REVIEW: The Insurance Salesmen/Dortmunder Gold

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It isn’t that hard to put out an album for people. Technology can allow for instant gratification of new music. It is a great thing, but I find that it can make finding new, awesome bands a little overwhelming. But it makes finding hidden gems that much more special.

This week’s case in point: The Insurance Salesmen’s latest, Death Of The Insurance Salesmen. If you don’t live in Cleveland proper, you may not have gotten an easy opportunity to stumble upon this band. Which is, to quote John Waters, a dirty shame. The band is made up of a group of fantastic, multi-dimensional musicians. Yes, it’s a guitar-driven record, but the splashes of horns, harmonica, and the great machine that is the Hammond organ add color and detail.

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There is a riff in the first song “Absolutely Fireproof” that reckons me to think of “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians. I’m not sure why, but it is definitely not a bad thing. It certainly showcases the organ playing.

“Partying On” could be described as Andrew WK’s oeuvre in a song with lyrics like “when the sun goes down forever, we’ll be partying on”. Additionally, those lines pretty much sum up the record. It’s one that you could put on at a party going to the apocalypse; one that might cause the end of the world to be met with the best dance party ever.

“The Monorail Doors Opened Up” is kind of a freaky song, with a long buildup to each chorus, which makes it feel like the listener is getting abducted into an alien party. Organ-playing aliens, but still. Considering their last record has a pair of malicious chalices on it, it’s clear that the Salesmen fly their freak flag with pride, and frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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Death Of The Insurance Salesmen does have an overall 60s surf rock/AM gold vibe. However, unlike so many “indie” bands that seem forced and contrived to me, the Insurance Salesmen are pure and genuine in their efforts.

Does all of that sound good? Check out the record yourself, and also check out my trip to Cleveland that I took last summer, and see if it doesn’t make you want to check out the Rock and Roll Capital of the country yourself!

THE BREW: Dortmunder Gold- Great Lakes Brewing Company

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Brewing since 1988, the Conway brothers of Cleveland Ohio have been mastering their craft for over 25 years. Lagers are tough, but when made well, they are delicious. In my opinion, they really are the original session beers. Dortmunder Gold was one of the first beers that Great Lakes brewed, and it was quickly proven to be a well-made beer, winning its first gold medal at the 1990 Great American Beer Festival and several more at the World Beer Championships in more recent years. It’s fairly simple for ingredients- with two hop varietals, Cascade and Mt. Hood, and two malts (Harrington 2-Row and Caramel 60). So it tastes slightly sweet, and will have some familiar flavors, but it’s very drinkable.

THE PAIRING:

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I wanted to choose a beer that was local to the Cleveland area for this one. Great Lakes Brewing is only distributed in about 15 states across the country. So like the Salesmen, their beers can be a hidden gem if you don’t live in a state that widely distributes it. Where it is found, however, The Dortmunder Gold lager is accessible to the masses. When I went to Cleveland, I found it in many bars, not just ones that specifically stressed craft beer. Although the Salesmen definitely have a sound that would appeal to those of the indie rock/college radio persuasion, I feel like just about anyone could find some positivity in their tunes.

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BrewTravels: Cleveland, OH

Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Capital of the World. Also home to some great breweries and places to eat and enjoy these brews. I visited this fine city a few weeks ago to visit a dear friend of mine. Here are some of the things I ate, record stores I went to, and beers I drank.

On route to Cleveland, I had a layover in Philadelphia, which gave me plenty of time to sit down with a Chocolate Love Stout from the Pennsylvania brewery Yards. I had this in lieu of another cup of coffee when I arrived at the airport at 8:30 AM. Dark, malty, a great winter brew. Jet Rock, the bar at the airport that I had this at was actually really awesome and had a ton of craft beer on tap. Totally a great recommendation if you have a layover there.

When I got to Cleveland, the first food stop was the Happy Dog. Basically for $5 you can get either a meat or vegan dog with anything you want on it. Seriously. Anything. I went for the pimento mac and cheese, ginger sesame coleslaw, black truffle honey mustard, bacon balsamic marmalade, and topped with a fried egg. YUM. I tried the peanut butter cup coffee porter from Ohio brewery Willoughby Brewing, which was good but didn’t really sit well with all those hot dog toppings. I have yet to find a truly great peanut butter beer too, although this one comes pretty close.

3Floyds has limited distribution in Ohio, so I jumped at the chance to find one of their beers on draft at the Happy Dog. They had Gumballhead, the American wheat ale apparently named for an underground comic book cat. It’s definitely the kind of wheat beer I would expect from 3Floyds- full of flavor, with flavors of late summer fruit like peach, orange marmalade, and other citrus notes.

