Black Ales For Black Friday: Record Store Day Picks and Pre-Work Beers

It really is awesome that there are so many Thanksgiving beer pairings around the internet. But it made me wonder what beer someone working on Thanksgiving night (aka myself) or Black Friday should consume before heading into the masses. In keeping with Now Beer This Tradition, I’m also including a list of the only things worth buying on Black Friday: records. At local retailers, of course. Continue reading “Black Ales For Black Friday: Record Store Day Picks and Pre-Work Beers”

Grow Your Own: NOFA Offers Organic Hop Growing Workshop

Making beer is awesome, but making beer with home-grown ingredients is even better. With so many breweries popping up in Connecticut, the task of gathering local resources to make beer can be daunting. Thankfully, it looks like farmers are getting more involved with helping brewers get the hops and barley that they need here in Connecticut. CT NOFA, which is the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut, is a grassroots organization that advocates for organic food, farming, and land care across the state. Despite the name, NOFA does a lot of work throughout various Connecticut communities to educate all people, not just farmers. On December 11, they will be having a mixer at Two Roads Brewing Company in Stratford. The event will include an organic hop growing workshop, led by John Suscovich of Camps Road Farm in Kent.

I started growing my own hops two years ago, and it has been incredibly fortuitous, not to mention much easier than I imagined. I plan to increase my plants next year, and would like to look into more organic gardening methods, so I’m especially looking forward for a chance to pick some brains (and drink some beer!). The mixer will also discuss NOFA’s new Technical Assistance program, which, for a farming and gardening n00b such as myself, sounds like a great thing.

Camps Road Farm grows all the hops for Kent Falls Brewing, which broke ground over the summer. Out of all the new breweries opening up in Connecticut, I think I am most excited for Kent Falls. In addition to using local hops, they will also use local malts, which is something I have not seen before. Kent Falls has also embraced sustainability practices, through solar hot water heating, reusing spent grain, and proper wastewater handling- all of which you can read about here.

All the details on the mixer are below. I am planning on attending, so be sure to join me if you’re interested. Click the flyer to register.

REVIEW: Electric Wizard “A Time To Die”/Thimble Island Dark Pumpkin

THE ALBUM: Electric Wizard A Time To Die 2014 Spinefarm Records

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It has been nearly 5 years since Electric Wizard’s last album. I feel like there have been random days where I just kept checking in on the Internet to make sure I hadn’t missed any news about it. But now it’s 2014 and it’s Time To Die. I feel like the years between records aren’t a bad thing. Electric Wizard’s latest is comparable to the erupting of a dormant volcano. We have been expecting it, without knowing when or how it will awaken. The time has come.

The record starts off with the 10+ minute burner “Incense For The Damned”. The first 30 seconds consist of the sound of trickling water, with an organ in the background, seeming to signify an (unholy) baptism. I would recommend burning some nag champa incense or candles before putting down the needle on the record.

“We wanna get high before we die” is the chant at the end of the song, and while I won’t argue that the music is totally fitting as a soundtrack for illicit activities, it’s also music that will figuratively get you high. Just sit back in a comfortable seat and let the fuzzed out guitars transport you into a different world.

The interplay between guitarists Liz Buckingham and Jus Oborn is incredibly effective. Especially on two of my avorite album tracks, “Lucifer’s Slaves” and “Funeral Of Your Mind”. The latter also features a great showcase of Oborn’s vocals. They sound a bit like they are echoing down a hallway, set slightly back in the mix while still remaining prominent. Halfway through the song the vocal effects change, and the low end and very high frequencies sound like they were slashed with a Viking sword, leaving only the mids. It gives the effect that Jus Osborn is singing to you through a telephone.

“SadioWitch” is the first single off the album. The video has “Clandestinely filmed scenes of Luciferian depravity”, as Oborn calls it. It is worth checking out, although probably not safe for work, depending on where you work. If you find drugs, witchcraft, torture, or Iceland offensive, then yes, possibly NSWF. EDIT: In fact, I am guessing a lot of people thought that, because I can no longer find a working link to the video anywhere.

