Genius is a word that gets thrown around too often these days. ‘Genius’ should be reserved for people like Norman Einstein. However, someone occasionally comes up with an idea that is so startlingly brilliant that attention must be paid. To be clear, I am not saying that the Vice Blogger ** is a genius, but he did come up with a genius idea. He took the standard NCAA Pool that everyone has in their office, and made it about beer. Instead of the usual ten buck entry fee, he set up a pool where you promised to send the winner a couple of bottles of locally brewed beer. So simple, yet so brilliant.
Just before the Sweet Sixteen, I managed to forge an alliance (just like a contestant on Survivor***) with the eventual winner, so I am getting a partial share of the winnings, despite finishing fourth overall in the pool. I just might be a genius. I am at least an idiot savant.
I initially had a grand plan to collect all of the beers from my winnings and then invite some friends over for a tasting party, but that plan bit the dust when the first box of beer arrived. I did not want to wait to try these beers. Also, I am greedy, and I really do not like my friends enough to share my beer with them.
The first batch of beers to show up on my stoop in Jersey City came from a Vice Blog reader in Minnesota. Looking at the list of States in my categories sidebar, I do not see Minnesota listed, so I have certainly not reviewed any beers from Minnesota. I have never been to Minnesota, and to the best of my knowledge I have never come across any beers from Minnesota in my travels. As far as I can tell, my only connections to Minnesota are 1) my brother-in-law is a Minnesota native and 2) my over the top fascination with the music of Bob Dylan, Hibbing, Minnesota’s most famous son.**** When I opened the box, and saw the two bottles and two cans, I did a little dance around the kitchen because these were all virgin pours for me.
Showing a remarkable amount of self control and discipline, both highly unusual for me, I split the tasting over two nights. The first beer of the first night was the Lift Bridge Cross Cut Pale Ale. This poured copper and crystal clear, and the first thing I picked up on in the aroma and the taste was some unusual citric bitterness. Turning the bottle on its side, there was a little blurb saying that the beer is brewed with grapefruit peel, which seemed to me to add a different bitterness from what you usually get from hops, but which nicely complemented the hoppiness and the mild maltiness. At 5.5% ABV, you can knock back a few of these at a sitting. This is a tasty and balanced pale ale, and if it was available in Northern New Jersey, it would be in the regular rotation. 7.5/10.
The next bottle to be popped was Mantorville Brewing’s Stage Coach Smoked Porter. Nice opaque pour with almost no head. There was a subtle smokiness to this porter, with a touch of mocha. As the beer warmed, I picked up an espresso aftertaste. I would love to try this beer while eating some barbecued brisket. The smokiness of the beer and the smokiness of the brisket would go together nicely, and I am always looking for a reason to drink beer and eat brisket. This was a great beer. 8.5/10.
The second night was devoted to the two cans of Surly Brewing Company’s beer that I received. I have already made an ass of myself when it comes to canned beer, so I will not use this space to recount the benefits of canned beer, nor will I claim to have noticed any metallic taste in these beers. I will say that Surly brewing has a sterling reputation, word of which has even reached the Swamps of Jersey, and I was anticipating great things from these beers.
The Surly Furious did not let me down. Holy shit, this is a good one! As soon as I finished the pour, I was hit with a bouquet of piney and herbal hops. The hops tasted resinous at first, before exploding in fruity goodness. This beer had a liquid velvet mouth feel, almost creamy, and the hoppiness was nicely balanced by toffee tasting malts. I did not pick up any oak, which is the norm for an IPA, but it was not missed. At only 6.2% ABV, you can knock back a few of these, and if I had any more, I would have done so. This is one hell of an IPA, 9/10.
After the glory of the Surly Furious, I thought there was no way that the Surly Bender was going to match it, and it did not, but it was still one hell of a beer. Described as an oatmeal brown ale, this had a nutty flavor, with some coffee and chocolate in the background. It had a mild hoppy bitterness to it, with an orange peel taste. At only 5.1% ABV, this was a very smooth drinking beer. I am not a fan of brown ales in general, but this was easily the most interesting brown ale I have gulped down. I am giving it a 7.5/10.
** If you do not read the Vice Blog, you should go check it out. Aaron has good taste in beer, and he is funny as hell. More often than not his reviews are stories of his tomcatting around NYC, with the beer a secondary consideration.
***I have never seen a single episode of Survivor. I am basing that comment on what I have been told by fans of the show.
****I go through phases with Dylan. Sometimes I listen to the good songs from the bad albums he made in the 80s. Sometimes I go with the acoustic early albums, other times I immerse myself in the complete Basement Tapes. The holy trinity of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde get heavy play on my Ipod. Right now, I have been listening to Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong, the two albums of folk song covers he did in the early 1990s, and a bootleg recording of a 1966 show from Sydney, Australia. Anyone who knows me, or who has spent more than an hour with me, knows I can mount a defense of Self-Portrait to a certain extent, and I can and will defend Saved as a brilliant album, so discount my ravings as that of a devoted Dylan-ophile, but if you are looking for some bootlegs, I can probably hook you up.