Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dissidents and dissonance, notes from the underground

If you've noticed a dearth of additions here of late, you're likely alone. That's part of the charm of the way this new media is digested, isn't it? We all subscribe to a gamut of spottily updated resources from around the web, and after a while it becomes a blur of content devoid of the linear narrative you can slip into when you're only following the exploits of a handful of writers.

It's not for lack of liquid material, mind you. But a quiet rule in publishing content here has been to limit myself to commentary that at least carries the veneer of insight. As the past couple weeks have been riddled with sicknesses, stresses, and a shaky return to the full-time grind, my capacity for insight has been duly diminished and the desire to share nonexistent. But rather that let this page languish too long, a little roundup of recent goings-on might be due, a quick gasp of breath before going back underwater.

- What prompted this brief return to soliloquy is the beer pictured above: A very fine, reserve offering from Deschutes in the Flanders brown style, the Dissident inspires a bit of thought on the state of the American craft brewer and their special releases. A deep, ruddy cherry ale that crackles with the sour tang of wild fermentation and the slightest musk of the barrel, it's wholly reminiscent of something you might expect to find in a cafe in Ghent. (Although it could potentially use another year in the cellar, what with a residual sweetness that left it tasting just a tad young, the same impression we recently had while tasting the new Ten Commandments release from Lost Abbey. Are breweries rushing their special releases out onto the market early? The press release said The Dissident had already spent 18 months maturing. But I digress...)

While brewed with cherries from the Northwest, there's nothing "Northwest" of note in the beer, which came as a little bit of a surprise considering how much of an impact Deschutes has had as a flag-bearer for the area's idiosyncratic brewing scene. While Mirror Pond and Black Butte both represent for many folks the ethos of the FNWONWCB (first new wave of Northwest craft brewing, not to be confused with NWOBHM), the only thing that struck me as being particularly American about The Dissident is its alcohol level (9% according to the bottle, versus the 11% it lists on the press release, but still up from the 5-6% you'd find in an oud bruin or Flanders red). Does Rodenbach do this? Do they celebrate their continued success by rewarding their fans with an anniversary California pale ale? It's a testament, perhaps, to what is happening behind the scenes in small brewhouses around the country, where brewers' worldly palates are being greenlit by the company number crunchers and marketing flacks alike, seeing the voracious appetite of the online beer enthusiast community as being recession-proof enough that there's minimal risk (and potentially excellent mark-up potential) in letting the brewers experiment in foreign styles in the cause of expanding their repertoire. It's arguable that the market for Rodenbach would not be so kind to their experimentation, and were the monks of the abbey of St. Sixtus to present the world with a Westvleteren Mandarin Orange Hefeweizen for those hot monastic summer nights, there'd likely be riots.

- Meanwhile, over at the Aleuminati, I've been involved in an open source brewing project of sorts, a groupthink recipe tinkering collective with the ambitious goal of creating a beer that even the most initiate of homebrewers could attempt, while being scalable in scope for the more ambitious of us, designed with the intent of being a good gateway beer to more expansive beer tasting for those looking to hook their unknowing friends into this little cult we call "beer snobbery". It's a little like a dubbel but with a bit of American oomph, and it's entitled The Indoctrinator. While the recipe itself is set (in silly putty, or mud maybe), there's still time to brew your own batch and get in the trading circle. Once everyone's confident their batch is sufficiently conditioned, we'll be shipping samples around to do our own personal horizontal tastings.

The morning after brewing up our version, I found it burbling away with a rhythmic regularity that momentarily entranced me like a Louis Hardin ostinato, and I was thrown: Has a day of listening to 5-year olds hack their way into the canon of Western music distorted my musical perception to the degree that I'm hearing regularity and pulse in the randomness of nature? So of course, I filmed it. See if you think I'm crazy.

(Des, meanwhile, has disavowed any knowledge of this video and will not admit to the possibility that anyone in this household is enough of a dork to have generated it.)