“I Am Nothing” sounds like the thunderstorm at the end of the universe. I guess that is the second nature-related comment I’ve made about this album here. However, simply calling it “sludge” does not do the band justice. I think that this record is more fittingly compared to a natural phenomenon or disaster than a slew of other bands that have similar sunds. I found this album difficult to review because I love it, yet the things that I love most about it are hard to describe in musical terms. All I can say is that it is the perfect soundtrack for Halloween parties, black masses, fighting Cthulhu, and carving ‘Slayer’ into your forearm before returning to work.

I love “Saturn Dethroned” before listening to it, because I love astronomy references, especially in metal songs. I also appreciate mellotron in metal songs, and there just happens to be one in the beginning of this song, presenting it with an eerie vibe. It’s an instrumental album closer to remind you that there might be another 5 years before the next album, but it will be completely worth it.

THE BEER:

Find Our Beers

Pumpkin beer is everywhere. Some are great, and others are just okay. Thimble Island Brewing’s Dark Pumpkin porter is no Warlock, but it’s a bit easier on the liver with 5% ABV and the flavors are subtle and less of a sensory shock. It’s slightly sweet, but not anywhere near saccharine. There is roastiness makes me recall the taste of pumpkin seeds that were baked in the oven slightly too long. It pours a deep espresso color, that in the light almost shines an orange hue. I poured this on draft and the head was cream-colored, with a slight fluff that disappeared quickly. Unlike other pumpkin beers where I tend to maintain a “one and done” attitude, the Dark Pumpkin can go for a few more without being overwhelming.

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THE PAIRING: Thimble Island proves that not everything involving pumpkin spice has to be white girls in yoga pants. On a similar note, Electric Wizard proves that even the dankest of doom metal can have interesting elements that aren’t just heavy. But, in the words of Lavar Burton, you don’t have to take my word for it. Listen to the album, and while you listen, take a look at this great interview they did in 2005 that I actually just read for the first time. It’s pure gold. Just like this record should be.

REVIEW: Black Wail “Black Wail” [EP]/Brooklyn Defender

THE RECORD: Black Wail- Black Wail [EP]- 2014

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I do not write about too many EPs on here because I feel that a handful of songs are not always enough to tell you about a band. Sometimes, however, brevity can be a good thing, because it leaves you curious and wanting more. This is the case with Black Wail’s self-titled EP. Formed earlier this year in Jersey City, Black Wail sounds like just about everything I played on my radio show in college rolled into one band. Even though there are only 3 songs, a sequence-nerd like me can still appreciate their order. “Fools” starts the show. It’s an ideal opener. The isolated drums get your boots stomping, and then the guitar riff comes in. And then it’s just… Rock. That’s what it is. “Fools” is the song you should listen to if you need to get from 0 to ROCK in the first 60 seconds. It’s your first beer of the night song.

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Photo credit: Virginia Kamenitzer

The middle track, “Guillotine” won me over immediately; this one is really lead by the keys. The sound harkens back to those 70s Hammond organs that I love so much, but when it flows with the guitars and vocal harmonies, it’s a completely new animal.

Also, “Put your rivals head in the guillotine/make sure people see a horrible scene” is a great line. I want to see a video for that song.

“Dyed” is my favorite track, and I like that it is the last one. In my opinion, it is the most metal of the three tracks, but it doesn’t feel too hard or out of place. Like the way “Emerald” closes off Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak even though you heard “The Boys Are Back In Town” a few songs earlier. Because to me, it’s music for headbangers that can also be booty shakers. I am proud to be both of those things, and looking forward to more to come from Black Wail. The cover art reads “LET JERSEY PROSPER”. Jersey is prospering, alright, and Black Wail is making that fact crystal clear on these 3 songs. Now, please listen to them on Spotify so AFI’s Black Sails In The Sunset isn’t the first thing to come up with I type their name in.

