a number of classic craft beers such as The Czar (sublime), The Kaiser (slightly-less sublime), and The Reverend (less sublime). When an old friend told me about a pub near him adding this to their fine selection of draught beers, I became interested in finding The Maharaja near me. One day the Whole Foods market in Glendale surprised me by stocking it in their beer section. In a word: stunning. Amber, big head, unbelievably hoppy aroma, bitter flavor balanced by sweet malts, medium bodied, good carbonation, terrific hop finish. Really, this is an intense and shocking beer. So many hops. It's wild. I'd pair it with Starburst candies and your favorite "No Wave" record. The Contortions' Buy would be my pick, but the Mars/DNA John Gavanti opera would be perfect as well.
And there you have it. Ten awesome beers to go with ten of my favorite food dishes and some great LPs! If you read this post and tell your friends you have nothing to do this weekend, you'll be a lying piece of shit! I just gave you ten things to try, don't just ignore me, asshole!
Of course, your own suggestions are welcome. Take a chance, play the game. Use the comments section to pair your favorite beer with its perfectly-matched food and album. I dare you.