- Speaking of brewing, we also got around to throwing together a kettle of that hereto theoretical lavender-infused black saison on Saturday afternoon, bringing the amount of partially-fermented homestuffs in the basement to an unforeseen 25 gallons, a possible new record. Lord knows what we'll do with all of it. Good thing I've got another batch planned for brewing in the next few days. While it's obviously too early to post tasting notes, the phenomenal sensory overload that arose from adding the hydrosol to the pot was intense enough to make us wonder if we'd come across something wonderful, or terrifying. It'll be ready for Halloween, appropriately.

- Lastly, I'll most likely be AFK for the coming weekend as it's one jam-packed with birthday celebrations in a true Oktoberfest by way of autumnal equinox fashion, but I'd be remiss if there wasn't a nod to the Northern California Homebrewers Festival that will be going on concurrently, most specifically the brewer's dinner that Sean Paxton has planned. Hot diggety delicious dog. Maybe next year that'll be Mia's idea of a good time, camping up in the Sierra foothills with a bunch of homebrewers, but this year we'll stick to a pony ride and a day in the park with cupcakes...

(And thanks to fellow beer blogger Bailey for the Lomo photoshopping trick. Like most hipster grups, there's a Holga in our closet, but we hardly ever take it out. Instead, there's something delightfully ironic about using all of today's most advanced technologies in digital imaging to attempt a recreation of an iconic, singular, and strangely loveable classic. Hey, it's kind of like a storied Oregon brewery aping a historic Flemish beer.)

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Blogger Mario (Brewed for Thought) said...

I assume most beers upon release, especially big ones like this, are usually young. Lagunitas pumps all their seasonals out in 2 weeks. Storage is expensive, and if you'd like a properly aged brew, they put it on you to do the work.

See, that's your problem Rob. you're lazy.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Virgil G said...

I don't normally make noises (let alone laughing style noises) when reading blog entries... but

"were the monks of the abbey of St. Sixtus to present the world with a Westvleteren Mandarin Orange Hefeweizen for those hot monastic summer nights, there'd likely be riots."

made me crack up.

Your beer has been decided... it will be making it's way to UPS tomorrow.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

An excellent summation of our collecrtive brewing endeavors, Rob. Particular thanks to you for noodling up the recipe in the first place. I'm trying my level best not to dishonor it too extensively with my brash, devil may care (read - inexperienced) approach to homebrewing. Regardless of my shortcomings in this regard, I too have amassed quite the volume of brew in the basement. There's the spiced mild ale in the secondary, awaiting a bottling, to keep the new dubbel company. Only 10 gallons, but this is 10 more than my basement has seen in some time. Of homebrew, that is.

By all means, those that find themselves inspired by your eloquence and wit should brew with us! If not this time 'round, then next!

There will be a next, right?

Oh, by the way, I sometimes hear the music in the brew too. It's normal. I think.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

To be fair, I didn't noodle up the recipe, it was Ray Grace. I did tinker with it due to my own sick fascination with recipe formulation, but that's a whole other matter.

And to Mario: I am lazy. So lazy, in fact, that I appreciate it when a brewer like North Coast explicitly tells me on the label not to open something until it's been laid down for a while. (Granted, the fact that these special edition beers have vintage years posted on the label should be some hint as to their cellaring potential, but that level of thought exceeds my typical laziness.)

9:57 AM  
Blogger Rob said...

Oh, and to Virgil: Whoohoo beer! I can't wait...

10:50 AM  
Blogger Ray Grace said...

Thanks for the props Rob although I have to give props to Stan, Tomme, Jamil, and all the others I "borrow" from.
I'm just upset that Deschutes apparently isn't distributing Dissident down SoCal-way.
I only have the Indoctrinator but I'm getting ready to plow through the 8 or so oz. of Magnum, Cascades, and Centennials I have in the freezer for an Imperial IPA after your inspiration, hop shortage be damned.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Barry M said...

Bizarre! I thought the Louis Hardin reference sounded familiar, till I realised I'd read about him while researching moving to Münster, Germany. Small brewing world :)

The Indoctrinator looks tasty! Best of luck with that project. Sounds fun!

2:21 PM  

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