THE BEER: Brooklyn Brewery- The Defender

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The Defender is a “hoppy amber IPA” that was brewed for consumption during New York Comic Con. These are not your grandfather’s hops, however. The Mosaic hop arrived on the beer scene only about 2 years ago. It’s one of the first hops that I’ve noticed to have a trademark, although apparently this is something that is becoming more common with newer varietals. It’s the lovechild of Simcoe and Nugget, and whenever I hear that a beer has Mosaic hops, I usually fall in love too. The flavors I took from Defender are tropical, and not quite so overwhelmingly bitter as some IPAs can be. As a bartender, I really enjoyed selling this beer because I think it surprised a lot of people in a positive way. The red malts make it a little bit roasty, which still gives it a taste that is familiar to seasoned (not necessarily craft) beer drinkers. It’s a beer I can nerd out about, and it’s also a beer I could share with my grandfather, or anyone else who doesn’t really care that much about where the hops came from. PLUS it has an awesome label.

THE PAIRING:

I wanted to find a brewery from Jersey City to find a beer pairing with this one, but I don’t know any breweries in Jersey City proper. Please comment below if you know of any to suggest to me. So I chose the Defender from Brooklyn Brewery. It’s not THAT far away, and I almost always drink a Brooklyn offering when I am at my favorite JC watering hole, BARCADE. It’s a geographically based pairing. It also works on a more intellectual level. The EP is only three songs, but it’s enough to tell you what kind of band Black Wail is. For me, they are the kind of band I wish I could be in. Like the way Defender surprises people in a positive way, I think Black Wail would also surprise people. The ways they seem to draw from such a wide variety of influences is like looking through a great record collection. Defender brings the familiar red ale malts and mixes them with a fresh new hop varietal to make something uniquely delicious. Black Wail brings the sound of the classic metal and rock albums that myself and so many others grew up on, and reinvigorates that sound to new life.

Fermenting In New Haven: Common Ground Workshop

Today I write about something that is not inherently beer-related, but definitely made me think about the brewing process. This Saturday I spent a relaxing rainy day at what may be the coolest (in my opinion) high school in Connecticut. For those who are unfamiliar, Common Ground is an environmental charter high school in New Haven that was founded in 1997. In addition to core academic subjects such as math and literature, students at Common Ground have a curriculum that is focused on the environment. Classrooms include kitchens, farms, and even state parks. I spoke with one student who is currently raising chickens and learning how to (humanely) butcher them. Definitely not things I knew how to do as a junior in high school.

You don’t have to be a high school student to take advantage of the resources Common Ground offers, though. They have a series of classes offered to both families and adults. This weekend I took a class on Canning and Fermentation, where I learned how to jar food for preservation, and wild fermentation through making sauerkraut. The canning (which is technically called jarring) portion was taught by Common Ground chef Theresa Brooks, and the fermentation section taught by Diane Litwin, who is an educator at Common Ground.

I have family members who have won awards for jams and jellies and other Mason jars full of delicious. So I figured it was time to learn myself. You can’t just put fruit in a Mason jar and call it a preserve. There is a bit more to it than that, but it’s still fairly cheap and not that difficult. The process? Basically, boil, dry, insert pickles/fruit/kim chi/whatever, put the lid on, and boil again. The amount of time a jar must stay submerged in the boiling water seems to be different for each recipe or person making it, but it generally seems to be 10-20 minutes. I think the most important thing I learned was not to re-use the lids on the jars. Apparently you can buy a box of them for a few dollars. Once the are unsealed, you can re-use everything else, but the lid can be dented or damaged once the jar is opened.