I closed up with a pint of Fat Heads Bumble Berry Honey Blueberry ale. One of the best blueberry ales I’ve ever had by far. Refreshing, but not overly sweet from the honey. It’s a great beer to finish off the last few warm days before autumn begins.

In the evening, I toured Great Lakes Brewing Company. They are celebrating their 25th anniversary as a brewery this year, and have grown exponentially in this time, currently producing 125,000 barrels a year and distribute to 13 states. Their beers are award-winning. The Great American Beer Festival Gold Medalist, Dortmunder Gold, is a favorite at bars all over Cleveland. I tasted the Oktoberfest amber lager, Edmund Fitzgerald porter, and Eliot Ness amber lager. The porter was definitely my favorite, followed by the Eliot Ness and Dortmunder Gold respectively. Both the Dortmunder and the Eliot Ness use Mount Hood hops, but Eliot Ness has a greater variety of malts, including Munich, one of my favorites.

I later went for a pint of the seasonal imperial red ale, Nosferatu. Definitely a nice change from the Oktoberfests and Pumpkin ales of the autumn. Big and hoppy, with an awesome ruby red color.

Inside the brewery, they were working on the popular Christmas Ale, which is brewed with honey, ginger, and cinnamon. Needless to say, it smelled amazing inside there. The Christmas Ale is apparently a popular and sought-after beer in the Cleveland area. As soon as it’s released, people rush after it to enjoy it.

Great Lakes also recently attempted a Sumerian-style beer. I am fascinated by ancient ales and was interested to see how the Cleveland brewery went about this one. First they collaborated with a team of professors from the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. They brewed the beer as close as possible to the way it was made 4,000 years ago, foregoing stainless steel fermenters for ceramic vessels recovered from Iraq, heated over a manure-fueled fire. The beer itself was spiced with cardamom and coriander, and sweetened with dates. The Sumerian beer was unfortunately not available for tasting and won’t be seen around the brewpub anytime soon, however.

My next day in Cleveland involved a trip to Melt, a self-described “bar and grilled”, with grilled cheese sandwiches that can only be described as EPIC. I went for the Parmageddon- which is potato and onion pierogies with napa vodka sauerkraut and sauteed onions sandwiched between two huge slices of bread with cheddar cheese. My drink of choice was a “beerita”, a margarita made with Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. Really interesting drink! The hoppiness of the IPA balanced out the sweetness of the margarita really well and I didn’t even mind the salt rimmed pint glass.

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Oh yeah. As if this place doesn’t need to be any better, it’s also got a ton of KISS-themed stuff everywhere.

Now That’s Class is a great punk rock bar, with skate ramps in the back room and plenty of cold Schlitz tallboys. After all the cheese and deliciousness I had consumed however, I kept my beer drinking light with a Southern Tier Hop Sun wheat ale. I ventured over for a monthly “noise lunch”, where musicians sign up and create noise music based around a given theme. This month’s theme required musicians to interpret art pieces through their music. It was really great, and unlike anything I had seen before. That’s just one example of the wonderful music and arts scene around Cleveland. In some ways, it reminds me a lot of Brooklyn but less snobby and expensive to live in. Very welcoming for new musicians too.

Speaking of music, there are so many great record stores in the area. My Mind’s Eye was my favorite, where the only Black Sabbath albums in the store were from the Bill Ward-era. Blue Arrow was great too, especially because it doubles as a cat rescue organization in the back. Loop is another shop that does double duty, which is a coffee shop downstairs and a record shop upstairs. I picked up Skeletonwitch’s Forever Abomination on clear and green speckled vinyl (for $7!!), Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and the Doors Strange Days.

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Speaking of music, at any point that I was in a car during my trip, we generally rocked out to the sweet sounds of one of my favorite college radio stations- WRUW from Case Western Reserve University. I unfortunately missed their annual Studio-A-Rama concert (this year featured Mikal Cronin as the headliner), but I will always support this awesome station and listen online whenever I can at home! A lot of cool local-Cleveland bands and talk shows, and a ton of variety on the airwaves. It’s worth checking out whether you live out there or not!

Other notable places: The Beachland Ballroom (where I had a beer-y Mary with tomato juice, vodka, and Newcastle!), Barrio (which is kind of like a taco version of the Happy Dog where you can pretty much get anything you want on your taco), the Five O’Clock Lounge (where I won a dance contest at the Secret Soul Club), and Nano Brew (which has a bicycle repair station at the back of the bar!). And of course, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum! Seeing all the Rush stuff was a RUSH to say the least… But seriously, it’s probably one of the coolest museums ever.

Thanks to Adam Spektor, host of the Spektrum on WRUW and all the new friends I met while visiting! Can’t wait to come back!