Wild fermentation is a totally different animal, and made me think way differently about sour beers. The bacteria that is allowed into the sauerkraut, or beer, or anything else, builds up and allows our bodies to digest food easier. You are adding all the organisms from the atmosphere around you. Plus, as Diane brought up, fermentation has been around for centuries, and continuing to do it is honoring an ancient tradition. Until I can come up with a good place to brew sours and pick up some extra equipment, my homebrews will be bacteria-free (intentionally, anyway) for awhile. But it’s definitely something I would like to pursue more.

Since the Mason jars provided a strong seal, I decided to a bit of research on whether I could bottle my beer in them. The first obvious issue would be the clear glass. I have seen some Mason-style jars in other colors, but they are not as easy to find as the clear variety. I have not seen any in brown, either. So that’s a bit of a problem. The seal is created through high temperatures, almost like a vacuum. You know it’s sealed properly when you hear that signature “pop” sound. However, when you’re carbonating inside the jar, the pressure that builds up could potentially cause the seal (and the jar) to break.

So unlike this article from my favorite news source suggests, you can’t use Mason jars for EVERYTHING. But, you certainly can for lots of things. and I will continue to demand that if I go to a hip (or hipster) bar, I need to drink my pint out of a Mason jar while bathing in the Edison-lightbulb glow of a Mason jar chandelier. It’s only right.

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And upon seeing this, I will undoubtedly say “WHAT A GOOD IDEA”.

Tin Bridge Brewing Bridges the Gap Between Beer and Music

A few months ago, I wrote about Within The Ruins’ guitarist Joe Cocchi’s brewery, Tin Bridge Brewing. I recently got an opportunity to chat one on one with Joe, and he was able to give me a little more background on the brewery, and balancing the brewing and being in a metal band.

Joe started out as a homebrewer, and talking to homebrewers-turned-owners always gives me hope that my own craft can become something larger than boiling water in my kitchen. The brewery got its name from a bridge where Joe used to hang out with his friends growing up in western Massachusetts. Which is fitting, since now Joe is hanging out with his friends and making beer. The brews of Tin Bridge are described as “high gravity”, and Joe said that many of them are stouts and porters with some really interesting ingredients. Barrel-aging is becoming so prevalent lately, and Tin Bridge recently picked up a used bourbon barrel from Woodinville Whiskey Company, which was also used to age maple syrup. They have plans to put a vanilla porter inside it, which is something I would love to try.

Band and breweries are two different animals, although they do have a few basics in common. Joe seems to have a good grasp on the balance of both. His partners at the brewery, which includes family and close friends, keeps a strong hold on things while he is on tour or recording with the band.

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With so many craft breweries popping up, packaging is more meaningful than ever, and really helps brand a brewery and catch people’s eyes. Joe said he that the labels on their bottles may reflect their metal background and possibly be similar to the artwork on Within The Ruins’ album covers. The band has had some really great artwork, so seeing that tied into a beer label would be pretty awesome.

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What I thought was really interesting that Joe mentioned was the prospect of Internet distribution for their beers. Having beer at the merch table while on tour isn’t a possibility. However, distributing it online would be a great way to bridge fans of the brewery and fans of the band. Not to mention attracting beer lovers from across the country and around the world.

Tin Bridge Brewing is open, but operates as a production space right now. So while there is no tasting room yet, the guys certainly welcome visitors who want to check out the brewing in progress and taste the finished project on site. Check out their Facebook for updates on what’s getting brewed! As for Within the Ruins, they will be on tour with Born of Osiris this month, which is really exciting. CT folks can catch them on Halloween at the Webster Theater in Hartford.

REVIEW: Opeth “Pale Communion”/Lost Abbey Deliverance

My reviews have been few lately, but not for lack of material. I was really excited about this record when it came out, and wanted to give it the proper listening it deserved before writing about it. and of course, it definitely needed the beer pairing it deserved.

THE RECORD: Opeth Pale Communion 2014 Roadrunner Records

I think that I like Opeth more and more with each record they make. At least, I feel that I appreciate them more. Every choice they make in writing and recording and producing just seems like a good one to me. Opeth is continuing to exemplify everything that I want progressive rock to be right now.

Organs on a record is usually a selling point for me. The first track “Eternal Rains Will Come” really just gets down to business. And makes me think that there had better be plenty of awesome organs on this record. It really sets the stage for what to expect for the rest of the album.

Mikael Åkerfeldt mentioned in an interview that this would be a more melodic record. The vocals do get heavier on songs such as “Moon Above, Sun Below”, but they are not growling, death metal vocals. They are dark in a different, more beautiful way. Heritage, their previous release, began to move away from the death growls of albums past, and Pale Communion seems to bring that journey to a new level. There are vocal effects that create a sound reminiscent of a Gregorian chant taking place inside a massive cathedral.

“Goblin” is entirely instrumental, and gives the listener a chance to appreciate each instrument as it stands out. We can all thank Steven Wilson for that- he mixed this record and has done some really amazing work. My first experience with him was through his band Porcupine Tree, whom I love. Wilson is no stranger to Opeth record production; he produced Blackwater Park, Deliverance, and Damnation. On Pale Communion, Wilson is meticulous to the craft. He uses the finest tooth comb over each of the tracks. After so many years of working together on different projects, Steven Wilson has the production process of an Opeth recording down to a science that they have perfected on Pale Communion.

Folk metal is certainly a genre, but I do not often hear Opeth’s music described as such. However, the song “River” has a really interesting folk element to it. Driven mostly by an acoustic guitar and harmonies, it fosters my imagination that I am walking around a Swedish fjord in springtime. It’s serene for the most part, but about half way through the song the organ returns and introduces a gorgeous electric guitar riff. That is incidentally how I imagine Scandinavian countries; ethereal for the most part, but also full of heavy metal bands.

 

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I include a larger image of the cover art so that you can see the detail in it. It reminds me of an exhibit in a museum. Opeth’s music truly is a work of art, and seeing it portrayed as visual art is fitting. Travis Smith, who has done cover art for the likes of Death and King Diamond, designed the cover for Pale Communion. The inscriptions in Latin translate to quotes that really stuck with me, and are from a Swedish statesman, a Roman/North African playwright, and a Roman poet respectively.

“Don’t you know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?”

“In these days friends are won through flattery, the truth gives birth to hate.”

“He grieves truly who grieves without a witness.”

I am going to end on those, because I feel like between those quotes and the record itself, long conversations are destined to happen. All you need is a beer or two…

THE BEER: Deliverance- Lost Abbey- San Marcos, CA

I had this beer during my trip to San Diego last month, which was around the time that this record was released. What a gorgeous ale. There are so many “epic” beers coming out and I usually scoff at them or quote this internet meme. But I just tried this beer and loved it. Yes, it is ridiculous. It is a blend of bourbon-barrel aged Serpent’s Stout and brandy-barrel aged Angel’s Share. It’s heaven and hell that you can pour into a snifter and consume. It definitely tastes boozy, but not in an offensive way. I tried this during one of the events at the Beer Bloggers’ Conference, and I remember I really just wanted to stop whatever else was coming next to take more time to talk about this amazing beer. It tastes like a chocolate covered fig that someone let sit in a cabinet for a few years. I like the idea of blending beers too, and witnessing the ways that flavors and ingredients work together. I’m sure it does not always work out so deliciously, but I am glad that it has for this Lost Abbey offering.

THE PAIRING:

Opeth has an album called Deliverance that was released in 2002, but I actually wasn’t thinking of that when I chose this beer to pair. I thought Deliverance the beer was dark and beautiful, much like Pale Communion. I also liked the religious undertones to both the record and the brewery. I believe that 12 years of attending Catholic school has a direct relationship with my love of metal and beer, but that’s just me. Honestly, this is a record that you really need to sit down and listen to on a quality set of speakers with a delicious beer in proper glassware at the right temperature. Yes, both the beer and the album are tasty at their core, no matter what. But it is worth the extra effort to consume both of them carefully, and with an eye for all of the details.

Craft Beer Goes Green

In case this blog has not made it explicitly clear, I feel better as a human drinking craft beer. I feel even better when I am supporting breweries that source local ingredients. Some breweries are taking that positive attitude to the next level and not only growing their own ingredients, but also using their own power through solar energy.

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Bear Republic’s new solar system.

A small homebrew shop in New Jersey and a larger-scale brewery in California have both harnessed the power of the sun for making beer. Read more

Craft Outdoors: Harvest Fest @ the New Canaan Nature Center

unnamedAutumn is one of the best seasons for beer, and beer-related events. Although there is a chill in the air, it’s still great weather for spending time in the outdoors. The New Canaan Nature Center will be hosting the Beer, Bites, and Wine Harvest Festival on Saturday, October 4. The outdoor sanctuary is over 40 acres, with plenty of gardens and hiking trails. The harvest festival is from 7PM-10PM; I am thinking it would be a good idea to arrive early to get a hike in before the festivities begin. Connecticut breweries Half Full and Two Roads will be the main beer pourers, while a variety of other breweries, bottle shops, and more will be bringing in brews as well.

The Jazzholes will be providing music to go along with the libations. Tickets are $65 in advance, and $80 at the door, so it’s recommended to pick them up ahead of time. You can get them online here. Tickets include beer, wine, food, and all the entertainment and admission into the nature center.

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Karl Strauss Brewing- San Diego- BBC14

While the panels and speakers at the Beer Bloggers Conference in San Diego were very informative, it was really nice to get out and speak to some people from local breweries.

On Friday evening, we headed to Karl Strauss Brewery for some beer, tacos, and good conversation.

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Beers on draft included the tower 10 IPA, Big Barrel IPA, Wreck Alley Imperial Stout, and my favorite, the Red Trolley Ale. The outdoor beer garden was nicely set up with strings of lightbulbs illuminating the sandy ground. I also thought it was great that there were games and things to play with scattered around. A box of dominoes and cards held court on one table, ladder golf was set up in a corner, and inside the brewery next to shelves of barrel-aged beers was the Karl Strauss cornhole set. The presence of the games as well as the communal picnic tables outside gave a friendly, party atmosphere.

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After we filled up on tacos and beer, Chris Cramer, the CEO of Karl Strauss, came up to the front to speak. His talk was incredibly entertaining and also insightful. Contrasting solid facts with witty anecdotes really worked for the crowd. Although it did start to get loud towards the end of the speech, Chris did hold the crowd’s attention well.

What I thought was most interesting was the legacy of the man who was Karl Strauss, Chris’s relative that he lovingly referred to as “Uncle Karl”. Strauss was born and raised in Germany and studied brewing at the technical university of Munich-Weihenstephan, where he earned a degree in malting and brewing science and a Master Brewer certification. He moved to the US in the 1930s, where he settled in Wisconsin and got a job at Pabst and steadily moved up the ranks. He actually was a part of the team that reformulated the recipe for Pabst Blue Ribbon. Karl worked as Vice President of Production until his retirement after 44 years with the company.

 

Chris Cramer was inspired to bring good beer to San Diego through his travels. He tried Real Ale while in Europe, and at a brewpub in Australia, he saw the small production and how good the beer was and thought it could be feasible to take back to America. At a family event, he told ‘Uncle Karl’ about his idea, and Karl was delighted to pass on the brewing knowledge he has gained over his lifetime.

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The story of Karl Strauss was a feel-good one, since it stemmed from family and hard work. Karl taught Chris and his partner, Matt Rattner, the quality control he had learned from his days at Pabst. The beer was held to a higher standard, with the independence and unique brewing recipes of a small batch, with the diligent quality control of a commercial brewery.

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Karl Strauss Brewery opened in 1989, and celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.